What’s in a number?


Judaism is a religion of numbers. Every aspect of life is marked by an important numerical value. We wait eight days to celebrate the birth of a baby boy. We find our moral code in the ten commandments. We read from the five books of the Torah. At Passover, we even sing a song, “Echad Mi Yodaya (Who Knows One?),” detailing many of the important numbers of Judaism. From one to 101, every number has a deep, spiritual meaning.

There is one number, however, that stands out among Jews as being especially powerful. That number is 18. While we (thankfully) don’t drink 18 cups of wine at the seder, and exhausted brides don’t have to circle their grooms that many times at a wedding, that number is universally recognized by Jews as being deeply meaningful.

The number 18 is the essence of life. When you add up the numerical value of the two letters that make up the hebrew word for life, chai, you get 18. What could be more powerful, more beautiful than life itself? The number 18 symbolizes the joy and awe of our religion. It is why Jews of all observancy levels will sport a chain bearing the chet and yud. It is why we donate to charities in multiples of 18. We hope to infuse the power of that number onto every endeavor we undertake.

The number 18 is also the number that defines my youngest. Long before he came into this world, my husband and I agreed one of his Hebrew names would be Chaim, after my paternal grandfather. The name must have resonated with the growing baby inside of me, because he chose the 18th day of the month of April to make his whirlwind debut into the world. His speedy, emergency home-birth entrance left him fighting for the very thing his birth date would come to symbolize. He reaffirmed my faith in prayer, G-d and plain old good luck. He reminded me life was something to be valued and could be lost in mere minutes.

Though I may often need the reminder, my son seems to have been born with a deep appreciation for his presence in the world. Family, friends and strangers all comment about on is overall happiness. They exclaim how they have never seen such a pleasant child. To this I respond, “He is just so grateful to be alive.” He is the baby, who if born on a different day and time, may not have survived the ambulance ride to the hospital. He is the one, with the help of tremendous doctors, and, I believe, the power of prayer and divine intervention, went from barely breathing to a thriving newborn. He is the one, whose strength leaves amazed to believe he spent his first days covered in wires and under the care of the NICU nurses. He is the one, who, when old enough to understand his birth, will hopefully never lose sight of all he went through just to be here on Earth.

He is my lucky number. He is my Chaim. My life.

4 thoughts on “What’s in a number?

  1. Katia

    As a Jewish person, born and raised in Israel, this resonates with me deeply. I love the story about your son and the introduction. As with anything that you observe from too close some of characteristics of Judaism are lost on me. I know about “chai” but I’ve never thought about Jewish life constructing itself around numbers. That’s such a great observation. Great post!


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