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Question 11.9.9:
Symbols: What is the significance of the number 7?


Consider the following:

A cube has six sides. We live in a universe of three dimensions. Each dimension has two directions: front-back, right-left, up-down; yielding a total of six. The seventh is then the middle point, a thing of zero dimensions, and untouchable. Present but intangible. It therefore represents the holiness which is inherent in the universe. Thus, the physical world was created in six days, and imbued with sanctity on the seventh, the Shabbos. Dr. Isaac Levy includes this explanation in his English translation of Rabbi Samson Refa'el Hirsch's commentary on Numbers 16:4):

The origin of this meaning is to be found in the work of the Creation. The visible material world created in six days received with the seventh day a day of remembrance of, and bond with its invisible L-rd and Creator, and thereby its completed consummation. Similarly the symbolism of the number seven in the Menora, in the Temple, in the Mussaf offerings, in the sprinklings of the blood on Yom Kippur, in the Festivals of Pesach and Succoth, in Sabbath, Schmita, Tumma etc. etc. The symbolism of the number eight: starting afresh on a higher level, an octave higher. The eighth day for Mila, Schmini Atzereth and Israel as the eighth of G-d's Creations. With the creation of Israel G-d laid the groundwork for a fresh, higher mankind and a fresh higher world, for that shamayim chadashim and the `eretz chadashah for which Israel and its mission is to be the beginning and instrument (Is. LXV,17).

So that there are three elements in us. (a) our material sensuous bodies, like the rest of the created visible world = 6; (b) the breath of free will, invisible, coming from the Invisible One = 7; (c) the calling of Jew, coming from the historical choice of Israel = 8.

Jews entered a covenant to assume a role as a "kingdom of preists". This preisthood requires reminding the world of the notion of "8", so that the world can get beyond the physical "6" and reach the free-willed, created, human, sanctity of "7". Eight is therefore not above all of creation, but beyond this universe. Eight represents man's ability to rise to angelic heights -- yes an image of growth, but not unobtainable. Man connects two worlds, eight connects those worlds. (Which is why the letter chet, the eighth letter, is drawn in the Torah as two copies of the seventh, zayin, connected by a bridge.)

Which is why the laws of the covenant G-d made with Noah and thereby all of humanity are grouped into *seven* commandments, and the sign of that covenant is seen in the seven-colored rainbow.

The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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