Shemini – 5783 – Numbers and Parashat Shemini: Do the Math

By: Susan Moger

This week’s Parashah Shemini includes numbers. I did not use ChatGPT for today’s D’var Torah, tempting as it may have been. I did find an intriguing, to me, D’var Torah from 4 years ago. It was written and delivered by Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis. He serves as the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations to the Commonwealth based in London and is an Orthodox rabbi. He has held this position since September 2013 when Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks retired. Both of whom have been knighted. Rabbi Mirvis had previously been the Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1985-1992 and was born in Johannesburg, SA.  In this D’var, Rabbi Mirvis explains the hidden depth of numbers in Jewish teaching.

What is special about the number 8? The fact that this week’s Parashah is called Shemini, which means ‘the eighth’, issues an invitation to us to answer the question.

In Kabbalistic teachings, the number 6 represents the natural world. Hashem created our world in 6 days, and therefore we work on 6 days. The number 7 represents the perfection of people. On the 7th day we celebrate Shabbat which is known as ‘M’ein Olam Haba’ the closest we can come in this world, to the perfect spirituality of the world to come. The number 9 represents Ha’Kadosh Baruch Hu. It is the divine number. In math, quite extraordinarily, a number can only be divided by 9 if its digits add up to 9, or any multiple of 9. For example, in the number 459, 4+5+9=18 which is a multiple of 9, and therefore we know it is divisible by 9. It shows that 9 fits perfectly into the world around it, and that is a description of G-d. At the end of the Shema, we conclude the words ‘Hashem Eloheichem the Lord your G-d, but we always add the word ‘emet’ onto it which means truth. That is because the Talmud teaches us ‘chotamo shel HaKodesh Baruch Hu emet’, the seal of G-d is truth. The gematria of the word ‘emet’ adds up to 441 which is 4+4+1 which equals 9, indicating that the truth of G-d is represented by the number 9.

So if 7 represents the perfection of people and 9 represents Hashem, 8 represents the bridge, connecting us with our creator. This is why a baby boy has his ‘brit milah’ through which he establishes a covenant between himself and Hashem on the 8th day. That is why the festival of Chanukah is 8 days long when we recall the divine intervention which saved our people. And that is why between Pesach and Shavuot for a period of 7×7 days we prepare ourselves for the re-enactment of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Once we reach that number 49, we are prepared for the festival of Shavuot, which takes place at the beginning of the 8th week, reminding us of that ultimate revelation when Hashem appeared to us – the ultimate bridge between Heaven and earth.

Now we can understand our Parashah, ‘vayehi b’yom hashemini’-and it came to pass on the 8th day. Once the Mishkan (the sanctuary in the wilderness) had been completed, and the altar was there to be dedicated, for 7 continuous days the people offered sacrifices with no response from G-d, but after those 7 days, ‘va teitzei aish min ha Shamayim’ on the 8th day, fire came from heaven and consumed the animal on the altar signifying that connection between Heaven and earth.

The number 8 is a special number. It issues a call to us to embrace the natural world represented by the number 6 and to strive to reach our greatest potential for perfection, represented by the number 7. In that way, may we merit to live up to aspirations of the number 8, to feel the presence of Hashem in our lives and to enable Him to bless us always.

Let us continue to pray for peace in the Ukraine. Shabbat Shalom.

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