What’s in a Number?

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This fall, the number eighteen has even more profound connotations, significance and poignancy, since 18 had ties to two autumn events: the Jewish High Holidays and the one-year anniversary of the Tree of Life synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh.

The Days of Awe (Yamim Nora’im), the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur concluded with the Neilah service on October 9. That night, the Book of Life inscribed with people’s names was sealed.


Eighteen days after Yom Kippur, the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, the world remembered another solemn, gruesome day: October 27, 2018. On that tragic Shabbat morning at Tree of Life synagogue, a gunman caused great global mourning by deliberately opening fire on Jews, spilling the blood of worshippers and law enforcement, wounding six and leaving 11 corpses strewn inside the sacred space. Sadly, such heinous acts and plans continue. The number 18’s connections to the Tree of Life horror is much deeper than merely specifying the span of time between the conclusion of the high holidays and the evil of Oct. 27, 2018.

According to experts, the number 18 functions as a code among hate groups. The numbers one and eight correspond to the first and eighth letters of the alphabet. Eighteen, then, represents “A” and “H” (Adolf Hitler). Although uncertain if the Tree of Life killer referenced that number, 18, nevertheless, fits into the anti-Semitic worldview the murderer espoused.

The shooter chose to use weapons of war to kill at Tree of Life. However, every human being also possesses an instrument that can destroy life. No background checks or licenses are required to obtain and use this powerful, natural tool — the tongue.

Following the Tree of Life shooting, politicians, religious and civic leaders and ordinary citizens propounded the phrase “words matter.”

Words have always mattered, though. The deliberate attack and murder of Jews and others underscore the necessity to choose words carefully and to think before speaking.

Sobering news reports last October showed mourning Jewish Pittsburghers, who, in interviews, referred to Proverbs 18:21. “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” the verse states.

Though the scripture specifically mentions the tongue, in modern times, with incendiary social media posts and texts, fingers possess the same power. (In Hebrew, Proverbs 18:21 juxtaposes the words for hand [yad] and tongue [lashon].)

The Tree of Life synagogue also connects to another text from Proverbs and to the number 18, too. The synagogue’s name comes from the first verse of Proverbs 3:18: “She is a tree of life to those who grasp her.” A mnemonic for remembering the citation and its association with Tree of Life synagogue: three rhymes with tree, and 18 is life (chai).
Remember Tevya’s words, “To life, to life, l’chaim.”

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