On Wednesday night, Cantor Friedrich and I saw a pretty unbelievable game of baseball at Citizens Bank Park. It started out as a Phillies' fan might expect - the Phillies came out strong and then kind of petered out as the game went on - but it ended up being a 19-inning marathon, that lasted over six hours, and was the longest game ever played in that ballpark! It also included some pretty funny numbers, like a relief pitcher throwing 73 pitches over five innings, a second baseman pitching a scoreless 19th inning, and 16 pitchers used between the two teams. Baseball is always a game of numbers and statistics, but it seemed a lot more evident last night than usual.
And as we begin the fourth Book of the Torah, known in English as The Book of Numbers, I
couldn't help but stop and think about the significance of numbers. Now the Biblical book doesn't get its name from statistics or scores, but rather from a census; the physical numbering of our people as they proceeded on their 40-year march through the desert. But numbers play a very significant part in Judaism, like the Passover song "Who Knows One?" which lists 13 different important figures in Jewish tradition. Or the mystical tradition of Gematria, Jewish numerology, which assigns numbers to each letter in the Hebrew alphabet and comes up with all kinds of calculations throughout the Bible, the Talmud, and indeed all of Jewish history.
Our lives are filled with numbers; you may even have digits which are special to your family, either because of birth dates, lucky lottery numbers, or milestones in your life. Notice also how significant numbers and counting are to our English language: Counting can refer to something being important, "it's gotta count for something," or it can mean dependability, "You can count on me." We learn to count at a young age, which might imply its a simple skill like tying shoelaces or telling time, yet mathematics is one of the most complicated sciences, and it is even referred to as the Universal Language.
Numbers have always played a vital role in Jewish history, since the time of
the Bible and even before. Yet through it all, the most important number has always been 1; our foundation as a monotheistic religion believing in ONE God. In the face of all the other overwhelming numbers in Judaism - from "millions" of Jews leaving slavery in Egypt to millions of Jews killed in the Holocaust - the Oneness of God has kept us grounded. It is a constant in a sea of change, and a comfort through all life's insecurities. Do I have any proof that God exists, and that there is only one? Nope. None whatsoever. It is simply a leap of faith.
In our discussion here of the Book of Numbers, we have come to realize that "counting" is a metaphor for dependability and significance. How much of our lives aren't spent searching for just these two elusive qualities? So much so that some people sacrificed all they had, and suffered great ridicule, because one person said he had "calculated" that the world would end on May 21st, 2011... We all search for something to rely on, and something that holds great meaning. Think about the numbers that are important in your life. What do they say about you, and what meaning can you derive from them? And how can you use that information to make your life better than it is today? Whenever a congregant celebrates a birthday in our synagogue, I read aloud a blessing from the Rabbinical Assembly's Rabbi's Manual which includes the following line: "People may count the days of their life, but a person of wisdom makes every day count."
As we begin to read the Book of Numbers, let us all use this opportunity to figure out what "counts" in our lives; whether its math, faith, or baseball... or maybe a little of each.
Photos in this blog post: