What’s in a number? This week: 5

What’s in a number? This week: 5

Rabbi Naftali Schiff delves into the importance of a certain number for the Jewish faith

To depict the number five on a die, the four directions of space, which would otherwise remain separate, connect around a central point.

Five conceptually is the ability to bring disparate parts to coalesce and stand together. It is where individuals become a group.

In fact, in Hebrew a group of five is called an agudah, a unified bundle.

This idea is expressed by the five fingers that we have on each hand; the hand unifies the fingers to work as one.

Perhaps this is why we have five books of the Torah. Each one stands alone, but join together to make one Sefer Torah.

The number five is of particular significance to me as one of my teachers, Rabbi Noach Weinberg, always used to talk about what he termed ‘five finger clarity’.

By this, he meant that the theoretical concepts we were studying need to be as real to us as our five fingers.

Just as we live with the reality of our hands and make use of them constantly, so too should we live with the reality
of the principles and faith around which we live our lives.

In Sephardi culture, it is popular to display an open hand termed chamsa (Hebrew for five) as a way of warding off the ‘evil eye’.

One explanation for this is that the evil eye comes as a result of jealousy of other people’s belongings.

A way to mitigate against this is to remember that the day will come when we will depart from this world with open palms, with our five fingers stretched out.

This is a reality check to remind us that we can’t take with us any of our possessions. When we have our priorities clear with five finger clarity, there is no room for either confusion or jealousy.

  •   Rabbi Naftali Schiff is founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures
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