Significance of numbers in Judaism

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Various numbers play a significant role in Jewish texts or practice. Some such numbers were used as mnemonics to help remember concepts, while other numbers were considered to have intrinsic significance or allusive meaning.

The song Echad Mi Yodea ("who knows one?"), sung at the Passover Seder, is known for recounting a religious concept or practice associated with each of the first 13 numbers.

In Jewish History[edit]

In Jewish historical study, numbers were believed to be a means for understanding the divine. This marriage between the symbolic and the physical found its pinnacle in the creation of the Tabernacle. The numerical dimensions of the temple are a "microcosm of creation ... that God used to create the Olamot-Universes."[1]

In the thought system of Maharal, each number has a consistent philosophical meaning: 1 - unity. 2 - dualism and multiplicity. 3 - the unity between two extremes. 4 - multiplicity in two directions, like the cardinal directions. 5 - the center point which unifies those four extremes. 6 - multiplicity in three dimensions. 7 - the center point which unifies all of nature, as with Shabbat. 8 - the supernatural realm which feeds nature, and the striving of man for a connection with the supernatural. 9 - the most complete multiplicity, including division between the natural and supernatural. 10 - the final unification between natural and supernatural.[2]


Echad Mi Yodea begins with the line "One is Hashem, in the heavens and the earth - אחד אלוהינו שבשמיים ובארץ." The monotheistic nature of normative Judaism, referenced also as the "oneness of God," is a common theme in Jewish liturgy - such as the central prayer - as well as Rabbinic literature. Maimonides writes in the 13 Principles of Faith that

God, the Cause of all, is one. This does not mean one as in one of a pair, nor one like a species (which encompasses many individuals), nor one as in an object that is made up of many elements, nor as a single simple object that is infinitely divisible. Rather, God is a unity, unlike any other possible unity.[3]


Two "defines the concept of evenness,"[4] and can represent God's relationship with humanity or the people Israel. It is also linked to the two tablets of the covenant (such as in Echad Mi Yodea) and the two inclinations; the yetzer hara and yetzer hatov.

On Shabbat, it's traditional to light two candles; one to represent keeping (שמור) the Sabbath, and the other to represent remembering (זכור) it. There are several common re-interpretations of this custom. The two candles may also represent husband and wife, the second soul received on Shabbat, or the division between light and dark in the creation story.[5][6]


  • Three are the Fathers (Patriarchs) - שלושה אבות (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)
  • The three sons of Noah (Ham, Shem and Japheth)
  • Number of aliyot on a non-Yom Tov Monday and Thursday Torah reading and number of aliyot in Shabbat Mincha
  • The Holy of Holies occupied one-third of the area of the Temple (and previously, Tabernacle)
  • The angels declared that God was "Holy, holy, holy" for a total of three times[7]
  • The Priestly Blessing contains three sections
  • On the third day the Jewish people received the Torah


  • Four are the Mothers (Matriarchs) - ארבע אימהות (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah)
  • The number of aliyot on Rosh Chodesh
  • At the Passover Seder four cups of wine are drunk, and four expressions of redemption are recited
  • Both the heavens[8] and earth[9] were described as having four sides or corners, similar to the cardinal directions.


  • Five are the books of the Torah - חמישה חומשי תורה
  • Of the Ten Commandments, five were written on each of the two tablets.[10]
  • The sections of the book of Psalms
  • The number of knots in the tzitzit
  • Number of aliyot on Yom Tov that does not coincide with Shabbat
  • Five species of grain


  • Six are the books of the Mishnah - שישה סידרי משנה
  • The six working days of the week
  • The six days of Creation



  • Eight are the days of the circumcision - שמונה ימי מילה
  • Total number of days of Yom Tov in a year in Israel
  • Number of days of Chanukah
  • 8 days of sukkos
  • Number of days of Pesach (Diaspora)
  • According to the Zohar, the number eight signifies new beginnings because the eighth day was the first day after creation when God returned to work; the week began again.[citation needed]


  • The first nine days of the Hebrew month of Av are collectively known as "The Nine Days" (Tisha HaYamim), and are a period of semi-mourning leading up to Tisha B'Av, the ninth day of Av on which both Temples in Jerusalem were destroyed


  • The Ten Commandments - עשרה דיבריא
  • The ten Plagues of Egypt
  • Ten Jewish people form a minyan
  • There are ten Sefirot (human and Godly characteristics) depicted in Kabbalah
  • According to the Mishna, the world was created by ten divine utterances; ten generations passed between Adam and Noah and between Noah and Abraham; Abraham received ten trials from God; the Israelites received ten trials in the desert; there were ten plagues in Egypt; ten miracles occurred in the Temple; ten apparently supernatural phenomena were created during twilight in the sixth day of creation.[14] The number ten in this Mishna indicates a large number (e.g. the Mishna declares that Abraham's willingness to undergo ten trials "indicates his love for God").


  • Eleven are the stars of the Joseph's dream - אחד עשר כוכביא
  • There are eleven spices in the Incense offering


  • Twelve are the tribes of Israel - שנים עשר שיבטיא
  • Ritual items frequently came in twelves to represent the role of each tribe. The high priest's breastplate (hoshen) had twelve precious stones embedded within them, representing the 12 tribes. Elijah built his altar with 12 stones to represent the tribes,[15] Moses built 12 pillars at Sinai representing the tribes,[16] and Joshua erected twelve memorial stones at the Jordan River representing the tribes.[17]
  • "All of God's creations are equal in number to the 12 tribes: 12 astrological signs, 12 months, 12 hours of the day, 12 hours of the night, 12 stones that Aaron [the high priest] would wear."[18]
  • The Temple Mount could be accessed through twelve gates
  • Age of Bat Mitzvah, when a Jewish female becomes obligated to follow Jewish law
  • There were twelve loaves of show-bread on the shulchan (table) in the Beit Hamikdash
  • Sons of Jacob
  • Number of springs of water Elim



  • The number of steps in the Passover Seder
  • The number of books in the Mishnah Torah, also entitled Yad Hahazaka in which the word Yad has gematria 14


  • One of two numbers that is written differently from the conventions of writing numbers in Hebrew in order to avoid writing the name of God.[19] The other is 16.
  • The number of words in the Priestly Blessing


  • One of two numbers that is written differently from the conventions of writing numbers in Hebrew in order to avoid writing the name of God. The other is 15.


  • Gematria of "chai", the Hebrew word for life. Multiples of this number are considered good luck and are often used in gift giving.
  • The Amidah is also known as "Shemoneh Esreh" ("Eighteen"), due to originally having 18 blessings, though a 19th blessing was later added



  • Minimum age to join the Israelite army
  • In halakhah, the death penalty was only carried out if the offender was at least 20 years old









  • Moses stayed on mount Sinai for 40 days after the giving of Torah. After the golden calf, he spend there another 40 days (and nights)
  • The number of days the spies were in the land of Canaan
  • Years in the desert—a generation[22]
  • Just as Mozes, the reign of king David and Solomon was also 40 years
  • Days and nights of rain during the flood that occurred at the time of Noah
  • Isaac's age at marriage to Rebecca
  • Esau's age at marriage to his first two wives
  • Number of days Jonah prophesies will pass before Nineveh is destroyed. (They repent)
  • A mikveh must contain at least 40 se'ah (volume measurement) of water
  • Number of years of the reign of David, Solomon, and the most righteous judges in the book of Judges
  • Number of lashes for one who transgresses a commandment
  • Number of days which the Torah was given
  • Number of weeks a person is formed in their mother's womb
  • Number of curses on Adam
  • Minimum age at which a man could join the Sanhedrin


  • Letters in one of God's Divine Names
  • 42 cities that refugees (See Cities of Refuge) can go to when they kill accidentally
  • There were 42 journeys of the sons of Israel through the desert
  • 42 Juveniles mauled by 2 she bears at Bethel after identifying prophet Elisha as 'Baldy' (head uncovered)


  • The 50th year of the sabbatical cycle was the Jubilee year






  • The age of Jochebed when she gave birth to Moses.[25]
  • The 130 shekels of silver was offered during the dedication of the altar.


  • Number of positive commandments
  • Number of limbs (איברים) in man's body



  • Number of men Abraham took to battle against the 4 kings (Genesis 14:14); also gematria of Eliezer (Abraham's servant)


  • Length of the solar calendar (which has significance in Judaism)
  • Number of prohibitive commandments
  • Number of arteries in the body



The amount of shekalim Abraham paid Ephron (Bereishit 23:15)

The amount of men with Esav

Years in Egypt



  • The total number of mitzvot, including those of Torah and Rabbinic origin.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kaplan 1990: p. 57
  2. ^ המהר”ל מפראג
  3. ^ Yesode Ha-Torah 1:7
  4. ^ "Seven: The Power of Numbers".
  5. ^ "Lighting Shabbat Candles: Dividing Between Light and Darkness".
  6. ^ "Why Light Two (or More) Shabbat Candles?".
  7. ^ Isaiah 6:3
  8. ^ Daniel 8:8
  9. ^ Isaiah 11:12, etc.
  10. ^ Rashi, Numbers 7.23
  11. ^ Leviticus Rabbah 29:11
  12. ^ a b c d Gabriella Samuel, The Kabbalah Handbook: A Concise Encyclopedia of Terms and Concepts in Jewish Mysticism, New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2007. p. 242. ISBN 1-58542-560-5.
  13. ^ Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 4:2
  14. ^ Pirkei Avot 5:1-6
  15. ^ 1 Kings 18:31
  16. ^ Exodus 24:4
  17. ^ Joshua 4:2–9
  18. ^ Midrash Tanhuma, Vayeshev 8
  19. ^ Dosick 1995: p. 155
  20. ^ Talmud Bavli, Bava Metzia 84a
  21. ^ Numbers 25:9
  22. ^ Numbers 14:18–35
  23. ^ Genesis 46:27
  24. ^ Numbers 11:16
  25. ^ Rashi, Exodus 2:1
  26. ^ Rashi, Exodus 23:21