Jews have a fascination, with numbers and this past week’s Torah portion, Shemini, takes our numeric-interest to another level. This is the only Torah portion named for a number. Shemini literally means “the eighth” and the story opens after a seven day period during which the Jews had dedicated G-d’s Sanctuary in the desert.
Seven is a popular number in Judaism. G-d created His world in seven days, which is why we have a seven-day week. He commanded us to let leave all fields in Israel untouched every seven years, as well as at the end of seven cycles of seven years. We mourn for seven days and celebrate weddings with seven blessings. Kabbalah teaches that our souls comprise seven “emotional” traits, which mirror the seven energies that G-d invested into Existence. We are currently in the midst of the seven weeks of counting the Omer, which recall the seven weeks that the early Jews had spent preparing to receive the Torah at Sinai. We believe that the gentile population should follow the Noahide Code, which has seven laws. Seven is the number of natural systems- physical or spiritual. Seven represents all that is familiar to us.
Eight, on the other hand, is a mystical number, one that represents the supernatural. We host a bris on the eighth day because it illustrates our indelible, supernatural connection to G-d and Judaism. As a mystical number, eight is well-suited to represent the completion of G-d’s Sanctuary, as described in this week’s Torah portion. Our sages also teach that eight is the number that represents the Messianic Age. Seven signifies the current framework of our world; eight carries the promise of the ideal world that G-d will unveil in the future.
That Messianic world will bring a total paradigm shift. It will be a time when the human eye will perceive G-d- something totally unimaginable for us today (we battle to conceptualize G-d, let alone see Him). Everything will change- we will be spiritually attuned and mentally advanced and our world will become a place of harmony, goodness and abundance. Moshiach’s times sound far-fetched to many of us. Even if we accept that Moshiach will come, we expect that only G-d Himself could engineer such dramatic changes to the world. We would most likely be the fortunate passengers on this epic journey.
The beauty of Judaism is that it teaches that we each carry infinite power. To reach the “eighth day” of the Messianic Age takes “seven days” of human endeavour. Building a structure that would become G-d’s home is an impossible idea, yet the Jews of the desert achieved it. They invested their natural resources (over seven days) and G-d gave them a supernatural return (on the eighth day). “Shemini” (the eighth day) teaches us that every step of human input, every good deed or Torah study or prayer that we invest helps to generate the quantum leap from a defective world to Utopia. G-d won’t bring Moshiach, human actions will.