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.
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 mysticism
In Jewish mystical 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
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.
One is our
God, in heaven and on earth - אחד אלוהינו שבשמיים ובארץ
Six are the books of the
Mishnah - שישה סידרי משנה
The six working days of the week
The six days of Creation
According to a
midrash, "All sevens are beloved": There are seven terms for the heavens and seven terms for the earth;
Enoch was the seventh generation from Adam; Moses was the seventh generation from Abraham; David was the seventh son in his family;
Asa (who called out to God) was the seventh generation of Israelite kings; the seventh day (
Shabbat), month (
Tishrei), year (
shmita) and shmita (
jubilee) all have special religious status.
There are ten
Sefirot (human and Godly characteristics) depicted in
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. 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
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, Moses built 12 pillars at Sinai representing the tribes, and Joshua erected twelve memorial stones at the Jordan River representing the tribes.
"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."