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Passover by the numbers

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By Judi Siegal

When I was in the classroom, I used to love to play a game with my students as part of the Passover study unit. I discovered that the holiday centered on an unusual amount of numbers and that each of these numbers played an important part in the history of the festival. Without assigning any particular symbolism to the numbers (that is an entirely different topic) I would like to point out, as I did with my students, all the different numbers and how we can look at the holiday through the “eyes” of numbers.

Starting at the beginning with one, there is no question what that number stands for. God is one in Judaism and the Jewish people is one. Number two gives us the two tablets of the law (stones on which were written the Ten Commandments) and the number of seders (symbolic Passover meals) traditional Jews hold. It also stands for the first two days of the festival and the last two days of the festival, which by traditional Judaism are considered to be holy days.

Number three has to do with the three matzot that are used at the seder. They are symbolic of the three classes of the Israelites in ancient times: the priests, the priests’ assistants and the general populace. It is also the number of days it took to reach the Reed Sea.

The fourth number gets very interesting. There are four sons (and their various attitudes towards the Passover observance as described in scripture), four questions the youngest child asks at the seder, four cups of wine which are drunk and four promises God makes to the Israelites: I will bring you out of Egypt, I will deliver you from bondage, I will redeem you and I will take you to Me for a people.

Number five stands for the learned rabbis as described in the Haggadah, (seder guidebook) who stayed up all night discussing the Exodus and its significance and for the five symbolic foods on the seder plate.

Skipping over to seven, there are the seven lean cows and seven fat cows in Pharaoh’s dream, seven days of the week, and seven days of Passover. (As observed in Israel).

Other significant numbers include eight, number of days Passover is observed outside of the State of Israel, ten, which stands for the Ten Commandments and the ten plagues that were visited upon Egypt for the Pharaoh’s refusal to let the Israelites free, twelve, number of steps to the seder, eighteen, minutes needed to bake matza before it rises, forty, number of days and nights Moses was on Mount Sinai and also the number of years the Israelites wandered in the dessert before reaching the Promised Land, 300, years the Israelites were slaves in Egypt and 600,000 the estimated number of Hebrew slaves that left Egypt during the Exodus.

Depending upon your interpretation, there are probably other numbers to consider but these were a few of the highlights. For me, the number four is especially significant for it was exactly four years ago that I started writing this column for the South Marion Citizen and a bit later for the Citrus County Chronicle. Since Passover is a spring festival and occurs during a time of renewal and hope, it was a fitting season for beginning things and starting new ventures. I have enjoyed sharing my knowledge of Judaism with the readers of these papers and hope to continue as long as I am able.

May the coming spring festivals of Passover and Easter usher in new hope and renewal for all of us. And may the eternal Passover message resonate throughout the world so that all may experience living in freedom. Happy Passover and Happy Easter!

(Passover this year begins at sundown, April 8, 2009 and ends on April 16, 2009).

Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil, and they enjoy RVing together.