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The Significance of Seventy Why the Sanhedrin Numbers 70d

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Parshat Beha’alotecha (Shelach in Israel)

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The Torah portion of Beha’alotecha includes the story of how Moshe appointed 70 elders to aid him in leading the Jewish people.

70 Elders in Egypt and in the Desert

Rabbeinu Bechaye points out that since the number of the Jewish people who went down to Egypt was 70, the Jews always knew that 70 was a significant number. As such, they always maintained a body of spiritual leaders comprised of 70 sages. Thus, when G-d instructed Moshe to gather the sages of Israel in Egypt,[1] He was referring to this group of 70. Later at Mount Sinai, G-d also instructed that these same 70 sages be allowed to ascend the mountain beyond the point where the majority of Jews were permitted.[2]

70 Becomes 71

When Moshe appointed the 70 elders to assist him to guide the people, he was considered their leader, bringing the total to 71.[3] This is significant as this body was also considered to be the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jewish people. It was important that the court contain an odd number of judges to eliminate the possibility of a deadlocked ruling.[4]

71-Member Sanhedrin in Israel

When the Jewish people entered the land of Israel, the 70 sages became known as the Sanhedrin. They were considered the leaders of the Jewish people after the passing of Yehoshua until the era of the Judges began.[5] Even after that, the members of the Sanhedrin were considered the spiritual leaders of the Jewish people. They continued in that capacity until several centuries after the destruction of the Second Bait HaMikdash. At that time, due to Roman persecution, the Sanhedrin was disbanded and it will be reinstated with the coming of Moshiach, may this happen speedily in our days.[6]

Why 70/71?

The commentaries offer many explanations as to why the number of sages in the Sanhedrin was 71 (70 plus Moshe).
·        The Number of Angels in G-d’s Heavenly Court
Rabeinu Bachaye explains that the number 70 corresponds to the number of supernal angels each of whom, represent a different nation of the world. When counting G-d, who makes all the decisions ultimately, the number reaches 71. This body is known as the Bait Din shel Maala (Heavenly court).[7] Paralleling that, when Yaakov and his family went down to Egypt, they were a total of 70 people plus Ya’akov, totaling 71.
The 70 sages of the Sanhedrin correspond to the 70 angels, which is why Moshe placed them “around the tent”[8] just as the angels above surround the Throne of Glory. In addition, just as the vitality of the angels comes to them from G-d, so the Divine spirit flowed from Moshe to the 70 elders.
·        All the Opinions in the World
Similarly, the Ramban says that there are 70 (main) nations and 70 (main) languages, and each nation has a guardian angel in Heaven. Since these guardian angels represent all 70 nations, they also represent all the Divine energy that flows down to this world. (The energy that goes to the Jewish people comes directly from G-d and is not part of this equation.) As such, having 70 (regular) members in the highest court indicates that this court takes into account all the possible opinions that exist in the world.
·        Gematriyah of the Names of G-d
The number 71 also corresponds to the gematriyah (numerical value) of two of the names of G-d as well as to a verse describing G-d’s judgment.
·        The Tetragrammaton (Yud, kei, vov, kei), which is considered the most explicit name of G-d, equals 71 when one adds the gematriyah of each letter plus the gematriyah of all the letters as they are spelled out. (י = 10, ה = 5, ו = 6, ה = 5, יוד = 20, הא = 6, ואו = 13 and הא = 6. The total of these numbers is 71.)
·        When the name Adnai is spelled with a vav (which corresponds to the Heavenly court[9]) the total is also 71. (א = 1, ד = 4, ו = 6, נ = 50 and י = 10. The total of these numbers is 71.)
·        The prophet Amos writes that he saw G-d standing by a wall made by a plumb line (חוֹמַ֣ת אֲנָ֑ךְ).[10] This is referring to the fact that G-d judges precisely (like a plumb line which is used to construct a straight wall). The word אֲנָ֑ךְ has the gematriyah of 71 indicating that the Bait din shel Maalah (Heavenly Court) and the earthly Sanhedrin must be precise when rendering their rulings.

70 Names of G-d

The Ba’al HaTurim says that the 70 elders (not counting Moshe) correspond to the 70 names of G-d. These are[11] 1) א-ל  2) אלקים- L-rd  3)’ ה- G-d  4)אחד – One (see Zechariah 14:9)  5) אדון- Master (See Exodus 23:17)  6) אדיר- Mighty one (see Psalms 93:4)  7) אהי-ה- I will be (see Exodus 3:14)  8) אמיץ- Strong one (see Job 9:4)  9) אמת- Truth  (see Exodus 34:6)   10) ארך אפים- Slow to anger (see ibid)  11) אחרון שאינו מוסר מלכותו לאחר – the Last (eternal) one who does not ever give His majesty to any other (see Isaiah 44:6)  12) אמונה- Faithful (see Deut. 32:4)  14) אשכול הכופר – Possessor of Everything (Song of Songs 1:14)  15) ברוך- Blessed  16) בורא- Creator  17) גדול – The Great One (See Tehillim 147:5)  18)  גאה- Proud (See Exodus 15:1) 19)  גואל – Redeemer (See Jeremiah 3:34(  20) גבור- Mighty (See Tehillim 24:8)  21 ) דגול- Distinguished   22) היודע ועד- The Knower and the Witness  23) זוכר- Remembers  24) חי- Living  24) חסיד- Pious  (See Yirmiyahu 3:12)  25) חנון- Gracious (See Tehillim 111:4)  26) חוקר- Prober  27) חסין- Powerful  28) חכם- Wise  29) טוב- Good (see Tehillim 145:9)  30)  טהור עינים – Of Pure Eyes (See Chabakuk 1:13)  31) ישר- Upright (see Tehillim 11:7)  32) יושב סתר- He Dwells Concealed (see ibid 91:1)  33) כבוד – Glory (see ibid 29:2)  34) המסתתר – He Who Conceals Himself (see Isaiah 45:16)  35) נורא- Awesome (see Tehillim 68:36)  36) נשגב- Exalted (see Isaiah 33:15)  37) נצח – Eternal  38) נוצר חסד- Preserver of Kindness  39) נושא עון- Forgiver of Iniquity  40) נושא פשע- Forgiver of Willful Sin  41) נושא חטא- Forgiver of Error  42) נוקם- Avenger (See Nachum 1:2)  43) נוטר- Bearer of a Grudge  44)סלה (יושב קדם סלה)- Everlasting  45) סלח- Pardoner   46) עליון- Supreme  47) עופר- Hart (see Shir HaShirim 2:12  48) עזוז- Powerful (see Tehillim 24:8)  49) פודה- Redeemer  50) צור- Rock (see Tehillim 29:16)  51) צבי- Gazelle  52) צבאות- Master of Legions  53) קדוש- Holy  54) קנא- Zealous (See Deut 6:15)  55) קרוב- Close (see Tehillim 145:8)  56) רחום- Merciful (see 111:4)  57) רם- Uplifted (see Isaiah 57:15)  58) ראשון (שלא קיבל מלכותו מאחר) The first one (who did not receive the Kingship from any one. (See Isaiah 44:6)  59) רב חסד- with great kindness  60) שומר- Protector (See Tehillim 121:4) 61) שופט- Judge (see ibid 7:12)  62)שלטון- Sovereign  63) שר- Ruler  64) שוכן עד – He who dwells on High  65)תמיםPerfect   66) תקיף- Strong
The last four names are not given by the Ba’al HaTurm. It has been suggested[12] that they are the names of Hashem that can spelled with: 67) 4 letters  68) 12 letters  69) 42 letters and 70) 72 letters. In addition, the Ba’al HaTurim quotes 70 names by which the Jewish people are called and notes that there are also 70 names given to Jerusalem. (It would be interesting to see if these three sets of 70 names correspond to each other in any way.)

What Happened to the Previous Group of Leaders?

As mentioned above, there was a group of 70 elders who led the Jewish people in Egypt and who were also singled out at Mount Sinai. There are differing opinions as to what happened to that group which would explain why Moshe had to find a new group.
·        The Ohr HaChayim says that they were murdered together with Chur when they protested against the Jews’ serving the golden calf.[13] The Ohr Hachaim writes that the lesson to be learned from this is that a person in a leadership position should be willing to give his life for G-d’s sake.
·        Some say that they were killed in the fire that burned at the edge of the camp (earlier in this Torah portion).[14] This was a punishment for their gazing at G-d in a disrespectful manner at the time of the giving of the Torah. Because G-d did not want to “ruin” the occasion of the giving of the Torah, he postponed punishing them until after they left Mount Sinai.[15] It is possible to learn the following lesson from this concept: Although the elders were righteous, when they were singled out to (partially) ascend the mountain, they felt somewhat haughty. This led to the disrespectful way in which they gazed at Hashem. Thus we can learn how one must remain humble despite achieving a high leadership position.
·        Others say that they were among those who complained about the manna and they died as a result of eating the Slav birds.[16]
May we soon merit to the Return of the Sanhedrin with the Arrival of Moshiach speedily in our days!
[1] See Exodus 3:16 and 4:29
[2] Ibid 24:1
[3] Mishnah Sanhedrin 1:6
[4] See Sanhedrin 3b. According to Rabbi Yehudah, the Sanhedrin was only comprised of 70 sages. Moshe, and later the Nasi (leader of the Sanhedrin), was not counted as a member of that body. If there was ever a ruling that was deadlocked, they would call upon Moshe (or later the Nassi) to break the tie (Tosfot Yom Tov on Mishnah Sanhedrin, ibid).
[5] See Avot 1:1
[6] It seems that the last ruling of a Sanhedrin (that is known to us) is when Hillel II established the Hebrew calendar as we know it in the middle of 4th century. But the office of the Nasi (leader of the Sanhedrin) was not discontinued until after the passing of Rabban Gamliel, the Second. See The Jewish Timeline Encyclopedia by Rabbi Mattis Kantor.
[7] See Pirkei DeRabi Eliezer, Chapter 24, (concerning the Tower of Bavel): “G-d called the 70 angels who surround His throne of Glory and said, ‘Come, let us us confuse their language.’”
[8] Numbers 11:24. See Moshav Zekeinim, cited in the Pardes Yosef who says that they stood flush up against the three outward walls of the Mishkan
[9] See Rashi on Exodus 12:29 that whenever it says וַהַשֶׂ (and G-d), the vav refers to the Heavenly court.
[10] Amos 7:7
[11] The proof texts are not cited in the Ba’al HaTurim, but are in the commentaries based on the Midrash Shir HaShirim, Zuta. The translations are from the Davis Edition of the Ba’al HaTurim Chumash by Artscroll Mesorah.
[12] Pardes Yosef citing “the commentaries.”
[13] Based on BaMidbar Rabbah 15:21. According to this opinion the sages were killed well before the Mishkan was erected. Thus, we must figure out the identities of the sages mentioned regarding the consecration of the Mishkan in Levit 9:1
[14] Numbers 11:1
[15] Rashi, based on ibid, 24
[16] BaMidbar Rabbah, ibid, based on the word אסַפְסֻף֙ (in 11:3). This word is reminiscent of the Sanhedrin which was gathered (see verse 16). It seems unusual that the sages of Israel would be among the ones complaining about the Manna. See Pardes Yosef who cites commentaries (based on the wording of the verse) that the Asafsuf didn’t actually desire food. Rather, they desired to have a desire for food. Their reasoning was that they wanted to experience physical desires and then overcome them. This was a mistake as one should never place themselves in the way of temptation. The lesson to be learned is that even a sage in Israel must take care to not place himself in a situation which might lead to sin as one must never underestimate the power of the Yetzer Hara.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorah!

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