One of my favorite kabalistic principles is that pleasure in this world is a result of creating unity in one’s life. Therefore, certain foods are pleasing to our palates because there’s a unity within the flavors. Similarly, certain combinations of musical notes sound pleasant to our ears when they are put together harmoniously. The same thing can be said about color combinations in visual arts, and unity, of course, is pleasing when we achieve it in our relationships.
The fact that unity creates pleasure makes a lot of sense according to Jewish thought since we believe that God is the unity of all things, and when we create tiny pockets of unity in our lives, we tap into Godliess. But just as unity brings pleasure, lack of unity, or discordance brings pain; and that my friends is why the series finale of Lost was a major disappointment to me. The unity, harmony, and resolution I spent six seasons waiting for just never came. They tried to pull at my heartstrings by getting the cast together and flashing back to the most emotional scenes of the show, but all I was looking for was answers.
For those of you who didn’t follow Lost, the exact details of the show are not relevant to this post. What is relevant is that a lot of questions were asked, a lot of balls were thrown up in the air, but in the end the pieces did not fall into place. Perhaps it’s too much to ask writers to come up with so many thought provoking questions AND be able to deal with them all, but I’ve seen it done masterfully before, though not on tv.
The best example I’ve seen of puzzling questions being tied up with satisfying answers was during some great shiurim, or Torah classes, I’ve attended. Of course not all shiurim are great shiurim, but for those who know how to give over a great shiur, even a hit television show can’t compare.
Like many great shiurim, Lost had symbolic numbers as part of the story. The numbers 4, 8, 15,16, 23, and 42 came up again and again – on a winning lotto ticket, on the door to an underground chamber which housed a computer that kept the world from being destroyed, and on the wall of a cave that listed the names of potential guardians of the island. The only problem with these numbers was that their significance was never really explained. What they represent, how they relate to each other, what they ultimately mean was left a mystery.
In a good shiur however, numbers are often not only used – they’re relevant, meaningful, and either occur in the natural word or in historical events. Here are some examples: In gematria, or Jewish numerology, every letter of the Hebrew alphabet corresponds to a number. The first letter of the alphabet is aleph and equals one, the second letter bet equals two, and so on.
Since God is the ultimate unity that exists, we say that God is “one” and is represented by the letter aleph which is pictured below in the first image. You’ll notice that the aleph consists of three main parts – a long line in the middle and two shorter ones at the top and bottom. The long line in the middle is actually another letter, called vav, which you can see in the second image. Finally, the short pieces at the top and bottom are a third letter, called yud, which is pictured in the third image.
Now if you take the numerical value of these three letters, vav (6), yud (10), yud (10), you get 26 which is equal to (and therefore related to) the sum of the letters of yud (10) and hey (5) and vav (6) and hey (5). These four letters, which are also known as the tetragrammaton, are never pronounced according to their actual spelling, but are instead said as Adonai. This is one of the most universal ways for saying God in Hebrew.
In another example of the symbolism of numbers within Judaism we can look to the story of creation. The Torah tells us that the world was made in six days. The number six represents physicality as there are six directions in this world (up, down, front, back, right, left). Then we’re told that God rested on the seventh day and that the seventh day has a certain holiness to it.
If you picture a cube, which has six sides, and imagine the empty space in the center of the cube, that seventh part represents Shabbos, or the Sabbath, meaning that it’s not a physical concept, but it’s still in this world. When you get to the number eight, which is the number of days until a bris as well as the number of days of Chanukah, you move on to the supernatural.
I remember that during the year I spent studying in Israel one of my rabbis gave a shiur about Chanukah and the significance of the number eight as a supernatural concept. I can’t recreate that shiur for you right now, but I so vividly remember the ecstasy I felt (yes, ecstasy from studying Torah!) as he illustrated how all the different pieces came together. I remember thinking then that if every Jew in the world could just stick an ear in the classroom for those forty-five minutes, he would be blown away with the depth of our Torah just like I was.
Television is certainly not the deepest form of entertainment, but if one is selective with what one watches and does so in moderation, it can be a positive one. Even so, I can’t help thinking about how many hours I used up on a six season show that ultimately took me nowhere when in that same time I didn’t make enough time to get to great shiurim; and since time travel and eternal youth don’t apply outside of that mysterious island, those hours that I didn’t spend learning Torah are forever Lost.