The Magnificent 7
by Esther Shuker
I have always enjoyed the more mystical side of Judaism and Torah study, and especially the magic of gematria, the system by which all Hebrew letters have a numerical value. Through studying these values, it is possible to gain a deeper insight into the meanings and messages contained in the Torah. The Tanach is full of mysterious connections and significance based on special numbers –but I would like to share with you some amazing facts surrounding the number 7 – so significant to us at this time of year, when we have just finished counting 7 lots of 7 days, culminating in that most special day which follows the 49th, but which is merely named Shavuot, weeks.
It is considered to be one of the most powerful and lucky numbers in the Torah, as I will explain.
[Thanks must go to Aish.com, Chabad.org, Lubavitcher Rebbe, other sources including John Chart, who not only threw examples of sevens every time he would see me in shul, but also came up with the brilliant title!]
At the very beginning of the Torah, in the first verse of Bereishit, Hashem sets the numerical tone:
‘Bereishit bara Elokim et haShamayim v’et haAretz’ - "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." For the mathematicians here, you will already know that this verse contains seven words and 28 letters.
This number is repeated throughout the Bible as a number of perfection and completeness. For instance, there are seven feasts of Israel, seven good years and seven years of famine, as interpreted in Pharaoh's dreams, seven years of service for each of Jacob's wives, Rachel and Leah, seven lamps of the Menorah, and so on. Moreover, Moshe was the 7th generation descendant of Abraham. Even the word for luck – Gad – has a value of 7.
During my fascinating (and extensive) research into this subject, I learn't that Ivan Panin, a Russian non-Jewish émigré who died in 1942, wrote more than 42,000 pages of notes purely on gamatria - over 50 of which concern multiples of seven in the very first verse of Bereishit. I thought it would be wonderful and easy to just read you a few of his pages of research… and then I imagined Deanna’s reaction, and I thought again!! Just to whet your appetite, I can divulge that the sum of the nouns in that first sentence (God, heavens and earth) is 777 (7 × 111), and the first 3 words – Bereishit bara Elokim’ have exactly 14 letters.
Continuing with the topic of Bereishit and Creation, we're told that our pulse beats slower every seven days as if it were at rest in accordance with the 7th day of creation when God rested. Hashem formed man from the dust of the ground (Gen 2:7) Amazingly, science confirms that the human body is made of the same 14 elements (2 x 7) found in your average handful of dust!
In almost all animals the incubation or pregnancy period is divisible by seven.
Many Jewish lifecycle observances are seven-day affairs. Two seven-day festivals frame our year—Passover in Nissan and Sukkot, occurring exactly six months later, in Tishrei.
The death of a loved one, G d forbid, is mourned for seven days (shivah). There are the seven clean days of the niddah (menstruating woman),
Seven is often referred to as "God's seal" or the number of spiritual perfection.
Let’s talk about tefillin, which are a symbol of the loving relationship between the Jewish nation and G d. This is likened to the relationship between a husband and wife. They are wrapped seven times around the arm. The seven coils of the arm tefillin correspond to the seven words in the verse "Poteach et yadecha u'masbia le'chol chai ratzon" – "You open Your hand and satisfy every living thing [with] its desire."
Upon marrying, seven blessings are recited at the wedding ceremony, and the bride walks around the groom seven times …
The marriage is then celebrated for a full week of sheva berachot (“seven blessings”).
This year, as you may know, is a Shmittah year in Israel, whereby every 7 years the land is allowed to remain fallow. Farmers leave their fields to go and study Torah so while the land is untended people can introspect and reconnect with themselves and with Hashem. Worries about sowing, pruning, maintenance, reaping, market prices and other concerns become irrelevant.
Shmitta is a means for connecting everything back to its source. As we grow farther in time from the point of creation, we need Shmitta to bring us home. Just when creation seems a faded memory and we feel that we humans use our own brilliance to run the world and reap our own rewards, shmitta arrives to bring a Shabbat to the land and to us, and that changes everything. Whatever grows during the Shmittah year is free for anyone to just come along and take. If you go to Israel this year, you will see it with your own eyes. This is a true test of faith in God because it sounds ludicrous as a business model that a farmer would simply leave his source of income and count on God’s kindness to provide for our needs, not just for the Shmittah year, but for the preceding year, when God needs to provide sufficient crops for the next 2 years – the Shmittah year itself and also the following year, when nothing grew because nothing was sown.
I have not yet mentioned Shabbat, which is the culmination of our most obvious Seven, the seven-day work/rest cycle that comprises our week, and a reenactment of the original seven days of creation when “in six days G d made the heavens and the earth . . . and on the seventh day He rested’. Shabbat connects us back to the source of everything -- the beginning. Indeed, the word sheva itself comes from the word shav, to return.
It is nothing less than a wonder that the only chronological system for counting days that has survived history in a meaningful way is the seven day week that all governments use today. We know that days follow the earth's rotation on its axis, months follow the moon's cycle, and years parallel the earth's revolution around the sun. However, the seven day week has no natural parallel or astronomical basis. It seems to come from nowhere. Though used by the Hindus, Babylonians, Chinese, Romans and Egyptians, and later Christians and Moslems, who shifted the Sabbath to different days, the universal seven day system derived from Jewish practice.
When the boundaries between the holy and the mundane are strictly enforced, we can experience holiness in our lives; it’s a question of elevating our everyday activities to make them holy. This takes years and is a work in progress – for me at least.
If we go back to Bereishit, we can now see that the seventh day, seven weeks, seventh year and the jubilee are all constituent parts of the cycles of creation.
The material and spiritual aspects of our lives differ greatly, yet both are part of nature and both follow the laws of creation Hashem has put in place for us to use and enjoy whilst making ourselves the best we can be.
Thank you for listening, and make sure that later on you spot the seven flavours of cake, seven blends of tea, seven kinds of nuts and seven types of fruits.