Wednesday, 18 February 2015
Is My Number Up?
By Bettijane Eisenpreis
As I walked into my bedroom today, the number on my digital clock immediately jumped into view — 9:11. nine eleven – it will never be just a number to me, or millions other, since that fatal day in 2001.
I am incredibly lucky. My son Steven – my only child – delivered an envelope to a firm on the 89th floor of the World Trade Center just ten minutes before the first bomb went off.
I am twice lucky in that I did not know he was there until he was safe at home two hours later. I always thought there was a God but now I am sure of it. At least God – or whatever Power is up there – was there for me.
But how do I explain what happened to the almost three thousand people who perished that day? Must we simply say that their number was up on nine eleven?
For Jews, of whom I am one, numbers are incredibly important. Every time I agree to collect money for a worthy cause, many of the donations come in multiples of eighteen, puzzling my non-Jewish neighbors.
The ancient Hebrews were economical fellows. Why invent a whole system of numbers when you already had letters? So “aleph,” the first letter, is one, “bet” two, and so forth. The letters for eighteen spell “chai” (life) and are therefore very lucky.
My Hebrew is rudimentary to put it kindly. So I have no idea what the letters are for the number 9-11, and I am not sure I want to find out.
Ordinary Jews like me have traditionally been discouraged from studying numerology. Scholars have looked on it as a pseudoscience, scoffing at those who would attribute significance to numbers, while at the same time investing it with a dark power.
It is perfectly fine to give $36 or $72 to the UJA instead of $25 or $50. But if you start investigating the letters of your Hebrew name or trying to predict events based on the secret meaning of dates, you are suspected of practicing black magic – which, the scholars insist, they don’t believe in. But which is evil anyway.
Don’t think that the superstition attached to numbers has escaped us enlightened modern people. If your favorite grandchild is born on 9-11, you are probably delighted that the baby has arrived and is healthy but the date is bound to give you pause.
Perhaps, when the birthday rolls around you look up to the heavens and breathe an extra prayer that another year has passed and all is well.
My father-in-law was born on May 19 and died on January 19 – which my mother-in-law always saw as an omen. When I learned that my baby was due in May, I prayed that it would be any day but the 19th, knowing that my mother-in-law would invest his birth with all sorts of eerie significance.
And when was he born? You guessed it! But the good lady is now at her eternal rest and Steven is alive and thriving. So there!
If you think we have risen above such superstitious nonsense, I need only say, “I’ve got your number” or “Your number is up” to give you pause. These phrases have become part of the language.
Why don’t we say, “I’ve got your letter” or “I’ve got your word?” Think about it.
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