On Monday evening, January 11, Rabbi Shmuel Reichman, author, educator, speaker, coach, and founder and CEO of Self-Mastery Academy, shared a fascinating and deep shiur on the concept of numbers in connection with Judaism. He illuminated how there is a deep connection between numbers and Torah in a way that changed this writer’s view of math and numbers in general. Math was never my strong interest, but this new way of looking at numbers gave me a better appreciation and awe of the depth and intricacy of Torah and its connection to math.
He began by posing the question of why counting klal Yisrael is allowed sometimes and other times not allowed. He shared that the Hebrew word for counting or to designate is lifkod. He noted that in Hebrew the word is its essence. The root of lifkod is tafkid or purpose. Why is counting connected to purpose? Another word for counting is limnos or minyan. Minyan means counting and the root of minyan is min, which means species or category. Also, a min is someone who rejects Judaism and is categorized as outside the fold. In Sefer Yonah, it says “Va’y’man Hashem dag gadol – Hashem prepared (or appointed) a great fish.”
Pekudah also means someone trustworthy. Potifar tells Yosef to appoint overseers over the land and he uses the word yafkeid. Rabbi Reichman added that emunah means faithfulness to the truth. It has the same root as limnos, to count. So faithful has a connection to counting. There is an idea that Hashem loves to count the Jewish people.
He then delved into the question of why it’s problematic to count klal Yisrael. He asked, “What is a number?” The spiritual approach is to recognize the source of numbers. Hashem is oneness. He has no parts. He is non-corporeal and above space and time. He is oneness – deep oneness. “The physical world is finite and it’s an expression of the infinite.”
Rabbi Reichman taught that counting requires borders. Something infinite cannot be counted. “Numbers exist as an expression of the infinite.” The word mispar reveals the essence of the concept of numbers. As he explained, in lashon ha’kodesh words mean what they are. The word mispar means something that has boundaries. It’s finite and limited. You can point to it. The word sefer is in the word mispar. A book tells you a story. A story joins individual pieces together. It is numeration in the form of words. Individual pieces come together to create oneness. “A sefer Torah is a limited expression of Hashem’s will in the world.” In Tanach, it states that the Heavens will unfold like a book.”
He shared that each of us is creating a story of our lives. “Heavens will tell the story of Hashem’s honor in this world.” When we recognize Hashem’s truth, this is kavod of Hashem. The world reveals its root, which is spiritual. The word mispar counts the physical. We can’t count things that are not physical. Every number is a limited detail. That’s why we can’t count Hashem. He is not limited. He is beyond enumeration. This is also why we can’t count Jews: because our root is Hashem. We are rooted in the transcendent, the Divine – beyond limit.
The concept of counting is limited. It says you are just this. You have boundaries. “Counting only begins when there’s a two. In the Creation story it describes Day One and then it goes on to say second, third, etc. It doesn’t start with first because second is only a response to first.
Rabbi Reichman taught that there are two forms of counting. The first is practical counting and it’s mechanical. The higher form is counting that connects each piece to its transcendent source. The act of counting is uplifting and it is connecting the thing counted to something higher. “The concept of counting is lifting up.” On Yom Kippur, each counting of the Kohen Gadol connects back to its source.
When we join a minyan, it’s all about the concept of connecting. This connection enables us to connect to the spiritual source. He explained that the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash connect Hashem to this world. It’s connecting the infinite to the finite. The machatzis ha’shekel, which was used to count B’nei Yisrael, went towards the place where we connect to Hashem. It also went towards communal korbanos. The machatzis ha’shekel was used to build the sockets. They support the connection – the foundation.
The essence of counting is connecting pieces together.
This shiur can be viewed on www.TorahAnytime.com.
By Susie Garber