What’s in a number? This week: 72
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What’s in a number? This week: 72

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a number and reflects on its significance in Jewish texts. This week focuses on the number of years of Israel's existence

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

People watch the military airshow on Israel's 71st Independence Day in Tel Aviv on May 9, 2019. Photo by: JINIPIX
People watch the military airshow on Israel's 71st Independence Day in Tel Aviv on May 9, 2019. Photo by: JINIPIX

The number 72 in Judaism appears in both Talmudic and mystical lore. 72 was a significant number for the 71-member Sanhedrin which ruled Israel in the Second Temple era and, on occasion, added an extra sage whose reputation was to equal all the others in number.

72 is also the number of groups of three-letter words, 216 in all, of God’s holy names, spelled out in the mystical work Sefer Ha Yashar, that is ascribed to Rabbi Akiva.

The so-called 72-lettered name of God was said to have been invoked by Moses to split the Red Sea.

This is based upon the remarkable coincidence that where the story of the splitting of the sea is mentioned, there are three verses in sequence, each of which total 72 letters.

The mystical arrangement of the letters reflects the zodiacs, alluding to God’s mastery over the cosmos, and the kabbalistic “behinot” – the aspects of all of creation.

In the prayer book, kabbalistic editions superimpose the 72 groups of holy letters over each of the first 72 words of the second and third paragraphs of the Shema.

In Lurianic kabbalah, this is known as the “kavanot” or intentions of the Shema.

Congratulations are due on this 72nd anniversary of the birth of the State of Israel and her independence.

It just happens to be the case that Yom Ha’atzmaut began this year on the night of 28 April, as all the numbers in this date – 28 plus 4 plus 20 plus 20 – add up to 72!

Chag Sameach. 

u Rabbi Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force

 

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