Torah Thoughts for Today
Monday, January 19, 2004
#11: Making it to Seventy: The Secret of a Critical Number
Making it to Seventy: The Secret of a Critical Number
(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Vayigash (“Came Up To”), read in synagogue. Genesis, Chapter 44, verse 18 – Chapter 47, verse 27. English text and commentary at
Dedicated to my Parents.)
Seventy is a very significant number in Judaism!
If you don’t pay attention there is a reference to seventy key people in this week’s Torah portion that flies by quickly.
In adding up the total number of family members who come down with Jacob to live with Joseph in Egypt the Torah mentions that:
“…the number of individuals (“nefesh” - “soul/s”) in Jacob’s family who came to Egypt was SEVENTY.” (Genesis Chapter 46, verse 27). They are known in classical Judaism as the “SHIVIM NEFESH” – “SEVENTY SOULS”.
The number includes Joseph and his sons who were already there.
There are crucial “stages” in the birth of the Jewish People:
1) First come the three “AVOT” – “(FORE)-FATHERS”, Abraham, his son Isaac, and his son Jacob. Their vital wives are Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.
2) Then on to the “SHEVATIM”, the “(TWELVE) TRIBES”, the twelve sons of Jacob:
(Reuben; Simeon; Levi; Judah; Issachar; Zebulun; Gad; Asher; Joseph; Benjamin; Dan; Naphtali).
3) And then the “SHIVIM NEFESH”, the “SEVENTY SOULS” consisting of Jacob’s twelve sons and their own children mentioned and enumerated in Genesis, Chapter 46.
4) This is on the developmental track to the next critical number of “SHISHIM RIBU”, the minimal number of “SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND” male Israelites (Exodus, Chapters 12, v. 37; 38, v. 26; Numbers Chapters 1 v. 46;2, v. 32;11, v. 21;26, v. 51), of over twenty years who become the full “AM or BENEI YISRAEL”, the “NATION or SONS OF ISRAEL”. Together with the women and the males, the final population number could be estimated at several million men, women, and children.
The first three “stages” of 3 Fathers, 12 Tribes, and 70 Souls may perhaps be compared to the three “trimesters” of a “pregnancy” of a soon-to-be-born “persona” which is developing and maturing before its birth. At the time of birth, which is what will happen at the Exodus, celebrated by Passover, a full “nation” of at least 600,000 comes into existence as a result of the successful maturation of the earlier developmental stages.
The initial “seed” is Abraham, who together with his wife Sarah, then produce a special son Isaac. Abraham’s primary spiritual mandate and legacy chosen to become Israel goes through Jacob who produces the TWELVE Tribes, the literal Children of Israel that grow into the SEVENTY Souls that becomes the nucleus for the expanded Nation of SIX HUNDRED THOUSAND males minimum. Once the “600,000” status is attained it will always be TRUE that the Jewish people will NEVER ever shrink below that size in their voyage through time, till the end of time.
(In 1948 by the way, there were over 600,000 Jews living in the newly created State of Israel, definitely some sort of historical milestone. Israel’s Jewish population has increased with an extra one million Jews EVERY decade of its growth over the last 50 plus years. Every 10 years equals 1,000,000 Jews; here comes that “Power of Ten Again!” Hitler must be rolling in the dust someplace, especially since he was cremated himself.) The numbers of Jews may increase above 600,000, but they have never dropped below that level ever since the Children of Israel reached that population figure in ancient Egypt!
(Side note: The number of SIX MILLION Jews who perished in Hitler’s European Holocaust has a frightening macabre symbolic connection to 600,000 as if Evil incarnate itself knew intuitively of some “ideal number” to murder and kill in a futile, yet bloody, attempt at “exterminating” the Jews, who nevertheless survived, and presently remain well above their “minimal requirement” of 600,000 males established as a “benchmark” in the Torah itself.)
What is it about the “SHIVIM NEFESH”, the “SEVENTY SOULS”, that is so vital to Jewish destiny? What deeper levels of meaning are there about the SEVENTY SOULS who came “down” to Egypt from the Holy land of (Israel), then called Canaan? Why is the number SEVENTY so important in Jewish life and thought in the Torah? How else does the figure “70” come up as a glaring definitive number for people and events in Judaism?
There is a Talmudic tradition that there are SEVENTY NATIONS (“SHIVIM AMIM”) in the world. This is derived from a count of the Children of Noah’s sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their offspring as enumerated in Genesis Chapter 10. There is also some disagreement as to how the count of SEVENTY nations is to be derived, of ascribing, for example, 14 nations to Japheth; 30 to Ham; and 26 to Shem. [*1] But what is very clear and established is that when mentioning a “general number” of gentile nations in the world at large, classical Judaism refers to them as SEVENTY NATIONS, even though there may be many more in other ways.
The destiny of the world’s SEVENTY NATIONS is directly connected to the existence and behavior of the Jewish SEVENTY SOULS. The nations of the world are literally morally and spiritually, even materially, adrift until such time as the Children of Israel show up on the world stage to become that GUIDE-LIGHT UNTO THE NATIONS (“OHR LAGOYIM”) only through its functioning as a pleasing Torah Nation. The SEVEN NOAHIDE laws that supposedly should have been, and still are, the moral and religious guidelines for gentile life are very shaky until such time as the Torah’s (“Bible’s”) wide ranging teachings on morality and monotheism take root. In order for that to happen, God brings onto the world stage, relatively late, a group of people who will be actual torch bearers of the Torah’s Divine mission. The Jewish people have to parallel in their own inner spiritual make up dimensions and qualities that will run in harmony with the SEVENTY external nations of the world. Therefore the Children of Israel must become a form of SEVENTY SOULS that will be spiritual powerhouses and guideposts for all other manifestations of SEVENTY in the entire world.
“According to many Torah commentators, this concept of (SEVENTY) seems to underlie the verse in Deuteronomy Chapter 32, verse 8 which says that God “ ‘ESTABLISHED THE BOUNDARIES OF NATIONS [THE SEVENTY NATIONS]…
ACCORDING TO THE NUMBER OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL’- NAMELY THE SEVENTY WHO DESCENDED TO EGYPT WITH JACOB. (Genesis, Chapter 46, verse 27).
…This tradition of SEVENTY NATIONS is deep-rooted.
According to the Midrash, each of the SEVENTY NATIONS is placed under the protection of a special angel.
Just as there are SEVENTY NATIONS, the words of the Torah engraved on the Tablets on Mount Ebal [Deuteronomy Chapter 27] were written in SEVENTY LANGUAGES SO THAT ALL THE NATIONS MIGHT READ IT.
FOR THE SAME REASON, GOD’S VOICE AT MOUNT SINAI DIVIDED ITSELF INTO SEVENTY LANGUAGES…
There were SEVENTY BULLOCKS sacrificed on Sukkot – Tabernacles to atone for the SEVENTY NATIONS…
The SEVENTY MEMBERS OF THE SANHEDRIN (the highest Jewish supreme court in ancient Israel and Judea) also corresponded to the SEVENTY NATIONS of the world.” [*2]
It is very basic to Judaism that the numbers SEVEN and TEN are connected with the notion of “KEDUSHAH” – “HOLINESS”. The “proofs” for this are fairly straightforward:
God created the world in SIX days and on the SEVENTH he rested. He sanctified it, meaning he made it a “HOLY DAY” and created the Jewish SABBATH. The first time “Holiness” is mentioned in the Torah is when that first SEVENTH Day is mentioned hence making it in a way a primary SOURCE and ENTRY POINT for Holiness to enter from the Celestial spheres into our mundane material world:“With the SEVENTH day, God finished all the work that He had done. He thus ceased on the SEVENTH day from all the work that He had been doing. God BLESSED the SEVENTH day, and He declared it to be HOLY, for it was on this day that God ceased from all the work that He had been creating so that it would continue to function.” (Genesis, Chapter 2, vs. 2-3). [*3]
Building on the significance and sanctity of SEVEN, there are other religious Torah phenomena, rituals and observances that revolve around SEVEN (3 Forefathers plus 4 Mothers, the 7 Branched Menorah-Candelabrum in the Temple representing the Light of Torah), SEVEN days (Pesach-Passover, Sukkot-Tabernacles), SEVEN weeks (Counting of Omer-Offerings of new crops between Passover and Shavuot-Pentecost), SEVEN years (Shemitah-Sabbatical for lands), SEVEN cycles of SEVEN years (Yovel-Jubilee Year of Freedom for slaves), and even SEVEN decades (“Average” Lifespan, Exile in Babylon as foretold in prophecy). There is even the concept that the world will exist for SEVEN millennia (Seventh millennium will be totally peaceful). In each instance the arrival at the number of SEVEN means that an indisputable level of “KEDUSHAH” – HOLINESS has been reached and attained, and, hopefully, “locked in”.
The number TEN’s greatest “embodiment” of something supremely Holy is the fact that God chose to express His most important commandments through the TEN Commandments He spoke at Mount Sinai over 3,300 years ago, (Exodus, Chapter 20), which was inscribed on the two Tablets that were handed to Moses to be brought to the Children of Israel. Moses smashed the first set of Ten Commandments when he saw the Israelites worshipping the Golden Calf. The TEN Commandments were “re-issued” when a SECOND set of TEN Commandments (Exodus Chapter 34) were given by God to Moses having forgiven the sin of the Golden Calf.
Both the broken first set of TEN Commandments and the whole second set of TEN Commandments were placed INSIDE the Holy Ark of the COVENANT (Exodus Chapter 40) which was always in the center of the HOLY OF HOLIES of the Tabernacle and then in the Jewish Holy Temples called the “HOUSE OF HOLINESS” – “BEIT HAMIKDASH built first by King Solomon in Jerusalem, (I KINGS, Chapter 8).
The Mishnaic work Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers in the Fifth Chapter, dedicates space to elaborating on the importance and significance of TEN:
1) With TEN “utterances” (ma’amarot) the world was created (by God)…to bestow goodly reward upon the righteous who sustain it.
2) TEN generations from Adam to Noah to show the degree of God’s patience, for those generations angered Him greatly till He brought the Flood.
3) TEN generations from Noah to Abraham, to show the degree of God’s patience, for all those generations angered Him, until our forefather Abraham came and received the reward of them all.
4) Abraham was tested with TEN trials (tests), and he withstood them all, showing his love for God.
5) TEN miracles were performed for our ancestors in Egypt and TEN at the (splitting of the) Sea, when TEN plagues were brought on the Egyptians in Egypt and TEN at the Sea.
6) With TEN trials (tests) did our ancestors test the Holy One in the Wilderness as it says “They have tested Me these TEN times…”(Numbers Chapter 14, verse 22).
7) TEN Miracles were performed for our ancestors in the Holy Temple.
8) TEN things were created on Sabbath eve at twilight. [*4]
Thus there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that both SEVEN and TEN denote SUPREME HOLINESS AND SANCTITY IN JUDAISM as expressed through the teachings of both the Written and Oral Law. It therefore must follow that any multiples or combinations of SEVEN and TEN must be connected with absolute Holiness and Sanctity. The number SEVENTY consists of either SEVEN UNITS OF TEN OR TEN UNITS OF SEVEN, quite a mighty and potent force of combined Holy Numbers that must be laden with extremely “high voltage” spiritual power sources linked to the supreme source of all Jewish sanctity, God Himself.
These numbers of SEVEN, TEN, and SEVENTY are considered to be of supreme significance in the esoteric Kabbalistic domain of Torah study, which takes our basic material and subject matter into the spiritual stratosphere. The numbers SEVEN, TEN, and SEVENTY all make up variations of the SEFIROT or “SPIRITUAL MANIFESTATIONS OR EMANATIONS” of God’s Divinity.
For example, the following is mentioned by Rabbi Shimon Leiberman at http://www.aish.com/spirituality/kabbala101/Kabbala_3_-_The_Ten_Sefirot.asp
“The building blocks of Kabbalistic terminology are the TEN Sefirot (emanations). These are the TEN emanations or "lights" through which God interacts with, and relates to, His world…God's unity vis-à-vis the TEN Sefirot (emanations) may be likened to a ray of sun passing through a prism. On one side, we have a single ray of light, while, on the other side, we perceive a radiation of SEVEN colors. The person sitting on the other side perceives this as if it were many lamps radiating many hues, while in reality it is ONE lamp. The multi-hued rainbow is a "distortion" created by the prism that the light passed through…From our side of the prism, each and every one of these events is disparate. Yet we recognize them as being the work of ONE God, with ONE purpose, with a UNIFIED plan of action for the world.
Thus the TEN Sefirot (emanations) are the various ways we perceive God through His action within the world, while we firmly believe in the UNITY (ONENESS) of God…The following is a literal translation of these TEN modes. It is advised that not much be read into these terms, since most of them are highly metaphorical and their content bears little resemblance to their literal terms…
The TEN Sefirot (emanations) are: Keter - crown, Chochmah - wisdom,Binah - understanding,Chessed - kindness,Gevura - strength,Tiferet - beauty,Netzach - victory,Hod - awe,Yesod - foundation,Malchut - monarchy. Sometimes the Sefirot are listed without Keter, and then Da'at -wisdom, is included between Bina and Chesed.” [*5]
SEVEN has a role in these schemata as it too, as an example, is touched upon in http://www.thirtysevenbooks.com/Sphirot.htm
“Adapted from Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Copyright 1981 "Kehot" Publication Society”:
“…The total order of the Sefirot (emanations) is generally divided into two groups referred to as the "THREE mothers and SEVEN multiples." That is, the FIRST THREE are the principal Sefirot (emanations), the immot (mothers), from and through which the other SEVEN Sefirot (emanations) issue forth. When beginning with Chochmah (wisdom), the triad of the FIRST THREE Sefirot (emanations) is also called Sechel (Intellect) while the other SEVEN Sefirot (emanations) are called Midot (Attributes; Emotive Faculties). Another distinction is made by calling the FIRST THREE the "THREE Rishonot" (the THREE FIRST ONES, or at times the THREE Upper Ones), and the other SEVEN are called the "SEVEN Tachtonot (SEVEN Lower Ones). The "SEVEN Lower Ones" are subdivided into the TWO TRIADS of Chesed-Gevurah-Tiferet (kindness-strength-beauty) and Netzach-Hod-Yesod (victory-awe-foundation), (all these SIX together are called the "SIX Kitzavot"--the "SIX Extremities"), and the SINGULAR LAST ONE of Malchut (monarchy). While there are a number of other such groupings and distinctions that abound in the mystical writings, the above are the principal or most common ones.”
“The Sefirot are Divine emanations, various phases in the manifestation of Divinity. As we speak of them in terms of numerous gradations, extreme care must be taken to avoid any fatal misconception of dualism or plurality in the Godhead. There is no suggestion that the Sefirot (emanations) are to be taken as entities distinct and separate from God Himself- the En Sof (Infinite). On the contrary, there is a basic and intrinsic UNITY (ONENESS) between God Himself- the En Sof (Infinite) and the Sefirot (emanations). This absolute and intrinsic UNITY (ONENESS) has already been stressed in the ancient Sefer Yetzirah - (“Book of Creation”): "The TEN Sefirot (emanations) are without anything (beli-mah). Their end is wedged in their beginning; their beginning is wedged in their end--like a flame bound up in the coal. For the Eternal is ONE, and there is no second to Him, and prior to ONE what can you count!" [*6]
Thus it is logical to say that based on the above information from the well-springs of Torah knowledge, that when Jacob’s extended “MISHPOCHEH” – “FAMILY” reached that point when SEVENTY uniquely Godly individuals were born, they each represented a special “MANIFESTATION” or “EMANATION” of Godliness into this world, something that had not hitherto happened. Please note that the Torah refers to them as “NEFESH” which means the “LIVING SOUL OF LIFE” (as in Genesis Chapter 2, verse 7). These SEVENTY were not mere mortals, they are described as being on the level of “LIVING SOULS” a state of spiritual being and God consciousness larger than ordinary life. They represent the culmination of the “blood, sweat, and tears” of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their wives. They are a flowering of twelve “Tribes” into an entity capable of undertaking a perilous challenge and journey into an exile as a COLLECTIVE GROUP. From the time they enter Egypt, the countdown to the “launch” of a new national phenomenon that will alter the face of civilization commences: The arrival of the Children of Israel – The Jewish People on the stage of world affairs who will launch a world-wide movement of Ethical Monotheism rooted in the Torah of Judaism.
Rabbi David Feinstein explains that: “Each of the SEVENTY NATIONS represented a unique characteristic…All these national virtues and strains of character are present in Israel as well, for each person has gifts to develop and temptations to overcome. God wants all nations to rise to their greatest spiritual potential. These variations were present in the individuals of Jacob’s family. And the SEVENTY languages used by Moses parallel the SEVENTY facets of Torah; each ‘speaks’ to one of the SEVENTY CHARACTERISTICS with which God has populated the world…Israel, as the spiritual model and leader of the world, was to demonstrate within itself that eminence is within reach of every nation; that every type of person can live a Torah life. Therefore, a significant portion of Jewish life revolves around the number SEVENTY to symbolize that every national trait can become harnessed for HOLY purposes.” [*7]
Talking of life itself we must note the famous verse from Psalms 90 that sets down the “definitive” standard for the age allotted to a man and woman to live – SEVENTY YEARS: “THE DAYS OF OUR YEARS AMONG THEM ARE SEVENTY YEARS (“SHIVIM SHANNAH”), AND IF WITH MIGHT EIGHTY YEARS; THEIR PROUDEST SUCCESS IS BUT TOIL AND PAIN, FOR IT IS CUT OFF SWIFTLY AND WE FLY AWAY !” (Psalm 90, verse 10).
There is a school of thought (Radak) that says that Moses was the “author” of this Psalm, and that even though he lived to be 120, and indeed God had actually “curtailed” people living hundreds of years in the times before the Flood in Noah’s time, and stated that the life of a person was to be no more than 120 years, “God said, ‘My spirit will not continue to judge man forever, since he is nothing but flesh. His days shall be 120 years’.” (Genesis Chapter 6, verse 3.) Moses was enunciating that an AVERAGE person’s life was now to be 70 years, maybe 80 if blessed with “might”, and not much longer. There is another school of thought (Tosafos) that it was King David, the over-all author of Psalms, who “entered” (into the Divine “computer program for the Universe”) the age of SEVENTY YEARS for the life span of a person, since in his times already most people did NOT live to 120 but basically made it to 70. King David himself died at age 70. [*8]
The Ethics of the Fathers – “Pirkei Avot” (Chapter 5, Mishna 25) teaches that Yehuda Ben Teimah said: “…at 60 old age (“ben shishim leziknah”); at 70 RIPE OLD AGE (“ben shivim leseivah”); at 80 shows “strength” (ben shmonim ligvurah”); at 90 stooped over (“ben tishim lasuach”); a 100 year old is as if he were dead, passed away and ceased from the world (“ben meah keilu meit…”).”
IN STATING THAT A “SEVENTY YEAR OLD ATTAINS RIPE OLD AGE”, it’s noted that: “This was the age at which King David died, of whom it was said: ‘HE DIED IN FULLNESS OF YEARS’ (“BESEIVAH TOVAH”) (I Chronicles, 29:28) [*9]
There is a famous Oral teaching that King David was destined to be stillborn, and when this somehow became known to Adam, the first Man, he “granted” King David SEVENTY of his own years and lived only to 930 of the 1,000 years he should have lived. Thus King David who is the first person to unite and perfect the Messianic Monarchy of Judaism embodies in his own personal life span the notion of SEVENTY YEARS OF LIFE. Yet there is a curious thing about King David, that even though he may have passed away a long time ago at age SEVENTY yet Jews do not consider him to be “dead and gone” at all. On the contrary, there is a famous song that is sung “DAVID MELECH YISRAEL CHAI VEKAYAM !” – “DAVID KING OF ISRAEL LIVES AND CONTINUES”!
How is that possible?
It’s because King David’s mission and family lives on. The true Jewish Messiah will be known as “MASHIACH BEN DAVID” – MESSIAH SON OF DAVID, it will be as if DAVID HIMSELF HAD RETURNED TO RULE a rowdy world and make eternal Peace. A great secret of his relatively “short” life, is that his SEVENTY YEAR LIFE embodies and continues to radiate HOPE for the restoration of any past lost Jewish spiritual glories, such as a the longing for Israel’s rebirth as a people free to fulfill its mission. It has in it an indestructible quality of the collective Jewish heart and soul that can never really “die” but rather lives on with greater vitality in each successive generation. This is the result of the powerful energies and qualities that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and their family’s SEVENTY SOULS inserted PERMANENTLY into the life and soul of each and every Jew till the end of time.
Have a great Shabbat and please let me know what you think!
[*1] Genesis, Artscroll English translation with commentary, Volume 1(a), pp. 309-310.
[*3] The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, English translation, Genesis p.7.
[*4] Ethics of the Fathers – Pirkei Avos, Chapter 5, Mishna 1-8, Artscroll Siddur -Prayerbook with English translation, pp. 571-573.
[*5] Rabbi Shimon Leiberman, http://www.aish.com/spirituality/kabbala101/Kabbala_3_-_The_Ten_Sefirot.asp
[*6] Adapted from: Mystical Concepts in Chassidism, by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, Copyright 1981 "Kehot" Publication Society,
[*7] Rabbi David Feinstein, Genesis, Artscroll, Op. Cit., p.309.
[*8] Book of Psalms, Artscroll with English translation, p.197.
[*9] Ethics of the Fathers, Op. Cit, p. 578.