What’s in a number? Odds and evens

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What’s in a number? Odds and evens

 Rabbi Jonny Roodyn looks into the Torah and highlights the numerical significance behind some themes

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn

 If Pesach was a Sesame Street programme it would have been brought to you by the number four. Four sons, four expressions of redemption, four questions and of course, four cups of wine (and no, it doesn’t have to be sickly kiddush wine!). While the four cups is a given for us, the sages of the Talmud (Pesachim 110a) pondered if it presented a problem.

The bottom line of the discussion is that it’s not an issue, especially as we are dealing with a mitzvah, but there is a rather strange notion that needs further explanation – could there possibly be an issue with even numbers?

One possible explanation is that
even numbers are an expression of plurality, being seen an extension of the number two.

The idea of duality, or two forces, is a notion that stands in stark contrast to the basic tenet of Judaism, belief in one God.

A dualist view of the world sees it as somewhat chaotic, with disparate forces of good and evil at play. The Shema, the basic statement of Jewish creed, is a daily declaration of God’s unity. There is only One Infinite Force that created and guides the world.

Even though it may seem like there are different forces at play, when we say the Shema we declare that whatever happens to us in life is an expression of God’s plan for the world, whether we can see it or not.

Odd numbers, in a sense, remind us of God’s unity, whereas even ones have connotations of plurality.

Judaism places great value in developing a constant sense of awareness of God’s unity. So, the next time you are offered a second drink, maybe have one more… or perhaps better still, one less! L’chayim!


  •   Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is education director of Jewish Futures and rabbi of Finchley Federation Synagogue
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