The Magic Number // Not all numbere have hold deep meanings

I am usually not privy before publication to the exciting stories and personalities that grace the cover of Ami Magazine.

However, this week, although I have not yet seen it, I am confident that a large number 500 will be displayed on the cover. Excuse me if I, forever the nitpicker, stop to ponder the significance of this milestone.

Torah and Chazal are replete with numbers and their significance. From the 40 days of the mabul to the 400 years (or 430 or 210) years of the Egyptian exile to Moshe Rabbeinu’s 40 days on Har Sinai, no number is insignificant or happenstance. Each episode and the number associated with it bear tremendous significance, in both the worlds of the revealed and the mystical, Toras Hanigleh and Toras Hanistar.

Sometimes, however, we may employ numbers that have no bearing on anything supernal. “I must have told you 50 times already!” shouts the mother to the unruly teenager who just won’t hang up his coat. (I am sure the young man is not calculating gematriyos or other transcendent meanings for why his mother chose the number 50. It’s merely a number.)

Those of you who know Tanach can recall the story of Yeravam ben Nevat, who concocted a new holiday on the 15th day of the eighth month—what the Navi terms a “month in which he had contrived of his own mind.” Indeed, certain numbers or standards are arbitrary, while others are Divine.

There are certain mitzvos in which the number 100 comes into play. We are instructed to return a lost object, give mussar (hochei’ach tochiach) or send away the mother bird (of shiluach hakein fame) even 100 times. I am sure that there are many more “100 times” of great significance. There is even significance in 101 times. In fact, that extra number is so critical that the Gemara in Chagigah tells us, “He who learns his passage 100 times is incomparable to someone who learns it 101 times.”

It seems, then, that this additional instance acts not just as “another time,” but propels the count into a different dimension. I’ve always wondered if that holds true for the 102nd time as well. Is the 42nd time really incomparable to the 43rd?

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