I love the connection of numbers and Torah. In macro-terms, Torah is the blueprint of the universe. What is the secret of six? According to the famous Passover song, Who Knows One?, one is God, two are the tablets, three are the forefathers, four are the matriarchs, five are the books of Torah, and six are the books of the Mishnah.
The difference between Torah and Mishnah? The Torah is the formal, written word of God, through the pen of Moses. Six represents the Oral Torah, the compendium of explanations given to Moshe on Sinai. The six orders of the tersely-worded Mishnah are the foundational kernels of law expounded upon in our Talmud. Therefore, six represents humankind, our free will contribution to the world of knowledge, our partnership in creation with the Creator of the Universe.
Humans are the only creatures blessed with walking the tightrope between the sacred and profane. We are represented by the sixth letter in the alphabet, the vav. In Hebrew, a vav is a hook or connector, symbolizing our unique ability to bridge Heaven and Earth. The Torah, our instruction manual for greatness, was given on the sixth day of the month of Sivan. Humanity was formed on the sixth day of Creation. We have six days each week to strive for greatness – and on the seventh, we turn the reigns back to God.
The following lists of “six” are the keys to the castle, time-tested techniques to keep God in our lives. They beg memorization so they can be referred to at moments of strength and weakness, joy and sorrow, temptation and triumph. Imagine each item as the corners of the six-pointed Jewish star, the Magen David, with yourself in the middle. Ready?
The Six Constant Mitzvot
The first list is the Sheish Mitzvot Temidiot (Six Constant Mitzvot). Whereas some mitzvot are time-bound, like shaking a lulav on Sukkot or making Kiddush on Shabbat, these six can be observed 24/7, to remain in our thoughts always:
- Know there is a God – “I am God who brought you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 20:2) This mitzvah is derived from the first of the Ten Commandments, to know (not just believe) that God exists. God created the universe and stuck around to supervise and maintain it. God is continuously involved in our personal lives. It’s up to each of us to fully investigate the evidence so we are unequivocally convinced that God’s presence is absolutely real. Then we have to take that knowledge on the road, living our lives accordingly – and sharing the good news.
The first of the Ten Commandments is to know, not just believe, that God exists.
- Don’t believe in any other gods – “Do not recognize any other gods in My Presence.” (Exodus 20:3) God is everywhere! There is no power except God. Not your boss, not your parents, not even the president of the USA. While modern society is not driven to worship statues and planets like our ancestors, we are prone to place our faith in technology, government, fame and fortune. Don’t do it!
- Know that God is One – “Hear, Israel, Hashem our God, Hashem is One.” (Deut. 6:4) Not only do we utter this six-word formula twice a day, morning and night–we must constantly keep in mind the essential lesson of God’s uniqueness and unity. If God is all that exists, then we are “inside” God, a part of God, a figment of God’s imagination. God created time and space and is therefore beyond time and space. God is indivisible; we don’t hold by a “Trinity” or a competitor to God like Satan. Our constant thought: God is right here, right now, always.
- Love God – “Love God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your ability.” (Deut. 6:5) If we appreciate that God is the source of everything and nothing is owed to us, all our gifts inspire immense gratitude and love. Loving God with me’odecha (ability) can be translated as loving God with our “very.” Everyone has a different “very.” It’s that special thing we do, our tafkid (life task), our purpose on this planet. We can constantly use our unique talents to love God.
- Be in awe of God – “Revere God and serve God.” (Deut. 10:20) A constant awareness of God’s presence results in a perpetual state of awe. God is awesome! Revering (or fearing, as yirah is often translated) implies we understand that actions have consequences. We know that challenging the law of gravity is foolish – Judaism teaches that spiritual realities are just as real. This constant mitzvah keeps us on the right track, knowing that God (think success coach and not cruel overlord) is lovingly aware of our every move.
- Don’t stray after your desires – “Don’t follow your heart or your eyes, after which you go astray.” (Numbers 15:39) We must keep our eye on the goal and not get distracted by emotional (heart) or physical (eye) temptations. We continuously are besieged by obstacles derailing our joy of Judaism. This constant mitzvah urges us to learn what these traps look and feel like – and when tempted, to rely on our pure soul and concerned Creator to help us choose life.
Next time you’re stuck in line, review these six constant mitzvot. A handy acronym to memorize them: FLOOKS – Fear, Love, One, Other, Know, Stray.
The Six Remembrances
In many siddurim, at the conclusion of Shacharit, there’s a list of the Sheish Zechirot, the six events which we are commanded to always remember – to ensure the Jewish future.
- Exodus from Egypt – “Remember the day when you left Egypt all the days of your life.” (Deut. 16:3) This mitzvah is typically fulfilled morning and night in the recitation of the third paragraph of the Shema. This remembrance is first on the list because keeping it top of mind is crucial to our gratitude to God. God loved us and redeemed us then – and still is doing so every day.
- Receiving the Torah at Sinai – “Be careful and guard yourself so that you do not forget the things that your eyes have seen… the day you stood before God at Sinai.” (Deut. 4:9-10) God chose us, saved us from slavery, and brought us into the desert to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai, the climax of human history. The Torah is our greatest gift, our most precious inheritance. “Turn it and turn it again, for all is in it.” (Mishnah – Avot 5:22) Over two million people witnessed this event and made sure to share the drama with subsequent generations in perpetuity.
- Amalek’s attack – “Remember what Amalek did to you on the journey when you left Egypt… you must erase the memory of Amalek from beneath heaven. Do not forget.” (Deut. 25:17-19) Jews have enemies. Antisemitism is the world’s oldest hatred. It began with Amalek and has continued in various pernicious forms to the present day. We must remain vigilant. We can never assume that our efforts toward “peace” will pacify this vile, irrational force.
- The Golden Calf – “Remember and do not forget how you angered God in the desert.” (Deut. 9:7) We were at the top of our game, standing proudly at Sinai after having just crossed the Red Sea. God wiped out the Egyptian army and we were about to receive the Ten Commandments. Then due to poor calculations, we lost faith, assumed our leader Moshe was dead, and built an idol to worship. We were so close to victory!
The lesson? At the cusp of greatness, we’re in the most danger of falling. “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Some call this syndrome fear of success. As Jews, we must go for greatness, filled with confidence in our heritage. That said, when approaching our goals, we must remain humble and grounded, never arrogant or cocky.
- Miriam’s punishment – “Remember what God did to Miriam on the journey when you left Egypt.” (Deut. 24:9) Miriam was Moshe’s big sister, a great prophetess and a leader of the Jewish people. Even she was vulnerable to the snare of lashon hara (gossip) and as a result, contracted the spiritual skin disease of tzara’at. How much more do we regular folks need to guard our tongues, ensuring our words sow harmony and not discord? Sticks and stones can break my bones and names can hurt me. The Talmud teaches that embarrassing someone is like shedding blood. It’s that serious. This remembrance helps us exercise care regarding our power to bring blessing or curse to the world. Sh’mirat HaLashon (guarding one’s tongue) is the foundation-stone of Jewish unity.
- Celebrating Shabbat – “Remember Shabbat to make it holy.” (Exodus 20:8) The final remembrance is the key to continuous Jewish connection. But isn’t Shabbat only once a week? The mitzvah to remember Shabbat can be done daily. Setting aside special food or outfits, inviting guests, and planning the festive meals can all be done for the honor of Shabbat. Make Shabbat the center of the week rather than the finish line. Shabbat is a taste of Olam Habah, the world to come. This remembrance reminds us we can live there all the time, experiencing Heaven on Earth.
The formula to summarize/memorize the remembrances: MEGASS – Miriam, Egypt, Golden, Amalek, Sinai, Shabbat.
Six Questions in Heaven
After 120 amazing years on earth, we will arrive in Heaven and face a tribunal. Our entrance exam, according to the Talmud, consists of six crucial questions. Each demonstrates reaching a lofty level of emotional maturity and going beyond the call of duty in our life’s work. The idea is to nail all six before we meet our Maker.
- Did we do business with honesty and integrity? Did we cheat in secret, assuming no one would know any better? Were we afraid of public shame, but uncaring about God’s perspective? Were we givers or takers? Were we exacting with our calculations? Did we nurture our employees?
- Did we set aside fixed times for studying Torah? Did we recognize the benefit of regular Torah study? Did we live a disciplined life with emphasis given to matters of the spirit? Were we dedicated to personal growth? Did we share the sweetness of Torah?
- Did we participate in the commandment to be fruitful and multiply? Did we see ourselves as links in an ongoing chain of humanity? Did we become selfless through the experience of child-rearing? Did we assist others in their efforts to marry and propagate the species?
- Did we anxiously await the redemption? Did we have an optimistic outlook on life? Did we live only for the moment or prepare for the future? Did we engage in Tikkun Olam? Did we place our faith in God to better our lot?
- Did we engage in the pursuit of wisdom? Were we absorbed with mindless time wasters or endeavor growth? Did we ask questions and seek answers? Did we challenge the status quo? Did we share the knowledge we gained? Did we nurture a broad intellectual curiosity?
- Did we have awe of Heaven? Did we have an awareness of God in our everyday lives? Did we appreciate God’s amazing world? Did we recognize God’s exacting middah k’neged middah (measure for measure) judgment of our efforts?
We are lucky – our Teacher has given us the test questions in advance. Here’s a way to keep them top of mind so we can answer confidently in the affirmative when the great day arrives: WHARFS – Wisdom, Honesty, Awe, Redemption, Fruitful, Study.
Sam Glaser is a performer, composer, producer and author in Los Angeles. He has released 25 albums of his compositions, travels the world in concert, produces music for various media in his Glaser Musicworks recording studio and his book The Joy of Judaism is an Amazon bestseller.