Parshat Naso, Numbers 4:21-7:89
Gematria explains a word or group of words according to the numerical equivalent of its letters. Alef = 1, bet = 2, gimmel = 3, etc. Both the Babylonians and Greeks used it (obviously not in Hebrew!) and it was introduced in Israel during the time of the Second Temple. While there is some debate (isn’t there always?) about whether the use of gematria exposes meaning within the text or bolsters meaning already discovered, I came across an interesting explanation of this week’s Torah portion.
In Naso, we learn that men and women can take a special vow to consecrate themselves to God. The text specifies for a man that he shall not drink wine, cut his hair or go near a corpse. When taking such a Nazirite vow, the length has generally been accepted as being for 30 days. Why? Not because it was written in the Torah, but rather because the word yihyeh, meaning “he shall be [consecrated]” in Numbers 6:5, adds up to the numerical value of 30! In other words, yud (10) + hey (5) + yud (10) + hey (5) = 30. And 30 is time enough to be.
Nowadays, there is a lot of research about how much time it takes to make a habit stick. Just how many days or weeks or years does it take to change, whether we speak of diet, promptness, hours of television, exercise regimen or any other aspect of our lives? It makes sense to me that 30 days of commitment should be enough to change a pattern — and the key part is that 30 days does not feel overwhelming. “Oh, I can do that for 30 days!” I could easily hear someone say.
As a proof text, in a sense, we think of our other “30 days” — those of shloshim after a loved one dies and before entering the next phase of living life without him or her. During these 30 days, we have gone back to work and we begin to adjust to daily life without our loved one. Though the emotion of mourning does not stick with a strict schedule, daily life’s routines begin to adjust within those 30 days.
Thirty days is an opportunity to invest in life and change. It worked for our ancestors. It helps our mourners. It is even given the “thumbs up” by popular research. Are you ready to give a 30-day try? Are you ready to be?
Rabbi Barbara AB Symons is the rabbi of Temple David in Monroeville. This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.