What’s in a number? This week: 6
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What’s in a number? This week: 6

Rabbi Zvi Solomons reflects on the Jewish significance of a digit

Rabbi Zvi Solomons
Number 6 (Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)
Number 6 (Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash)

Who knows six? I know six. Six are the orders of the Mishnah, known as Shas, which is the abbreviation for Shisha Sidrei (Mishna), and Yeshiva Bochurim call the complete Talmud the Shas. It consists of more than six books because of all the commentary and takes a lifetime to master.

This is a special number. The six days of creation culminate in Shabbat, the day of rest. However, the number six is a multiple of two and three, the female and the male. The marriage of male and female is a joining. Indeed the animals and then finally mankind were created on the sixth day of creation, which makes it a special number for mankind.

Six is delineated in Hebrew as the letter vav. This is the joining letter, and its name means “hook”. The hooks in the tabernacle held the structure together and allowed the curtains to be hung, creating its structure. It is therefore symbolic of unity.

“Six days shall you labour and do all your work!” God made the world in six days. The six days of work are holy, and without them we cannot be useful people. It is no coincidence humans need one day’s rest to six days’  labour. The work is holy as it allows the Shabbat to be so different.

Tradition tells us that Torah was given on Shavuot, the sixth day of the month of Sivan. Six hundred thousand Jewish men  of military age (not to mention the women, elderly and children) stood round the mountain to receive our most precious gift. We shake the lulav on Succot in the six cardinal directions. This is to request that God, who surrounds us, provides material good for us and particularly in the land of Israel. 

The Magen David, a Kabbalistic symbol, represents the human being using the number six. The two intersecting triangles represent heaven and earth. The six points can be made to represent different things. For example, the seder plate has six items on it arranged as two intersecting triangles, a configuration some say reflects Rabbi Isaac Luria’s system.

According to the Kabbalists, the seven compartments of the Magen David represent the seven higher sefirot or aspects of God’s nature.

On the sixth day, we say Psalm 93, which talks about God being clothed in majesty. It is the last of the psalms said during Kabbalat Shabbat. The numerical value of the Hebrew word for roof, gag, is six which, seeing God made the world in six days, is the completion of the building.

  •   Zvi Solomons is Rabbi of the Jewish Community of Berkshire, JCoB.org

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