‘To be or not to be?” Are there 61 or aren’t there 61?
As of now, no one knows for sure.
But this is a good time to reflect about the elusive, magical number 61. Did you ever wonder why 61?
Yes, I know that 61 draws its strength in that it represents the tie-breaking majority of the 120-members of the Knesset. But that then begs the question: Why 120? Who and why was it established that 120 representatives would be chosen to serve as the lawmakers in the Knesset?
There is no logic behind this number. On the one hand, compared to OECD countries, our number of parliamentarians is unusually few in proportion to the population size.
On the other hand, there is a rule of thumb called the cube root rule: The number of legislators in a legislature can be approximated by the cubic root of the population. According to the population of Israel when the Knesset was first established, there should have been only 95 members.
You may be surprised to learn that the number of Knesset members in Israel is based on a Talmudic source.
There were 120 members of the Anshe Knesset HeGedolah, and the founders of the modern State of Israel were inspired by this ancient governmental body, a group that had also sprung up to lead Jews who had just returned to the Land of Israel.
The question still remains: Why 120?
In my opinion, we cannot ignore the additional aspect of the significance of the number 120. We all recognize “May you live to be 120,” which attributes to this number a dimension of wholeness. Moses, the epitome of perfection, lived exactly 120 years, to the day.
On the occasion this week of the birthday of the Moshe Rabbeinu of our times, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, of saintly memory; as we enter the 120th year since his birth, a brief thought related to Passover, our collective birthday:
“Yetzias Mitzrayim [the Exodus from Egypt] is described as the birth of the Jewish nation. The status of the Jewish people in Egypt was comparable to that of a fetus in its mother’s womb; that despite its being a complete, live, developing entity, it is still lacking any independent existence, having no self-awareness, lacking free choice. Bnei Yisrael [the Children of Israel], while still in Egypt, did indeed have the definition of ‘nation,’ with its unique language, mode of dress and geographical location (Goshen). But in actuality, they were assimilated and totally immersed in the midst of another nation, not only enslaved in labor, but mainly to the idol beliefs. ‘These are idol worshipers, and these are idol worshipers.’”
The moment of redemption and Exodus from Egypt is the instant the Jewish nation was “born” and transformed from a dependent, enslaved, “fetus” nation, to a nation of liberated people. Going from deeply enslaved to the highest degree of freedom – “mamleches kohanim and a goy kadosh – a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.”
“In each and every generation a person is obliged to regard himself as if he had come out of Egypt.”
The festival of Passover reminds every one of us of the obligation and merit to be born anew each day, to free oneself from “fetus” dependency on avoda zara – the weltanschauung of a foreign environment, and to enable birth into a free person, to go to true intellectual freedom, and belief-oriented freedom, which manifests in a practical way with a life according to our Torah, the Torah of life.”
A happy Festival of Freedom to the entire Jewish people !
The writer is a rabbi and the Chabad-Lubavitch representative in north Tel Aviv.