In the beginning... God created 7's.
Oh sure, He created light and dark, the heavens and earth, too. But for reasons unknown to us, He seemed to have a special affinity for the number 7.
The fact that the Torah begins with a verse containing 7 words and 28 letters (divisible by 7) is hardly remarkable. But when placed within the context of the overwhelming number of associations in Judaism with '7', a fascinating tapestry begins to unfurl. Let's take a closer look at this phenomenon.
Every spring, Jews around the world celebrate the holiday of Shavuot --commemorating the most seminal event in the history of mankind, God's revelation at Mount Sinai.
Shavuot. Curious name for this holiday, no? Shavuot means "weeks," underscoring the 7-week period between Passover and Shavuot in which we count each day (and week) in anticipation and preparation for re-living the Sinai revelation. But why call it Shavuot ― "weeks"? Why not call the holiday "Torah," or "Sinai," or "Commandments," or "Tablets." Of what significance is "Weeks"?
Time contains many different entities. Nearly all of them are related to natural phenomena. Days, nights, months, seasons and years are all directly determined, in some way, by the constellations. There is one exception ― the week. The formulation of a week seems to be totally arbitrary. Who needs it? Let one day just follow the previous one. And why 7 days?
The concept of a week and its constitution of 7 days is one that is strictly God-invented and human-adopted. While we may quibble about creation ― how, when, by whom, why ― the world has consensually agreed to the concept of a week. The Beatles were wrong... there are only 7 days in a week. And whenever a week is completed it is yet another reminder to mankind (or should be) that God created the world in 7 days. (Only 6 days were required to manufacture the physical structures, but the process was not complete until the spiritual realm, Shabbat, was added.)
Call it the "week link."
Kabbalah teaches that 7 represents wholeness and completion. After 7 days, the world was complete. There are 6 directions in our world: north, south, east, west, up and down. Add to that the place where you are, and you have a total of 7 points of reference.
Shavuot, marking the emergence of the Jewish people into a nation, by virtue of their receiving and accepting the Torah, also marks a completion. Perhaps that is why the holiday is called Shavuot, "Weeks." We want to identify this holiday as a completion of the process of Jewish nationhood.
No one is certain why God chose the number "7" to signify completion. All we can do is speculate, observe and marvel.
In honor of our own completion of the 49 day period leading up to Shavuot, we present 49 allusions to the number "7" within Judaism. How many of these do you recognize? How many more can you add?
The Magnificent Sevens!
- Shabbat is the 7th day of the week.
- There are 7 weeks in the counting of the Omer before Shavuot. (Leviticus 23:15)
- In Israel, there are 7 days of Passover and Sukkot. (Leviticus 23:6, 34)
- Every 7th year, the land lays fallow during Shmita (Sabbatical year). (Leviticus 25:4)
- After 7 cycles of Shmita, we have a Jubilee year (Yovel). (Leviticus 25:8)
- When a close relative dies, we sit Shiva for 7 days.
- On Sukkot we shake 7 species ― 1 Lulav, 1 Esrog, 2 willows, and 3 myrtles.
- Yitro, the first real convert to Judaism, had 7 different names, and 7 daughters (one who married Moses).
- Moses was born and died on the same day ― the 7th of Adar.
- Our Sukkah huts are "visited" by 7 guests ― Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David.
- The Menorah in the Temple had 7 branches.
- Achashvarosh, King of Persia during the miracle of Purim, held a party for 7 days. (Esther 1:5)
- There are 7 holidays in the Jewish year: Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot.
- In addition to the 613 Commandments, the Sages added 7 more.
- There are 7 Noachide Laws pertaining to all humanity.
- At every Jewish wedding, 7 blessings are recited (Sheva Brachot).
- Each Shabbat, 7 people are called to the Torah reading (Aliyot).
- The first verse in the Torah contains 7 words (and 28 letters).
- Our Matriarch Leah had 7 children ― six sons and one daughter.
- There were 7 days of preparation for the construction of the Tabernacle in the desert. (Leviticus 8:35)
- Traditionally, the bride circles the groom 7 times under the Chuppah (wedding canopy).
- We wind the Tefillin straps around the arm 7 times.
- Moses was the 7th generation after Abraham.
- Each plague in Egypt lasted 7 days.
- In Pharaoh's dreams there were 7 cows and 7 stalks of grain. (Genesis 41)
- The Biblical contamination period typically lasts 7 days. (Leviticus 13:4)
- God created 7 levels of heaven. (Hence the expression, "I'm in 7th heaven!")
- On Shabbat and holidays, we recite 7 blessings in the silent Amidah.
- There are 7 special species of produce by which the Land of Israel is praised: wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, figs, olives, and dates. (Deut. 8:8)
- The world has 7 continents.
- The 7 weeks of the Omer correspond to the 7 "sefirot," the 7 behavior traits in which we serve God: kindness, strength, beauty, triumph, splendor, foundation, and kingship.
- Noah sent the dove and the raven out of the Ark for 7 days to inspect the weather conditions. (Genesis 8:10)
- 7 nations warred with Israel: Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Amorites, Perizzites, Jebusites, and Girgashites.
- On Yom Kippur, the High Priest sprinkled the blood in the Temple 7 times. (Leviticus 16)
- The Jewish New Year of Rosh Hashana occurs, surprisingly, in the 7th month ― Tishrei. (Leviticus 23:24)
- The Jewish calendar, largely lunar, has a cycle of intercalation that contains 7 leap years during each 19-year period.
- There are 7 notes on the musical scale.
- A Kohen (priest) should participate in the burial of 7 relatives: father, mother, sister, brother, son, daughter, and spouse. (Leviticus 21:2)
- We dance 7 circles (hakafot) on the holiday of Simchat Torah.
- The smallest allowable dimension of a Sukkah is 7 cubits by 7 cubits.
- The world has 7 seas.
- Joshua led the Jewish People around the walls of Jericho 7 times before the walls fell. (Joshua 6:15)
- Jacob worked for Laban for 7 years (twice) in order to marry his daughters. (Genesis 29:27)
- The Holy Temple contained 7 gates of entry.
- We recite 7 blessings every day before and after the "Shema" ― 3 in the morning and 4 at night.
- The Talmud lists 7 female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Avigail, Chuldah, and Esther.
- A Jewish servant regains freedom after working for 7 years. (Exodus 21:2)
- We conclude our Yom Kippur prayers by proclaiming7 times, "The Lord is God!"
- A Jewish wedding is followed by 7 days of celebration (Sheva Brachot).