According to the Book of Creation, every month has a Hebrew letter associated with it. The month of Teves is associated with the letter “ayin,” the sixteenth letter of the alef-bet, which has a numerical value of seventy.
The Torah portion that was read in the synagogue on the first Sabbath of Teves (this year 5762) includes Genesis 46, which mentions that “seventy souls” went down to Egypt. They were the children and grandchildren of Jacob. It is not merely coincidence that this group was seventy; as with many numbers in Judaism, the number seventy has a special significance.
Earlier in Genesis, at the incident with the Tower of Babel in Chapter 10 the Torah lists seventy nations who were the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Noah. In Jewish writings, these are known throughout history as the nations of the world, indicating that they were stamped into creation at the time of the Tower, and something of those original seventy mindsets and personalities are the roots of all the nations of the world for all time. Even their spiritual significance is carried on throughout the ages. Seventy, therefore, symbolizes the entire spectrum of human perspective.
In this light, the seventy souls who descended to Egypt represented the entirety of the Jewish nation, and the experience in Egypt would be engraved on the national consciousness for all time. What they experienced still lives inside the souls of Jews today. Similarly, the sages say that there are seventy facets to the Torah, seventy ways to interpret each point.
In Numbers 11:16 we find another example of this. God asked Moses to gather a group of seventy sages to be the High Court of Israel. With seventy we expect their judgments to have included all the possible perspectives on the situation at hand. Amongst those seventy there was also a requirement for each of the seventy languages of the seventy nations to be understood by at least one of those sages. In other words, their judgment shouldn’t be based on a translator, but on a direct understanding of the litigants involved.
This High Court, known as the Sanhedrin, was seated at the Temple in Jerusalem, and was called the “eyes” of the people. With wisdom, a person can see the future. A wise person also thinks through the potential outcome of an act before proceeding, as it says in Koheles 2:14, “A wise man has eyes in his head.” To come full circle, the word “ayin” that we started with is not only the name of that letter but it also means “eye”.
Tying this into the month, Teves focuses us on the Temple from two angles. First, the end of Chanukah celebrates of the return to the Temple. And secondly, the fast day on the 10th of the month marks the siege against Jerusalem. These are intense opposing reminders of our national unity, and the Temple in Jerusalem. In order to be a united people we have to appreciate all of the different perspectives we have amongst us. In order to have the benefit of the Torah we have to appreciate all of its facets. When we will appreciate every facet of the Torah we will be connected with the source of all power. When we will appreciate every personality found amongst our people, we will have God’s blessing to be at peace in our land with the holy Temple in Jerusalem.
By Daniel Stone.