What's Jewish About Pi Day?
Pi Day is celebrated on the 14th day of the third month because pi equals 3.14. (The three corresponds to the third month which is March and the .14 relates to the 14th day.) Really pi equals 3.1415926535 and this number continues on and on with no pattern. There are at least a million decimal places known for pi, but it is most commonly known by 3.14.
So what exactly is pi? Pi is the relation of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. Basically, no matter what the size of a circle, if you take its circumference (the measurement around the circle) and divide it by its diameter (the measurement through the middle of the circle from one side to the other) you will get this constant 3.14 etc. number.
What exactly do people do on Pi Day? They discuss mathematics, show off how many digits they memorized of pi and of course eat all sorts of pie!
That’s nice you might think, but what is its relation to Judaism? Well, numbers are important in Judaism. And to give even more credence to my claim that Pi Day could be a Jewish holiday, there is even discussion about pi in the Gemara (Talmud). In Mesachat Eruvin (Tractate Eruvin) they say that if you are measuring pi for something that has a brim you should measure from the inside of the brim. Rambam (12th c. Jewish sage) simplifies pi by allowing it to be a three to one ratio. So if the circle has a three amot circumference the diameter can be measured as one amah.
Pi Day is a chance to think about math and numbers in general and see how they play a role in our lives. Therefore, we could, and at least on Pi Day should, look at just about any or all numbers and see something related to Judaism in them. Numbers don't have to do with just mathematics and physics, they also have relevance in religion.
This post will look at only two numbers, three and seven, as examples to get you thinking of how numbers are relevant in Judaism and our lives - or at least can be if we think about them. But there are many many more numbers with relevance to Judaism. On Pi Day take the time to think about more numbers and how they are related to Judaism and relate to your life.
Three represents stability. A three-legged table or chair with its legs out on an angle is more stable than one with four legs.
In Pirke Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) it is written that on three things the world stands, “On Torah, the service of God and deeds of kindness.”
And the shalosh regalim or three Pilgrimage Festivals were the three times of the year when a male was obligated to go the Temple in Jerusalem. Even today, we celebrate these three central holidays as times to reconnect to the agriculture of Eretz Yisrael and historical experiences. These holidays give us an extra boost in our striving to get close to God.
And of course, we have three forefathers who we try emulate and who represent the beginning of our long unbroken chain of Judaism.
Let’s now look at the second number, seven, to support the claim that numbers are important in Judaism. Seven has been important since the time of creation. In seven days the universe as we know it was created. Each day was special, but the seventh day, that of Shabbat, is more meaningful than all the rest, yet it cannot stand alone. Shabbat without the rest of the week would not be Shabbat. It would not be a day of rest if we didn’t have the other six days making up the completion of the seven-day week.
And every seven years, we are to let our land in Israel lay fallow. It is a Sabbath for the land. In this year we show our trust in God and don’t work the land. And after every seven of these seven year cycles we commemorate the Jubilee year when we traditionally didn’t only let the land lay fallow but we returned it to its original owner.
The counting of seven weeks of seven days brings us from Passover to Shavuot, and serves as a link between these festivals. As we count the omer we relive the time between our Exodus from Egypt and Shavuot, the time that God gave us the Torah. During the counting we are to elevate ourselves so that we too will be worthy of being given the Torah.
Likewise, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, there are seven days. During this time, we are to work on our prayer, our repentance and our giving of charity to be worthy of another year.
There are seven major holidays during the year: Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Hanukah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot. And the holidays of Passover and Sukkot are each seven days (in the Land of Israel).
The Menorah, which stood in the Tabernacle and Temple, had seven branches. They were made of pure gold and were similar to a tree in that it had branches, stems and flowers. Some people hold that its likeness to a tree and that it was made of pure gold inside and out were a message to us that we are a holy nation, but that we must be pure inside and out before we spread our message to others. We must be lit inside as a holy nation before we start to spread our holiness outside of the fold.
God gave us a land with seven species. “A land of wheat, and barley, and vines, and fig trees and pomegranates; a land of olive oil and honey” (Deut 8:8). These two grains and five fruits grew in the ancient land and still adorn our landscape today. It was a mitzvah to bring the first of each of these fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. On Shavuot it was only from these seven species that offerings were brought. Eating any of these seven species is not just nutritious, but can help us strengthen our relationship with Israel and with God.
The Talmud lists seven female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Chuldah and Esther.
And finally the word gad which means luck, fortune and success has the gematriya (numerical equivalent) equivalent to seven. And the more usual word used for luck, mazel, equals seventy-seven. So seven expresses completeness, creation, good fortune and blessing.
Of course there are many more numbers with various interesting and deep connections to Judaism.
On Pi Day, take the time to think about numbers and how they influence how we see things and how they can connect to Judaism. Oh yes, and no matter what diet you are on, it is okay to eat a piece of pie!
If you happen to read this article after Pi Day, you can still have a slice of pie if you think about numbers and how they are relevant in Judaism and your life.
Marcia Goldlist is the author of many books. She has written three series of books. These include four books of the Bible in rhyme (Genesis, Exodus, Esther and Ruth), books to help prepare you for each of the Jewish holidays with your children and books with rhymes to use for greetings and toasts. You can check out her books on Amazon.
IMAGE CREDIT: Kosher Chocolate Chip Pi Day Pie (courtesy of Chavi Swidler Eisenberg)
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