The Odds Get Even

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What are the odds that numbers rule the universe? Pythagoras, the famous Greek mathematician, and his followers turned numbers into deities. Others throughout history saw that God made numbers. But, they said, He left the rest up to us. We are the manipulators of numbers. Still some went farther to suggest God Himself is a mathematician, considering all the mathematical design in the universe. Though more intricate and sophisticated today, scientific advancements still have their feet in mathematics. What is the connection between God, His creation, and math?

The Bible emphasizes numbers an awful lot. In fact, for an ethical work, it seems overly stuffed with numerical significance. Genesis opens with an exaggerated counting of the days of creation. This multiplies the power of that narrative. After the seven days of the week, that number pops up in numerous places. The holidays of Passover and Succot are seven days. The sabbatical year of rest to the land is seven years. Seven weeks are counted between Passover and Shavuot. The list goes on, and commentaries say that seven is symbolic of the natural cycle of creation. Although each occurrence of a seven has a different message, the theme that runs through them all is a cycle or completeness in the physical realm.

Eight, one more than seven, symbolizes the elevation of the physical to the spiritual. That’s why circumcision was commanded to be performed on the eighth day, as that commandment expresses the dedication of the physical desires to a spiritual end. The number ten stands out from the Ten Commandments, ten plagues in Egypt, ten statements of creation, etc. There are many other obviously symbolic numbers scattered through the five books of Moses like twelve, forty, and seventy. The Oral Tradition brings out the significance of other numbers like 248, 365, and 613. And in Kabbalah a mystical significance is given to numbers like 3, 7, 12, and 231.

Children learn about the specialness of numbers from an early age, and even sing a song on Passover night highlighting the meaning of the numbers one through thirteen. Sages needed a very sophisticated and highly accurate understanding of math for commandments like the calculation of the new moon, and setting the calendar. So we see that math is not merely an incidental aspect of His creation, but a major cog in the wheel of God’s instruction manual.

Even more amazing is the assertion of the Talmudic tradition that the letters of the Hebrew alphabet function also as a mathematical code. Each letter stands for a number, each word a sum of those numbers. This code is called – Gematria. When words are reduced to numbers, correlations are drawn, based on words or sentences with the same sum, revealing hidden insights into particular passages. For instance, in Genesis 14:14 it says that Abraham took 318 disciples with him to save his nephew Lot. His main disciple was Eliezer, whose name in mathematical code equals 318. From this the sages derive that Abraham took only Eliezer, who was equivalent to that many people. This offers another nuance of meaning to that passage. God constricted layers and layers of lessons in the text this way.

The standard code of Gematria is to assign the first ten letters of the alpha bet the numbers one through ten, the eleventh letter is twenty, the twelth – thirty, and so on up to one hundred, and the last three letters are two, three, and four hundred. There are other codes that assign different values to the letters, some of which are amazingly complex, especially considering the early time periods in which they were used. Some of these seem impossible to work with without a calculator. All these systems are a window to worlds of insights to be seen in the stories of the Bible. As the sages say, “There are seventy facets to the Bible.” (Seventy is symbolic of the numbers of types of mentalities found in mankind. That’s why there are seventy sages on the Sanhedrin, and seventy nations listed at the dispersion after the Tower of Babel.)

The messages from God don’t stop with the Bible, though; they also come from nature and the scientific examination of the physical world. Mathematics, therefore, is not just a handy way of dealing with scientific information. It is an avenue of thought and insight into the Bible, God’s blueprint of the universe. And being God’s blueprint, we find numerical significance evident in His creation. In other words, there is mathematical precision in nature because there is mathematical significance in the Bible. Maybe with time (relative or not), the ones examining the universe will realize the simplicity of the Oneness in the vast complexity of it all.