The Significance Of The Number Twenty

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


In this study I would like to understand the significance and meaning of the number twenty (2). The number twenty is the value of the Hebrew letter כ - kof.[1]


כ = Twenty


The Hebrew word, ‘Kof’, means monkey. The letter Kof as compared to the letter Heh (ה) is like a Kof (monkey) to a man; no more than a caricature.


The Talmud says that the number “twenty” represents spiritual blindness, which is why the veil over the opening to the Chatzer, the courtyard, was twenty amot wide. Anyone who walked by this veil was reminded that the world outside the “Chatzer” was a completely “natural” one, one that “veiled” the hand of HaShem, and gave us the free-will to choose to see past it.




Shechem is written: שכם shin, chof, mem. If the shin and the mem are joined together, they spell the word shem which means “name,” a common pseudo name for G-d Himself. Unfortunately, in the word shechem, the “Name“ is divided: the shin and the mem are separated by the letter chof.


This might not have seemed significant, had the letter chof not represented the number twenty, and had the number twenty not been so closely related to vision, or rather, the lack of it. And as we will soon see, the problem with Shechem, and all that occurred there had everything to do with a lack of vision.


On the other hand, the number twenty is represented by the letter Chof, and perhaps that is really the point. In other words, the number twenty alludes to more than a limitation of physical vision; it speaks of a limitation of mental vision, one that blinds a person to the hand of HaShem in everyday life.


Shabbat 22a Rav Kahana said: Rav Nachman bar Munyumi elucidated in the name of Rebi Tanchum: A Chanukah light placed higher than twenty amot (thirty to forty feet) is unfit . . .


Rashi, commenting on the Talmud, says that the eye does not see higher than twenty amot and therefore there is no proclamation of the miracle.


The Talmud tells us that there are three things that cannot be higher than twenty amot:


An Eruv,[2]

A Succah,[3]

The Chanukiah.[4]


Why can’t these three things be higher than twenty amot? The Talmud answers: the eye cannot see well past twenty amot. Since each of these three mitzvot must be visible, they must be kept within that eyes’ optimum range.[5] Therefore, the letter chof and the number twenty represent the point at which vision fails.


However, what if one’s eyesight can’t even reach twenty amot? What if the eruv is built larger, and therefore recognizable from a greater distance? What if the roof of the succah is visible even twenty-one amot high? What if a larger Chanukiah is used? Can all of these then be higher than twenty amot?


The answer, of course, is no, the halacha is the halacha. However, perhaps in the case of the twenty-amot it is so for conceptual reasons as well as physical reasons. Perhaps, though the physical eye can operate past the twenty amah limit, the mental eye cannot. After all, is this not what Amalek tries to do, to blind the mind’s eye?


The point of the thirty-six candles that we light throughout the eight days of Chanukah, explains Rashi, is to proclaim the miracle that happened for the Chashmoniam when they conquered the Greek army (in the thirty-sixth century from creation) against all odds. As well, it reminds us of how the miracle extended to the Temple Menorah, which burned for eight days using oil that should have become consumed after only one day. To remember this, one has to see the Chanukah lights burning, which is difficult to do from a distance of twenty amot or more.


The question is, why not just use a larger flame? Or, what happens for a person whose vision is not good past ten amot?


For this reason and others, the number twenty represents more than just a physical limitation. In fact, it refers to a spiritual limitation, perhaps the same kind that prevented Yosef’s brothers from recognizing the Divine hand in Yosef’s redemption. For, the miracles did not stop once Yosef was drawn from the pit:


Bereshit 37:25 They (the brothers) sat down to eat bread when they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying spices, balsam and lotus on their way down to Egypt.


Why did the pasuk make known what they (the Arabs) were transporting? To show you the reward of the righteous; for, normally the Arabs transported tar and naphtha whose smells are bad; for this one (Yosef), spices were arranged, to save him from the bad smell. (Rashi)


Another miracle, albeit a subtle one, but a miracle nevertheless, and another indication that Heaven was on Yosef’s side. Nevertheless, the brothers did not see it that way, and even imposed an oath on HaShem, so-to-speak, to prevent Him from revealing to Yaaqov what they had done to his favorite son.[6] Fascinatingly enough, the verse says:


Bereshit 37:28 Midianite traders passed by; they pulled Yosef out from the pit. They sold Yosef to the Ishmaelites for TWENTY [pieces of] silver.


Seemingly, this provided yet another allusion to the intellectual and spiritual blindness that prevented Yosef’s brothers from seeing his true greatness, and the depth of the mistake they were making in selling him.


Miscellaneous Twenties


Twenty planks on both the north and south sides of the Mishkan;


Twenty is the number at which people began to be counted for military service.


Twenty is the age at which a person suffers heavenly punishment.


Pirke Avot says that twenty is the age at which one begins to pursue (a career).


The half=shekel equals twenty geras.


Chazal tech that it is twenty days from the end of a woman’s period until the beginning of her next period.



* * *


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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Olympia, WA 98501


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[1] Much of this study I learned from Rabbi Pinchas Winston in his work titled “Redemption to Redemption”.

[2] Eiruvin 3a

[3] Succah 2a

[4] Shabbat 22a. A Chanukiah is the menorah lit in Jewish homes during Chanukah.

[5] The eruv informs the Jews at which point the Private Domain ends and the Public Domain begins, at which point carrying on Shabbat becomes forbidden; the roof of the Succah must be visible to remind us of the Clouds of Glory; the Chanukiah is meant to publicize the miracle of Chanukah, and therefore it must be visible to the public.

[6] Rashi, Bereshit 37:33