What’s in a number? 49
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Analysis

What’s in a number? 49

Rabbi Alex Chapper looks at a digit of significance in Jewish tradition

 Just like the sides of a cube, the physical world is represented by the number six, having been created in that number of days.

In the biblical account, God then rested on the seventh day, blessed it and made it holy and so the number seven is synonymous with spirituality and holiness.

As the seventh multiple or square of seven, the number 49 symbolises the highest level of spiritual attainment possible for humans.

According to the Gemara, 50 gates or levels of understanding were created in the world, and all were given to Moses except one, as it says: “You have made him little less than divine” (Psalms 8:6).

Moses, our greatest leader, reached the highest level that is humanly possible with the final step being in the divine gift.

Almost in complete contrast, the Zohar recounts that the children of Israel reached the 49th level of spiritual impurity in Egypt.

They sank so low that God had to miraculously rescue them before they descended to the 50th level and almost certain spiritual oblivion.

However, what is truly remarkable is that, a mere 49 days after the Exodus from Egypt, the people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai and experienced the Revelation of God.

The Ohr HaChaim explains that the standard period of spiritual purification is seven days and, at that time, the people underwent seven cycles of this process that resulted in a national transformation from lowly slaves to a lofty status described by God as “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

This was not just a historical occurrence, but one that is recreated every year as we count 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, known as counting the Omer.

This is an opportunity for us, having celebrated physical liberation to prepare ourselves for spiritual attainment.

  •   Rabbi Alex Chapper serves Elstree & Borehamwood Synagogue and is
    the Children’s Rabbi, childrensrabbi.com
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