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Ask the Rabbi - 277

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10 June 2000; Issue #277

Six Six Six


Prof. Zev bar-Lev, Dept. of Linguistics & Oriental Languages in San Diego State University wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

You recently wrote: "The numerical value of "Meah Shearim" is 666, a number which has esoteric and kabbalistic meaning in Judaism, as indicated by the Vilna Gaon in his commentary to the Zohar." Now you've got me curious: In American media, I only hear of 666 for its mystic significance in Christianity -- a negative meaning, associated with "Satan." So what is the mystic significance of 666 in Judaism?

M. Brinn in Greenville, SC wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Could you tell us more about the kabalistic meaning of 666? I live in a community with a large conservative Christian presence. Recently there was a big uproar over a supermarket's ad campaign because they believed the numbers 666 were hidden within. Thank you.

Dear Professor Bar-Lev and M. Brinn,

Oh, I can't tell you the answer to your question....It's a mystical secret!

Just kidding. Sort of. The truth is that the key to mystical secrets are not in any book, they're in your heart. Even if someone "reveals" a "kabbalistic secret," it remains a secret as long as you are not able to understand it. (So have no fear: The secrets of Kabbala are perfectly safe with Madonna.) But I will explain as much as I know on the subject:

The number 666 has significance as the numerical value of the Hebrew verse: "Ata yigdal na koach Ado-nai -- Now, I pray, let the Power of my Lord be great." (Numbers 14:17). This was Moshe's prayer invoking Divine Mercy on behalf of the Jewish People.

"Mosad Hayesod" cites the Vilna Gaon's commentary on the Zohar that "the number 666 contains hidden within it exalted and lofty messianic potential." No other explanation is offered there.

We do know that the number six represents the physical world. The Torah describes the creation of the universe as a six part, six day, process. Our ancient sources describe the universe as emanating in six directions -- north, south, east, west, up, down -- from a central point. All physical space and all physical objects have these six dimensions.

666 is six repeated three times. Repeating a concept three times represents the affirmation and strength of that concept. The number 666 could thus represent the strength and perfection of the physical world, which Judaism teaches will occur in the messianic era, when the physical world will reach its ultimate purpose, to be a vehicle through which the created experience the Creator.

  • Mosad Hayesod pp. 204-205
  • Rabbi Dovid Rossoff, author o "Where Heaven Touches Earth," Guardian Press

How Much does a Pentecost?


Name@Withheld wrote:

Dear Rabbi,

Does Pentecost mean Shavuot?

Sort of. Pentecost is Greek for "the fiftieth day." It's a non-Jewish term for our Shavuot holiday, which occurs 50 days after Passover.

We call it Shavuot, meaning "weeks." The Torah tells us to count "seven weeks" after Passover and then to celebrate a holiday.

Whatever you call it, Shavuot is not given a specific calendar date in the Torah, but instead is designated as being a certain number of days from Passover. This emphasizes the fact that Passover and Shavuot are not separate holidays; they are connected.

What's the connection between Passover and Shavuot? Freedom. Passover is freedom from Egypt; Shavuot is freedom from inner evil. Shavuot celebrates the Torah and the commandments we were taught at Mount Sinai. The Torah teaches us how to conquer the enemy within; the commandments turn all our talents and actions toward doing good.

Who Knows 16?

In the song at the end of the Pesach Seder we describe the significance of the numbers from one to thirteen as they relate to Jewish life and thought. "Three are the fathers, Four are the Mothers�12 are the Tribes of Israel�" What about the next 13 numbers? And after those? What significance do they have in Jewish tradition?

This week, we challenge to answer: "Who knows 17?"
Write to

Here are some reader responses regarding previous numbers:

The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:25) states "a 15 year old begins the study of Gemara."

Jacob Floran

Fifteen is the number of words in the blessing we say over the Yom Tov candles.

Yehuda Avrunin

The 16th of Nissan is day the day the Omer was brought and the new grain is allowed. There are 16 strings on a Tallis (4 strings, doubled over, on each corner).

Sidney Stern, Highland Park NJ

The day in Nisan that permits new wheat. The day we brought the Omer offering and start "counting the Omer."

Levy Van Leeuwen

Sixteen adanim (sockets) at the east side of the Mishkan (Exodus 26:25).


The Ta'z, the Turei Zahav (Ta'z is gematria 16; this is stretching it).

Haim Roman, Jerusalem

Minimum width of reshus harabim -- public domain: 16 amos (cubits).

Zvi Freund, Kew Gardens, NY

Quoting from your January 16, '99 issue of "Ask the Rabbi": Which verse in the Torah has all the letters of the Aleph Beis? Answer: Exodus 16:16.

Randall Rowlett, MD

Sixteen descendants of Zilpah who went down to Mitzraim (Egypt).

Michael Turniansky

The Public Domain
Comments, quibbles, and reactions concerning previous "Ask-the-Rabbi" features.


Re: MOTHER SUPERIOR (Ask the Rabbi #275):

In your recent posting, you wrote about a 52 year old woman who learned that her maternal grandmother was Jewish and had been orphaned and raised as a Catholic. You answered that, since Judaism follows the mother, she and her children are Jewish.

Thanks for answering this. I am in the same situation; and so is the priest at our church who was orphaned.


Written by Rabbi Reuven Lauffer, Rabbi Reuven Subar, Rabbi Mordecai Becher, Rabbi Baruch Rappaport, Rabbi Moshe Yossef and other Rabbis at Ohr Somayach Institutions / Tanenbaum College, Jerusalem, Israel.

General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow

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