What’s in a number? This week: 50

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What’s in a number? This week: 50

Rabbi Alex Chapper looks a digit's significance in Jewish texts

With 164, Sachin Tendulkar holds the record for scoring the most number of half centuries in cricket.

That is why the Indian national hero is widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen in the history of the game.

But what significance is there to the number 50 in Judaism?

Previously we learned that 50 gates or levels of understanding were created in the world and after a 49-day purification process that began on Pesach, the Jewish people received the Torah – the revelation of the Divine Intellect – on the 50th day, known as Shavuot. From having sunk to the 49th level of spiritual impurity in Egypt, the nation rose to the heights of spiritual inspiration and insight at Mount Sinai a mere 50 days later.

Just as in days and weeks, so too in years, the 50th year is called Yovel – Jubilee, which is the culmination of seven cycles of Shemittah – the seventh year when all agricultural cultivation ceases. On Yom Kippur of the Yovel year, the shofar would be sounded to announce that people and possessions must revert to their original position. Ancestral land that had been sold during the previous 49 years returned to its original owner and Jewish slaves were automatically released from their captivity.

In relation to the release of slaves, even those who willing remained in servitude after the maximum term of six years had to be freed at the arrival of Yovel.

Here, the Torah reveals that 50 years is considered ‘forever’, meaning that it is the longest possible time frame of which we can conceive.

This contains a message of optimism and hope for us all, whether we are literally enslaved or just in a situation that seems interminably difficult.

Nothing last forever. There will always come a time for a reset, whether that is in days, weeks or years, we never despair of seeing a change in circumstances.

υ Rabbi Chapper serves Elstree & Borehamwood shul 


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