Sunday, October 14, 2007

Base-10 Gematria

A chaveir on the Avodah mailing list (24:1:7) posted a vort regarding the first two words of this week's parsha, noting that the term "Lech Lecha" is well-suited to the theme of Avraham's tests, being that each word has a numerical value of 50, so that the sum is 100, symbolizing that Avraham passed his tests with a score of 100%. I'm not really a fan of gematria-vorts (unless the discoverer is someone on the madreiga of R' Yaakov ben HaRosh) but to each his own.

Another chaveir (24:2:10) challenged the vort, noting that the decimal system is an arbitrary convention, and that in Judaism, 60 is used to represent completion rather than powers of 10.

I responded to the objection, noting that gematria itself utilizes a base-10 system in which powers of 10 represent levels of completion, i.e., (10^0)x, (10^1)x, and (10^2)x. For argument's sake, one could as easily conceive a gematria system using a base of 7 - another "whole" number in Judaism - in which the values are 1,2...7,14,21...49, 98, etc.

Having written this, I began to wonder: why is gematria apparently unique within Judaism in its basis on the number 10?


Update, 10/16: Other posters noted that the entire numerical system of the Torah assumes base-10, weakening my question regarding gematria, but I still believe that 10 - and its powers - show precedent in referring to levels of completion. Dib'ra Torah k'lashon B'nei Adam, after all.



At 1/10/2008 9:59 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ten in Judaism is not chopped liver. When it is used in so many significant ways it is not arbitrary but part of a prior design.
The Aseres HaDibros as in the Seder (of course every numbe has its significance but so uniquely does ten)
the world was created with ten expressions,
10 God said statements
10 assah (God made) statements
10 according to its kind statements
we have ten fingers and toes (these things are not accidental),
ten generations from Adam to Noach, ten generations from Shem to Avraham
ten plagues
ten Sefiros and everything that goes with them
ten men in a minyan (kedushah)
And on and on.


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