The Significance of The Number Thirty-Six

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)



I. Chanukah Light 1

II. The Lamed Vav’niks. 5

III. Where are you?. 6

IV. Midrashic References. 6

V. Jacob. 8



I. Chanukah Light


While studying Chanukah, I noticed that we light exactly thirty-six candles during this festival. I decided to examine this number and its meaning.


Thirty-six is THE number of redemption and exile, since it is the number that represents the ‘Hidden Light’ that was created on Day One of creation.


Consider that Pesach is the festival of redemption and there are thirty-six commandments in the Torah connected with the day before Pesach and the seven days of the Festival.


Let’s start by taking a look at a Chanukah insight from Rabbi Daniel Lapin:


... The Talmud says the following: HaShem made this light - a certain type of light. It was too penetrating. So He only let it last for thirty-six hours. And after thirty-six hours He took it away and hid it for sometime in the future that has not yet come. And He replaced it with a weaker merely physical aspect of that light. But that as long as that light was there, for those thirty-six hours, Adam by means of that light was able to see from one end of the world to the other, and from the beginning of time to the end of time. So that light was the light of total understanding. Isn’t that what light signifies? The Talmud says anytime that the word “light” is used in any way in the Torah or Rabbinic text, “light” always means knowledge and wisdom and understanding.


During the eight days of Chanukah we light thirty-six candles. On the first day we light one, on the second we light two, on the third we light three, and so on till we light eight candles on the eighth day. We could represent this graphically with a pyramid:










Thus we light a total of thirty-six candles!


Remember that we do not “use” the Chanukah light. This is a reminder that this is not physical light. The miracle of the Chanukah oil burning for eight days with the oil of one day, occurred in 3597 A.M., this was the 36th centuries after the creation of the light of the first day of creation. Here is our number thirty-six again!


A frequent question from Torah students is: Where do we find Chanukah in the Torah?


I respond that the word light is the twenty-fifth word of the Torah, alluding to Chanukah which occurred on Kislev 25, and the word light occurs thirty-six times in Torah[1]. In the Torah we read that on the first day, God created light:


Bereshit (Genesis) 1:1-5 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning -- one day.


However, it was not until the fourth day that He created the luminaries, which give light:


Bereshit (Genesis) 1:14-19 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark seasons and days and years, And let them be lights in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. God made two great lights--the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. God set them in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, To govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning--the fourth day.


From this sequence of events, we can ascertain that the light of the first day is different from the light that we receive from the sun, moon, and stars.


In the following passages we see the thirty-six hours of special light during creation:


Chagigah 12a But was the light created on the first day? For, behold, it is written: And God set them in the firmament of the heaven,[2] and it is [further] written: And there was evening and there was morning a fourth day[3] — This is [to be explained] according to R. Eleazar. For R. Eleazar said: The light which the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the first day, one could see thereby from one end of the world to the other; but as soon as the Holy One, blessed be He, beheld the generation of the Flood and the generation of the Dispersion,[4] and saw that their actions were corrupt, He arose and hid it from them, for it is said: But from the wicked their light is with holden.[5] And for whom did he reserve it? For the righteous in the time to come,[6] for it is said: And God saw the light, that it was good;[7] and ‘good’ means only the righteous, for it is said: Say ye of the righteous that he is good.[8] As soon as He saw the light that He had reserved for the righteous, He rejoiced, for it is said: He rejoiceth at the light of the righteous.[9] Now Tannaim [differ on the point]: The light which the Holy One, blessed be He, created on the first day one could see and look thereby from one end of the world to the other; this is the view of R. Jacob. But the Sages say: It[10] is identical with the luminaries;[11] for they were created on the first day, but they were not hung up [in the firmament] till the fourth day.[12]


We can see that the light of the first day is different from the light that we normally experience because it says that with this light one could see thereby from one end of the world to the other. This light was separated out for the righteous in the world to come. The Bnei Issachar says that the original light of creation was hidden in the thirty-six Chanukah lights. Here again we have light and the number thirty-six connected, just as we see them connected at Chanukah.


Midrash Rabbah - Bereshit (Genesis) XI:2 AND GOD BLESSED THE SEVENTH DAY, AND HALLOWED IT. R. Ishmael said: He blessed it with manna and hallowed it with manna. He blessed it with manna, for every day of the week there descended oneomer [per person], but on the eve of the Sabbath two ‘omers. And He hallowed it through manna, which did not descend on the Sabbath at all. R. Nathan said: He blessed it with manna and hallowed it with a blessing. R. Isaac said: He blessed it with manna and hallowed it through the man who gathered [sticks].[13] He blessed it with [the distinction of] robing.[14] R. Huna said: A man must change [his garments on the Sabbath]. R. Hiyya said in R. Johanan’s name: A man must mingle [his garments].[15] Abin b. Hasde said: He must let [his cloak] hang down.[16] R. Jeremiah and R. Ze’ira were walking together [on the Sabbath], R. Jeremiah’s cloak being tucked up, whereupon R. Ze’ira pulled it down. This shows that one must let his cloak hang down. R. Liezer said: He blessed it in the platter of a lamp, and this happened in my case. I once lit a lamp for the Sabbath night, and when I came at the termination of the Sabbath I found it still burning and not at all diminished. He blessed it with the light of a man’s face: the light of a man’s face during the week is not the same as it is on the Sabbath. He blessed it in respect of the luminaries. R. Simeon b. Judah said: Though the luminaries were spoilt[17] on the eve of the Sabbath, yet they were not smitten until the termination of the Sabbath. This agrees with the Rabbis but not with R. Assi,[18] who maintained: Adam’s glory did not abide the night with him.[19] What is the proof? But Adam passeth not the night in glory (Ps. XLIX, 13).[20] The Rabbis maintain: His glory abode with him, but at the termination of the Sabbath He deprived him of his splendor[21] and expelled him from the Garden of Eden, as it is written, Thou changest his countenance, and sendest him away (Job XIV, 20). As soon as the sun set on the night of the Sabbath, the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to hide the light, but He showed honor to the Sabbath; hence it is written, AND GOD BLESSED THE SEVENTH DAY: wherewith did He bless it? With light. When the sun set on the night of the Sabbath, the light continued to function,[22] whereupon all began praising, as it is written, Under the whole heaven they sing praises to Him (ib. XXXVII, 3)[23]; wherefore? Because His light [reaches] unto the ends of the earth (ib.).[24] R. Levi said in the name of the son of Nezirah: That light functioned thirty-six hours,[25] twelve on the eve of the Sabbath [i.e. Friday], twelve during the night of the Sabbath, and twelve on the Sabbath [day]. When the sun sank at the termination of the Sabbath, darkness began to set in. Adam was terrified, [thinking,] Surely indeed the darkness shall bruise [E.V. ‘envelop’] me (Ps. CXXXIX, 11): shall he of whom it was written, He shall bruise thy head (Gen. III, 15), now come to attack me![26]


From the above reference, we can see that the light of the first day of creation functioned for thirty-six hours, until the end of the first Sabbath. Then God hid it away for the righteous.


The Talmud[27] says shone for thirty-six hours before HaShem hid it for the righteous people of history. This light is redemption; when it shines, evil is banished. This light is called Ohr HaTikun – the "Light of Rectification." It shone for Adam on day six of creation; it shone again at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given; and, with the help of God, it is going to shine again, soon – permanently – for the generation of Messiah.


There is a further allusion to this thirty-six hour light which we find in the birth of Moses. In Shemot we read:


Shemot (Exodus) 2:1 A man from the house of Levi married a daughter of Levi. The woman conceived and gave birth to a son. She saw that he was good and hid him for three months.


Sota 12a When Moshe was born, the house was filled with light. It is written here, “... And she saw that he was good ...” and there it is written, “God saw the light, that it was good...”


The fact that the same word describing the hidden light of creation (“good or beneficial”) is also used to describe Moshe himself, may, on the surface, seem insignificant. However, the Hakhamim saw in this a connection between the supernal light and Moses, the future leader of the Jewish people.


What makes this connection even more significant is the date of Moses’ birth: 2368A.M. from creation, thirty-six years after the Egyptian bondage actually began. (According to the Torah, Paro did not feel free to enslave the Jewish people until after all of Yosef’s brothers died. The last brother to die was Levi, in the year 2332 from creation.) 2368-2332 = 36. Furthermore, just as the light of creation was hidden after shining for thirty-six hours, the light that was revealed through the birth of Moshe after thirty-six years of enslavement was also hidden. Chanukah comes to teach us every year of the thirty-six hours of supernal light. This historical perspective allows us to look down through the spiral of time to see this light in the past, present, and future.


It is through a historical perspective that incorporates all relevant issues - past, present, and future - that the hidden light of creation comes alive, through the thirty-six lights of Chanukah. And this was the message that Moshe was hand-picked by God Himself to reveal. In fact, according to tradition, Moshe taught the entire Torah to the Jewish people within thirty-six days![28]


The Chunukiah[29] reminds us of the miracle of oil that burned in the menorah for eight days. The menorah, the symbol of Chanukah, represents the understanding that lies below the surface. When God would teach Moses a new law, He would speak to him from on top of the atonenment cover over the Holy Ark, within which the Written Law had been placed. However, for the explanation of the law, Moses turned southward towards the menorah.[30]


The menorah was not the only implement of the priestly service that contained the message of thirty-six. For example, the robe worn by the High Priest while serving in the Tabernacle[31] contained thirty-six bells sewn onto its hem:


Zevachim 88b Our Rabbis taught: The robe [me’il] was entirely of blue, as it is said, And he made the robe of the ephod of woven work, all of blue. How were its skirts [made]? Blue [wool], purple wool and crimson thread, twisted together, were brought, and manufactured into the shape of pomegranates whose mouths were not yet opened and in the shape of the cones of the helmets on children’s heads. Seventy-two bells containing seventy-two clappers were brought and hung thereon, thirty-six on each side. R. Dosa said on the authority of Rabbi Judah: There were thirty-six, eighteen on each side….


R. ‘Inyani b. Sason also said: Why are the sections on sacrifices and the priestly vestments close together? To teach you: as sacrifices make atonement, so do the priestly vestments make atonement. The coat atones for bloodshed, for it is said, And they killed a he-goat, and dipped the coat in the blood. The breeches atoned for lewdness, as it is said, And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover the flesh of their nakedness. The mitre made atonement for arrogance. How do we know it? — Said R. Hanina: Let an article placed high up come and atone for an offence of hauteur. The girdle atoned for [impure] meditations of the heart, i.e., where it was placed. The breastplate atoned for [neglect of] civil laws, as it is said, And thou shalt make a breastplate of judgment. The ephod atoned for idolatry, as it is said, Without ephod there are teraphim. The robe atoned for slander. How do we know it? — Said R. Hanina: Let an article of sound come and atone for an offence of sound. The headplate atoned for brazenness: of the headplate it is written, And it shall be upon Aaron’s forehead, whilst of brazenness it is written, Yet thou hadst a harlot’s forehead.


These bells, says the Talmud, atoned for lashon hara (slander is lashon hara), derogatory speech about others, a sin of very serious proportions and one for which a person can lose his portion in the Olam HaBa, World-to-Come.


It is the Chanukah vision, the message that shines from the lights of the menorah, that symbolizes that which the Talmud teaches. In a very real sense, each section of the Talmud corresponds to one light from the menorah kindled throughout the eight days. Perhaps this why it contains thirty-six tractates, consisting of the Torah that was taught over in thirty-six days, by the man born thirty-six years after the darkness of exile began.


II. The Lamed Vav’niks


The Tzadikim Nistarim (Hebrew: צַדִיקִים נִסתָּרים, hidden righteous ones) or Lamed Vav Tzadikim (Hebrew: ל"ו צַדִיקִים, 36 righteous ones), often abbreviated to Lamed Vav(niks),[32] refers to thirty-six righteous people, a notion rooted within the more mystical dimensions of Judaism. The singular form is Tzadik Nistar (Hebrew: צַדִיק נִסתָר). Lamed Vav Zadikim,[33] the minimal number of anonymous righteous men living in the world in every generation. They are privileged to see the Divine Presence, and the world exists on their merit. The origin of this tradition, found in the Babylonian Talmud, is handed down in the name of the amora Abbaye: “there are not less than thirty-six righteous men in the world who receive the Divine Presence”.[34]


The number of righteous men is never less than thirty-six:


Sukkah 45b Hezekiah further stated in the name of R. Jeremiah who said it in the name of R. Simeon b. Yohai, I have seen the sons of heaven[35] and they are but few. If there be a thousand, I and my son are among them; if a hundred, I and my son are among them; and if only two, they are I and my son.


Are they then so few? Did not Raba in fact state,[36] The row [of righteous men immediately] before the Holy One, blessed be He, consists of eighteen thousand, for it is said, It shall be eighteen thousand round about?[37] — This is no difficulty: The former number refers to those who see Him ‘through a bright speculum, the latter to those who see Him through a dim one.[38] But are those who see Him through a bright speculum so few? Did not Abaye in fact state, The world never has less than thirty-six righteous men who are vouchsafed a sight of the Shechinah every day, for it is said, Happy are they that wait lo[39] [for Him] and the numerical value of lo is thirty-six? — There is no difficulty: The latter number[40] refers to those who may enter [the Presence] with permission, the former[41] to those who may enter without permission.


It is clear that light, Chanukah, and creation are related. What is not yet clear is just where in the Chanukah lights the hidden light of creation can be found, we have information on how to get there. If one studies the Babylonian Talmud, of which there are thirty-six tractates or sections (B’nei Yisaschar), one will eventually merit the “Great Light”.[42]


No Jewish holiday so lends itself to the challenge of the Age of Illumination as does the holiday of Chanukah, the Festival of Lights. If in doubt as to which lights are being celebrated, one need only to consult our sacred literature and find that that these eight days are dedicated specifically to Inner Light, the internal illumination that brightens the soul.


The Rokeach, Rabbi Eliezer of Worms, a noted medieval scholar and authority, pointed out that a total of thirty-six candles are lit on the eight days of Chanukah. This, he observes, corresponds to the first thirty-six hours of Creation, when, according to Jewish tradition, a special unearthly radiance lit the universe. This spiritual light was quite different from any light we now know. It threatened to be too intense to serve man’s everyday, earthly needs, and so the Creator hid it from him. Yet that light still exists -- in the Torah. For this reason, the Aramaic term for Torah is Oraisa -- the source of light.


Those few who have succeeded in perceiving this light are the legendary lamed-vav’niks, the thirty-six righteous men concealed from recognition in every generation. [In Hebrew, letters are also used as numbers. The letters lamed and vav are the numerical equivalent of thirty-six]


III. Where are you?


Midrash Zuta, Eichah 1:1 “Rabbi Shimon the son of Pazi said, ‘The numerical value of ayekah [“where are you”] is thirty-six.’”                   


We find the number thirty-six in the gematria for the word ayekah:


א = 1, י = 10, כ = 20, ה = 5

The numerical value of איכה,, therefore, is thirty-six. Ayekah is first found in:


Bereshit (Genesis) 3:9 But HaShem God called to the man, “Where are you?”


The Talmud gives us the gematria for this word:


Sanhedrin 104a And Hezekiah was glad of them, and showed them the house of his precious things, the silver, and the gold, and the spices, and the precious ointment etc.[43] Rab said: What is meant by ‘the house of his precious things’? — His wife, who mixed the drinks for them.[44] Samuel said: He showed them his treasury. R. Johanan said: He showed them weapons which could destroy other weapons. How [eicah] doth the city sit solitary![45] Rabbah said in R. Johanan’s name: Why was Israel smitten with ‘eicah’?[46] Because they transgressed the thirty-six injunctions[47] of the Torah which are punished by extinction.[48] R. Johanan said: Why were they smitten with an alphabetical dirge?[49] Because they violated the Torah, which was given by means of the alphabet.[50]


The Hebrew word ayekah can be split into two words. Aye, which means “where” and kah, which is a difficult word to translate and seems to have different meanings in different contexts. However, the numerical value of the word koh is twenty-five, the number that represents “light.” When looked at this way, the word ayekah literally means, “where is the light?”


IV. Midrashic References


Midrash Rabbah - Vayikra (Leviticus) XXI:7 What is written just before the present text? And the Lord said unto Moses: Speak unto Aaron thy brother (ib. 2). R. Abin explained that He said to him: ‘ Go, comfort him with kind words”; as you may infer from the analogous expression in the text, Bid Jerusalem take heart (Isaiah XL, 2).[51] That he come not at every time-’eth (Leviticus Ioc. cit.). R. Judah b. R. Simon observed: It pained Moses greatly to say this. He thought: Alas! Has my brother Aaron perchance been ousted from his privileged position? [What is meant by] ‘At every time (‘eth)’? “Eth’ may be after a while, as might be supposed from the expression: ‘ That he come not at every time (‘eth).’ “Eth ‘ may be after one day, as in the text, Thou shalt drink also water by measure... from time (‘eth) to time-’eth (Ezekiel IV, 11).[52] ‘‘Eth’ may be after a year, as it says, And it came to pass, at the return of the year, at the time-le’eth (II Sam. XI, 1). “Eth’ may be after twelve years, as in the text, Until the time (‘eth) that his word came to pass (Ps. CV, 19).[53] ‘‘Eth’ may be after seventy years, as it says, That He would accomplish for the desolation of Jerusalem seventy years (Dan. IX, 2), and it says, Until the time (‘eth) of his own land come (Jer. XXVII, 7).[54] “Eth’ may mean forever, as can be inferred from the text, Thou hast put gladness in my heart more than when (‘eth) their corn and their wine increase (Ps. IV, 8).[55] Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses: ‘It is not as you suppose! It is neither the ‘eth after a while, nor the ‘eth after one day, nor the ‘eth after a year, nor the ‘eth after twelve years, nor the ‘eth after seventy years, nor the ‘eth that means forever, but at all times when he wishes to enter he may enter, provided only that he enters in the prescribed manner.’ R. Judah b. R. Eleazar said he must, when entering, wears thirty-six bells and thirty-six pomegranates.[56] Our Rabbis say: Seventy-two bells and seventy-two pomegranates.



Midrash Rabbah - Bamidbar (Numbers) V:4 Another exposition of the text, CUT YE NOT OFF, etc. What is written in the verse above? And the Lord spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron (Num. IV, 17). Why, asked R. Levi, should Aaron be mentioned here?[57] Because He gives a hint to the sons of Kohath, saying to them in effect: ‘Take good heed not to be irreverent when you enter the place where the ark is; for if you would behave with irreverence towards it, take a lesson from the sons of Aaron. The sons of Aaron,’ said He, ‘entered without permission, and what does Scripture state concerning them? And there came forth fire from before the Lord, and devoured them (Leviticus X, 2). Do you, therefore, in your turn, take note, lest what befell them befall you! ‘ For this reason He wrote, ‘And the Lord spoke unto Moses and unto Aaron.’ Our Rabbis say: Why was Aaron mentioned here? Because when the sons of Kohath were given orders about carrying the ark they were afraid and began to protest to Moses, saying: ‘Behold we shall all die as the sons of Aaron died!’ So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to Moses: ‘In the same way as I safeguarded Aaron-as it says: Herewith shall Aaron come into the holy place, etc. (Leviticus XVI, 3)-so will I safeguard the families of Kohath that they may not die.’ Hence it is written: CUT YE NOT OFF... BUT THIS DO UNTO THEM. And wonder not that the Holy One, blessed be He, should have provided a safeguard for them that they might not die, for we find that even for the wicked He provided safeguards that they should not die. When the Holy One, blessed be He, defined for Moses the thirty-six transgressions, mentioned in the Torah, which are punishable with kareth, Moses said to the Holy One, blessed be He: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! If men commit any of these sins shall they be so punished? ‘ So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: ‘Let them receive the forty stripes and escape the penalty of excision.’ This precisely accords with what we have learned[58]: All who have incurred the penalty of excision, and have been flogged, obtain remission from the punishment of excision; for it says: Forty stripes he may give him, he shall not exceed; lest... thy brother should be dishonored (weniklah) before thine eyes (Deut. XXV, 3), which teaches that having received his flagellation (nilkah)[59] he is again ‘thy brother’. These are the words of R. Hananiah b. Gamaliel. Now if, when a person commits a transgression, his soul is taken from him on account of it, does it not follow with even greater force that, if one performs a mitzvah, his soul will be granted to him? And why did the Torah make him liable to receive the forty stripes? Because he transgressed a law of the Torah which was given after forty days[60] and so brought the penalty of death on himself, who was created in forty days[61]; let him therefore be flogged with forty stripes and have his punishment [of excision] remitted; just as happened to Adam, who sinned and incurred the penalty of death and received forty penalties-for the world was cursed on account of his sin with forty curses; ten for Adam, ten for Eve, ten for the serpent, and ten upon the earth, and the Holy One, blessed be He, prolonged his day, for though it says: For in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Gen. II, 17), he lived nine hundred and thirty years, not completing the ‘day’ of the Holy One, blessed be He.[62] Now, if He instituted a protective measure for the wicked, how much more so for the righteous! This explains: CUT YE NOT OFF, etc.


Midrash Rabbah - Devarim (Deuteronomy) IX:8 Another explanation: R. Levi said: It is like the case of a pregnant woman who was thrown into prison and gave birth to a son there. When the child grew up the king once passed by the prison, whereupon the lad began to cry out: ‘My lord king, why am I kept in prison?’ and the king replied: ‘You are kept here for the sin of your mother.’ So Moses pleaded: ‘Master of the Universe, there are thirty-six transgressions[63] punishable by extinction enumerated in the Torah, for the commission of any one of which a man is liable to be put to death. Have I then transgressed any one of them? Why dost Thou decree death upon me?’ God replied: ‘You are to die because of the sin of the first man who brought death into the world. [Thus Scripture says], BEHOLD (HEN)! What is the force of HEN? For the sin of him of whom the expression ‘ hen ‘ is used [in Scripture], Behold (hen), the man is become as one of us (Gen. III, 22).



V. Jacob


Jacob is intimately associated with the number 36. We find thirty-six in the Gematria for his first wife, לאה, Leah:


ל = 30, א = 1, ה = 5


Through Leah, Jacob became the father of Judah, through whom came all of the kings of Israel - including King Messiah, and the father of Levi, through whom came all of the Priests of Israel.


After Jacob married Leah, he was permitted to marry his first love, Rachel. Rachel died at the age of thirty-six.


Jacob was away from his home and his parents for a total of thirty-six years:


Megilah 17a Why are the years of Ishmael mentioned? So as to reckon by them the years of Jacob, as it is written, And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, a hundred and thirty and seven years.[64] How much older was Ishmael than Isaac? Fourteen years, as it is written, And Abram was fourscore and six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram,[65] and it is also written, And Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him,[66] and it is written, And Isaac was threescore years old when she bore them.[67] How old then was Ishmael when Jacob was born? Seventy-four. How many years were left of his life? Sixty-three; and it has been taught: Jacob our father at the time when he was blessed by his father was sixty-three years old. It was just at that time that Ishmael died, as it is written, Now Esau saw that Isaac had blessed Jacob... so Esau went unto Ishmael and took Mahlath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son the sister of Nebaioth.[68] Now once it has been said, ‘Ishmael’s daughter’ do I not know that she was the sister of Nebaioth? This tells us then that Ishmael affianced her and then died, and Nebaioth her brother gave her in marriage.[69] Sixty-three and fourteen till Joseph was born[70] make seventy-seven, and it is written, And Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh.[71] This makes a hundred and seven. Add seven years of plenty and two of famine,[72] and we have a hundred and sixteen, and it is written, And Pharaoh said unto Jacob, How many are the days of the years of thy life? And Jacob said unto Pharaoh, The days of the years of my sojournings are a hundred and thirty years.[73] But [we have just seen that] they were only a hundred and sixteen? We must conclude therefore that he spent fourteen years in the house of Eber,[74] as it has been taught: ‘After Jacob our father had left for Aram Naharaim two years.[75] Eber died’. He then went forth from where he was[76] and came to Aram Naharaim. From this[77] it follows that when he stood by the well he was seventy-seven years old. And how do we know that he was not punished [for these fourteen years]? As it has been taught: ‘We find that Joseph was away from his father twenty-two years.[78] just as Jacob our father was absent from his father’. But Jacob’s absence was thirty-six years?[79] It must be then that the fourteen years which he was in the house of Eber are not reckoned. But when all is said and done, the time he spent in the house of Laban was only twenty years?[80] — The fact is that [he was also punished] because he spent two years on the way, as it has been taught: He left Aram Naharaim and came to Succoth and spent there eighteen months, as it says, And Jacob journeyed to Succoth, and built him a house, and made booths for his cattle;[81] and in Bethel he spent six months and brought there sacrifices.


As Jacob approached the borders of Canaan, it was then that Jacob’s life became truly intertwined with thirty-six, and the Hidden Light of creation. It was then that Jacob also achieved a spectacular self-transformation. For, in going back across the Yabok River[82] for some small containers, Jacob made possible the thirty-six candles of Chanukah:


Bereshit (Genesis) 32:24 Ya’akov took them and crossed them over the river and all that was with him. Ya’akov remained alone ...


Chullin 91a And Jacob was left alone.[83] Said R. Eleazar: He remained behind for the sake of some small jars.[84] Hence [it is learnt] that to the righteous their money is dearer than their body; and why is this? Because they do not stretch out their hands to robbery.[85]


God said to Jacob, ‘For endangering yourself for a small container, I Myself will repay your children with a small container to the Chashmonaim [at the time of Chanukah]’.[86]


However, the container Jacob returned for was no ordinary container, nor was it empty:


Yalkut Reuveni, VaYishlach From where did Jacob get this jar? When he picked up the stones from under his head and returned them in the morning, he found a stone that had a jar of oil in it, and he used it to pour on the top stone. When it refilled itself, Jacob knew it was set aside for God. He said, “It’s not right to leave this here ...”


Fleeing for his life Jacob left Be’er Sheva for Haran where his uncle Lavan lived. Just prior to leaving Canaan, Jacob camped for the night at Har HaMoriah, the place Avraham referred to as koh, the place from which God created the entire universe. After praying there, an angelic voice called out:


Bereishit Rabbah 68:12 Jacob has arrived! The great Jacob who, like the sun, sheds light on the universe!


There Jacob slept the night with a stone as a pillow, and there he dreamt prophetically of a ladder that reached into heaven. The next morning, Jacob took the stone he had slept on and built a monument to commemorate his prophetic vision.


After building the monument, Jacob then anointed it with oil, miraculous oil he had miraculously found at a holy place for a holy purpose. Fifteen hundred years in the future, in the same holy spot, Jacob’s descendants would also miraculously find miraculous oil ... oil they would merit to discover, because an ancestor called “light” traveled back across the river for it!


And in returning for the small little jar of oil that never diminished, Jacob battled with a “stranger” the entire night.


Bereshit (Genesis) 32:25 Jacob remained alone, and a man battled with him until the morning light. When he saw that he could not overcome him he touched his hind thigh and uprooted the thigh of Jacob ...


The battle was not a typical fight between two men. The night was Jewish history and its long bitter exiles; the angel was all the enemies of the Jewish people that would try to extinguish the light of Torah and the people meant to be a light unto nations. Jacob’s victory was the eventual redemption of the Jewish people ... and the Hidden Light of creation:


Bereshit (Genesis) 32:28 He said to him, ‘What is your name?’ He answered, ‘Jacob.’ He said, ‘No longer is it Jacob, but Israel, for you fought with God and with men and overcame.

No longer is it Jacob ... “He strove with an angel and overcame it; he cried and pleaded to him (Bocho vayischanen lo... )”

Hoshea 12:5 - Rashi.


B’ch”o vayischanen l”o... (“he cried and pleaded to him”) can be read as, on the twenty-fifth (bc”h Kislev) there will be a chayn (i.e., Chanukah) of thirty-six (l”o numerically is equal to thirty-six).


Even the gid hanashe where the angel injured Jacob before taking his leave, is tied to the holy oil of Chanukah, conceptually and numerically ...


gid hanashe = 3+10+4 + 5+50+300+5
= 377 ... 3 + 7 + 7
= 17 ... 1 + 7
= 8


This is the same gid hanashe that Joseph had removed before his brothers eyes:


Bereshit (Genesis) 43:16 Slaughter and prepare ...


Chullin 91a Prepare ... Remove the gid hanashe in front [of the brothers].


* * *


Thirty-six is considered middle age. The Talmud spells this out based on the wording of Tehillim 90:10:


Yevamoth 97a And where no symptoms of a saris developed, how long [is one regarded as a minor]?[87] — It was taught at the school of R. Hiyya: Until he has passed middle age.[88]


Tehillim (Psalms) 90:10 The length of our days is seventy years--or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.

* * *


According to Rabbi Eliezer in the Talmud (Baba Metsia 59b) the Torah “warns against the wronging of a ger in thirty-six places; other say, in forty-six places.”


* * *


QUESTION: What is the Torah emphasizing by beginning the Book of Devarim with the word "Eileh" — "these are"?


ANSWER: Moshe started delivering his legacy speech to Klal Yisrael on Rosh Chodesh Shevat, and he passed away thirtysix days later on the seventh day of Adar. The word "eileh" (אלה) has the numerical value of thirty-six, and the Torah is alluding to the fact that for thirty-six days he spoke words of admonishment to Klal Yisrael.

 (אור החיים)


Moshe knew through Divine inspiration that the Jews would ultimately be exiled for violating thirty-six negative commandments (Sanhedrin 104a), which would affect thirty-six days of the year. Therefore he admonished them for thirty-six days as a corrective.


* * *


Laws of Forbidden Sexual Relations include thirty-seven commandments, one positive commandment and thirty-six negative commandments, which are:  (1) not to have sexual relations with one's mother; (2) not to have sexual relations with one's father's wife; (3) not to have sexual relations with one's sister; (4) not to have sexual relations with one's father's wife's daughter; (5) not to have sexual relations with one's son's daughter; (6) not to have sexual relations with one's daughter; (7) not to have sexual relations with one's daughter's daughter; (8) not to marry a woman and her daughter; (9) not to marry a woman and her son's daughter; (10) not to marry a woman and her daughter's daughter; (11) not to have sexual relations with one's father's sister; (12) not to have sexual relations with one's mother's sister; (13) not to have sexual relations with one's father's brother's wife; (14) not to have sexual relations with one's son's wife; (15) not to have sexual relations with one's brother's wife; (16) not to have sexual relations with one's wife's sister; (17) not have sexual relations with an animal; (18) that a woman shall not bring an animal to have sexual relations with her; (19) not to have sexual relations with another male; (20) not to have sexual relations with one's father; (21) not to have sexual relations with one's father's brother; (22) not to have sexual relations with another man's wife; (23) not to have sexual relations with a menstruous woman; (24) not to intermarry with Gentiles; (25) that an Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the community by marriage with born Jews; (26) not to keep an Egyptian of the third generation from so entering the community; (27) not to keep an Edomite of the third generation from so entering the community; (28) that a mamzer shall not so enter the community; (29) that a eunuch shall not so enter the community; (30) not to castrate a male, even a domestic animal or wild beast or fowl; (31) that the High Priest shall not marry a widow; (32) that the High Priest shall not have sexual relations with a widow, even without marriage; (33) that the High Priest shall marry a virgin in her adolescence; (34) that a Priest shall not marry a divorced woman; (35) that he shall not marry a harlot; (36) that he shall not marry a profaned woman; (37) that one shall not be intimate with one with which sexual relations are severely forbidden, even without sexual relations.


* * *


It is pointed out in the Kabbalah – where so many secrets about Messianic times are revealed – that the first letters of each of the words Baruch Shem kevod malchuto l'olam va'ed, spell the words, b'Shechem lamed-vav, meaning "in Shechem, thirty-six."


Baruch Shem is the second verse of the Shema said twice a day. According to tradition, it represents our belief that God orchestrates the events of history, even when this fact is veiled by nature and "natural" cause-and-effect. This verse alludes to the day when God will stop working undercover and reveal himself to humanity in an obvious manner. In other words, it is a verse that alludes to the final redemption.


But, why "in Shechem thirty-six?" And "thirty-six" what? That's a question that opens up a difficult Kabbalistic issue for thirty-six is all about exile AND redemption.


* * *


If you count the total number of candles that we light on Chanukah, you’ll find it comes to thirty-six. If you count the number of days from the 25th of Kislev, the day when Chanukah begins, till the end of Tevet, that number is also 36.


* * *


Yehoshua (Joshua) 7:1 But the children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing: for Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed thing: and the anger of HaShem was kindled against the children of Israel. 2  And Joshua sent men from Jericho to Ai, which is beside Bethaven, on the east side of Bethel, and spake unto them, saying, Go up and view the country. And the men went up and viewed Ai. 3  And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few. 4  So there went up thither of the people about three thousand men: and they fled before the men of Ai. 5  And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty and six men: for they chased them from before the gate even unto Shebarim, and smote them in the going down: wherefore the hearts of the people melted, and became as water.


Sanhedrin 44a And they laid them down[89] before the Lord.[90] R. Nahman said: He [Joshua] came and cast them down before God, exclaiming, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! for these shall a [number equal to a] majority of the Sanhedrin he killed?’[91] For it is written, And the men of Ai smote of them about thirty-six men; regarding which it was taught, i.e., literally thirty-six: this is R. Judah's view. R. Nehemia said to him; Were there actually thirty-six? Surely, only about thirty-six men is written. But this refers to Jair the son of Manasseh[92] who was equal [in importance] to the majority of the Sanhedrin.[93]


* * *


This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:


Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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[1] Bereshit (Genesis) 1:3 (2), 1:4 (2), 1:5, 1:14, 1:15 (2), 1:16 (3), 1:17, 1:18, 44:3, Shemot (Exodus) 10:23, 13:21, 14:20, 25:6, 25:37 (2), 27:20, 28:30, 35:8, 35:14 (2), 35:28, 39:37, Vayikra (Leviticus) 8:8, 24:2, Bamidbar (Numbers) 4:9, 4:16, 6:25, 8:2, 27:21, Devarim (Deuteronomy) 33:8                

[2] Gen. I, 17.

[3] Ibid., v. 19.

[4] I.e., the generation which built the Tower of Babel, and in consequence God confounded their language and scattered them over the earth. V. Gen. XI, 9.

[5] Job. 38:15.

[6] I.e., the Messianic era; cf. Aboth II, 16.

[7] Gen. I, 4.

[8] Isa. III, 10. E.V. ‘that it shall be well with him.

[9] Prov. XIII, 9. E.V. ‘the light of the righteous rejoiceth.’

[10] I.e., the light created on the first day.

[11] V. Gen. I, 14f (E.V. ‘lights’).

[12] Cf. Gen. Rab. I, 14, and Rashi to Gen. I, 14.

[13] V. Num. XV, 32. The sanctity of the Sabbath was thereby emphasized.

[14] A special cloak should be worn on the Sabbath.

[15] If he cannot afford a complete change, he must have something different to mingle with his weekday attire.

[16] Instead of tucking it up as on the weekdays, when he works in the fields.

[17] Through Adam’s sin it was decreed that the primeval light should be hidden. Var. lec.: cursed.

[18] More correctly: R. Jose.

[19] I.e. the primeval light, which was smitten immediately he sinned, before the Sabbath.

[20] E.V. ‘But man abideth not in honour’.

[21] By hiding the primeval light. Others: He deprived Adam’s countenance of its lustre.

[22] At night--this primeval light is meant.

[23] This derives yishrehu from shir to sing. E.V. ‘He sendeth it forth under, etc.’

[24] On this night.

[25] I.e. for Adam, who was created on the sixth day.

[26] Under cover of darkness.

[27] Brachot 8:5

[28] Seder Olam Rabbah 10

[29] The chanukiyah is a candlestick with nine branches used to celebrate Chanukah.

[30] HaEmek Davar

[31] Shemot (Exodus) 28:31

[32] Lamedvavnik is the Yiddish term for one of the 36 humble righteous ones or Tzadikim mentioned in kabbalah or Jewish mysticism.

[33] Hebrew: ל״ו צַדִּיקִים 36 righteous men”

[34] Sanhedrin 97b; Succoth. 45b

[35] Those who will see the Presence of God in the Hereafter.

[36] So in Sanh. 97b (where the entire passage is reproduced with some variants); the text here is in slight disorder.

[37] Ezekiel 48:35.

[38] They receive only a clouded vision of the Divine Presence.

[39] Yeshayahu (Isaiah) 30:18.

[40] Thirty-six.

[41] Two, R. Simeon b. Yohai and his son.

[42] Tanchuma, Noach 9

[43] Isa. XXXIX, 2; cf. II Kings XX, 13.

[44] He permitted his wife (‘his treasure’) openly to wait upon them, disregarding the modesty which should have kept her within her own quarters (Maharsha).

[45] Lam. I, 1. Having mentioned exile, the Talmud proceeds to discuss Lamentations.

[46] I.e., brought to such a dirge.

[47] V. Ker. I, 1.

[48] The numerical value of eicah is thirty-six.

[49] Lamentations is written in the form of an alphabetical acrostic.

[50] I.e., its words are formed from the alphabet. Possibly this alludes to the belief that the letters themselves are endowed with certain powers; v. p. 446, n. 9.

[51] Lit. ‘ Speak to the heart of Jerusalem’.

[52] The expression from time to time is explained in a preceding verse to mean a day.

[53] The reference is to Joseph’s release from prison which took place when he was thirty years of age, he having spent there twelve years from the age of eighteen, a year after his sale to the Egyptians; M.K.

[54] The fall of Babylon. The text speaks of Nebuchadnezzar’s sway over Palestine and the surrounding nations, which coincided with the duration of Jerusalem’s desolation referred to in the preceding citation.

[55] Which occurs always.

[56] Cf. Ex. XXVIII, 33. For the Bamidbar (Numbers), cf. Rad.

[57] Actually it is natural for Aaron to be mentioned, since the passage treats of priestly duties (v. supra, IV, 12). Possibly the difficulty is, why should this be introduced as a fresh passage, with a renewed mention of Aaron, instead of being recorded as a continuation of the previous one.

[58] Mak. 23a (Sonc. ed., p. 164).

[59] Play on niklah and nilkah.

[60] Cf. Ex. XXIV, 12, 18.

[61] The Rabbis held that the fetus develops into human shape in forty days.

[62] I.e. the full thousand years. For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday (Ps. XC, 4). Thus ‘day ‘ was made to mean a day of God, and he did actually die on that ‘day’.

[63] Ker. I, 1.

[64] Gen. XXV, 17.

[65] Ibid. XVI, 16.

[66] Ibid. XXI, 5.

[67] Ibid. XXV, 26.

[68] Ibid. XXVIII, 6-9.

[69] Which shows that Ishmael died just about the time that Isaac blessed Jacob.

[70] It is reckoned by the Talmud that Jacob had been with Laban fourteen years when Joseph was born. V. Gen. XXXI, 41.

[71] Ibid. XLI, 46.

[72] V. Ibid. XLV, 6.

[73] Ibid. XLVII, 8,9.

[74] [So Rashi: cur. edd., ‘the fourteen years he spent . . . are not reckoned’.]

[75] [So Rashi: cur. edd. introduce passage with: ‘Jacob lay hidden in the house of Eber for fourteen years’.]

[76] This is the reading here of the Bah. The reading of the text is unintelligible.

[77] [By calculating the years Eber lived, v. Gen. XI, 17.]

[78] He left when he was seventeen, he was thirty when he stood before Pharaoh, and seven years of plenty and two of famine passed before he saw his father.

[79] He left when he was sixty-three and returned when he was ninety-nine.

[80] V. Gen. XXXI, 41.

[81] Gen. XXXIII, 17: a ‘house’ for one summer, and two ‘booths’ for two winters.

[82] Bereshit (Genesis) 32:22.

[83] Ibid. XXXII, 25.

[84] He had already taken across that which he had (ibid. 24), but he must have returned for some small vessels.

[85] And whatever they acquire by their toil and honest dealing is therefore very dear to them.

[86] Midrash Tzeidah LaDerech

[87] If two pubic hairs did not appear.

[88] Lit., ‘most of his years’, i.e., until he is thirty-six years of age. Man’s span of life is taken to be seventy years (cf. Ps. XC, 10).

[89] Lit., ‘poured out’.

[90] The livestock.

[91] I.e., of the great Sanhedrin of seventy one.

[92] A contemporary of Moses and a descendant of Manasseh by his grandmother and of Judah by his grandfather. His grandmother was probably an heiress and therefore he is reckoned by the tribe of Manasseh (I Ch. II, 5, 22, 23)

[93] The Heb. is כשלשים and the כ is translated as a kaf similitatis, ‘like,’ i.e., one man who was like thirty-six