| Second Thoughts |

Fours and Eights: Random Musings

All Hebrew letters and numbers — even the very shapes of the individual letters — carry some message

As the eight days of Chanukah approach, I think back to the other recent eight-day festival, which was Succos, especially because Jewish tradition suggests that the process of reconnecting with G-d that, on the surface, culminated with Succos, actually culminates with Chanukah. (About this connection, some other time.)

These connecting eights brought me back to the old year, which I ended in an unspectacular way. I had to purchase four new tires for my car in Jerusalem. The bill: exactly 800 shekel. And I began the new year by purchasing the arba minim for Succos — the Four Species: esrog, lulav, myrtle hadassim, willow aravos .The bill: exactly 800 shekel.

The parallel struck me: eight for four tires, eight for the Four Species. Was it a coincidence, or did it have some hidden meaning? Who knows? The four tires will hopefully carry me safely through this new year. And the Four Species? One does not do mitzvos for their reward, but perhaps the merit of this mitzvah will help carry my neshamah through this new year. But there must be more to it than that.

Consider that figure of 800. Eight is the number that transcends the physical world that was created in seven days. Eight thus represents a higher, supernatural world, which is appropriate for the Four Minim. But the four tires? Do they represent the four corners of the universe, or the four Matriarchs, or the Four Sons of the Pesach Haggadah, or the Seder’s mandatory four cups of wine? There is an endless list of fours, but none seems to have any connection to automobile tires.

But wait: two different times did I experience the number four. Two times four is, again, eight. Eight days for the bris of a baby boy? Hmmm.

Perhaps the key lies in this: One expenditure of eight took place just prior to Rosh Hashanah, while the other expenditure of eight took place immediately after Rosh Hashanah. The one before Rosh Hashanah was for physical tires; the identical expenditure afterward was for a spiritual mitzvah. Might one therefore conclude that after Rosh Hashanah the spiritual replaced the physical? Or are the spiritual and the physical essentially on the same plane, all depending on what we do with them?

We can elevate the physical and make it spiritual, and conversely we can reduce the spiritual and make it physical. After all, the Four Minim emanate from the earth, but the Jew then takes them, sanctifies them, and elevates them from the earth toward heaven. The physical is lifted up, transformed.

Perhaps, on the other hand, this is the lesson: that numerology is best left to the genuine mekubalim, those who are masters of authentic Jewish mysticism, and do not simply play games with numbers. All 22 Hebrew letters, which of course are also numbers, are sacred and bear hidden meanings, but only a scattered few masters of Kabbalah are privy to them.

Not only eights and fours, but in fact all Hebrew letters and numbers — even the very shapes of the individual letters — carry some message , as discussed in the classic mystical work, Sefer Yetzirah. That the eights and fours materialized for me in identical fashion, one in physical terms and one in spiritual terms, all in the space of a few days, might mean something — but precisely what is, literally, beyond me.

We can play with the numbers, toss around allusions and hints and suggestions, but for us ordinary mortals, they remain a mystery — although they do exercise the mind and generate some thought about apparent coincidences.

And by the way, best wishes for the eight days of Chanukah. May they be a renewal and re-connection that is not merely a coincidence.

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 790)

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