The Significance Of The Number Five

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


In this paper I would like to study the meaning and the significance of the number five.


The number ten denotes a complete set, because we have ten fingers. Five is therefore representative of half of a set. The following Mishna provides an example of this:




The number five represents the perfection of the natural order (the number four), with the addition of one: HaShem Himself. As the thumb connects the other four fingers, so HaShem connects with the four of this world to perfect the natural order.


The number four is a number of separation, and represents dispersal in all four directions. We see scripture describing division and separation as:


Zechariah 2:10 ...for I have scattered you like the four directions of the heavens.


Each of the four directions is discreet and independent of the others. But, the “fifth” is the unifier, since it resides in the middle of the four directions, and it is the middle element which always unifies the other elements. For this reason, five is called “agudah,” a group, with the fifth unifying the other four. (In order to add a fifth element to the four elements of the plane, that additional one must be placed, conceptually, in the middle. This parallels the structure of the number three being the unifier of the number two, with two representing contrast, and the extremes of a line.) So, the verse “...His group upon the earth” is referring to five, even though no number is mentioned explicitly. Five, a unifier, is fundamentally (not simply quantitatively) different than four which represents division. HaShem is a unifier and a totality, and the unifying power of five is the reason the Divine presence is more manifest among five people.


Four is the number representing exile, and five is the number representing redemption. Five is also the number of fingers that make up the hand.


Five is closely connected with Torah as we have five books which make up the Torah[1] and we have five books of Psalms[2] which are a commentary on those five books of the Torah. The Mishna also connects five with the Torah:




The Torah’s five books contain four books and a fifth which retells the story of the first four. The Midrash also connects five with the Torah:


Leviticus XXX:2 R. Judan said: The Holy One, blessed be He, told David: ‘If you wish for life you need chastisement’; as it is written, Reproofs of instruction are the way of life (Prov. VI, 23). By ‘Fulness of (soba’) joy’ he implied: Satisfy us with five joys; to wit, with Scripture, Mishna, Tosefta, Talmud, and Haggadoth.


Midrash Rabbah - Deuteronomy VII:3 The Torah is compared to five things, water, wine, honey, milk, and oil. Whence to water? [For it is written,] Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye for water (Isa. LV, 1). Whence to wine? For it is written, And drink of the wine which I have mingled (Prov. IX, 5). Whence to honey and milk? For it is said, Honey and milk are under thy tongue (S.S. IV, 11). Whence to oil? For it is said, Thy name as ointment [oil] poured forth (ib. I, 3). Just as oil is at first bitter but in the end sweet, so too are the words of the Torah; at first a man has to labour in them, but in the end he benefits by them, as it is said, And though thy beginning was small, yet thy end should greatly increase (Job VIII, 7).


The song toward the end of the seder asks “Who knows one?” and makes its way up to thirteen. For five, the answer is “five are the books of the Torah”. Which is why there are five books of the Torah, because with the written text are we dealing with a complete set. This idea, of two halves crying out for each other, is what the symbology of five revolves around in Judaism.


Shemot (Exodus) 26:1-3 Describe how the curtains used to cover the Mishkan, were made. All in all, there were ten curtains, two sets of five joined by special hooks. The Baal HaTurim writes that the ten curtains correspond to the Ten Commandments (the essential picture of the Torah) and the reason they were divided into two sets of five is because they corresponded to the five commandments on each tablet. The purpose of having a symbol of the ten commandments built into the Mishkan is a reminder of the purpose of the whole system of our worship, the observance of the Torah revelation encapsulated by the Ten Commandments, keeping the image of the giving of the Torah vivid in the people’s minds.


The Maharal indicates that five:


Portrays the five “directions” of this world, for there is a spiritual dimension in addition to the four directions of physical expanse. The fifth dimension is the spiritual core of existence; it focuses the four diverse sides into a single entity, by infusing the world with purpose. Hence the fifth dimension is the intangible spiritual element of life. The fifth letter of the Hebrew alphabet is hay ה. Its shape conveys the five dimensions of this world, for it is composed of the miniscule yod י – which connotes spirituality – inside a dalet ד, symbol of the four directions. The pronunciation of hay ה is just breath, as appropriate to its connotation of spirituality. It is only aspirated, without need of articulation by the throat, mouth or lips.


Avraham and the five kings were focused on an existence beyond this world. This is the world view represented by the number five. Five in Hebrew is represented by the letter v hay. If you look at the letter v hay, you will see that it is composed of the letter s dalet (which stands for four) plus the letter h yod. h Yod is a unique letter. It is the only letter which doesn’t touch the line on which you write. It is no more than the smallest dot floating above the line, representing intangible, spiritual existence. The written letter v hay, then, is a pictogram of this world focused and revolving around that which is above this world — the s dalet (the “four” of this world) with the h yod of spirituality at its axis. Avraham fought on behalf of the five kings against the four kings. Avraham was the first person to look at this world and see an existence beyond. If there was a creation, there had to be a Creator. After Abram fought the war against the four kings, HaShem added a letter to his name. Not surprisingly, that letter was the letter v hay. For Avraham stood for all that the v hay represents — that this world revolves around a Higher Existence.


The Maharal explains that the spiritual soul has five components. These five components are further grouped into three primary categories: the Nefesh (living or animal soul), Ruach (spirit or intellectual soul) and the Neshamah (Divine spark). The Nefesh and Ruach each have two components, for a total of four components. Together with the Neshama we have the five components of the soul. The Maharal states that these five soul[4] components align with the five Books of the Torah.     End of Maharal’s comments.


The connection between the soul of man and the Torah is strengthened when we understand that the personification of the soul of man and the personification of the Torah is Mashiach.




Hain, “Behold”, consists of two letters - Hay, and Nun. The gematria of Hay is 5. The gematria of Nun is 50. What do 5 and 50 share in common?


In the mystical sources, the decimal numbers symbolize the completion of an entire stage or level. To make the decimal number of ten, you could take one and nine, two and eight, three and seven, or four and six. However there is only one number which when added to itself will make ten. That number is 5. Similarly, the only number which added to itself will make the decimal number of 100 is 50. - Hain.


Hain (behold) symbolizes the Jewish People.


When the Jewish People find completion by connecting only with other Jews, they are safe from a hostile world.


* * *


The Gemara tells us that the expression “Vayihi b’may - and it came to pass in the days” is mentioned five times throughout Tanach.[5] The Maharal of Prague in his commentaries on Purim explains the significance of the number five. He cites the Gemara in Tractate Menachot,[6] which refers to the verse in Tehillim (Psalms),[7]B’Ka (Name of Hashem) formed the worlds.” The Gemara explains this to mean that HaShem created the physical world with the letter hay from His Name and the world to come with the letter yud from his Name. This existence manifested itself with the spirituality contained within the letter hay.


The Maharal explains that the letter hay, which has the numerical value of five, represents manifestation and revelation.


Thus, the Maharal concludes that since the Gemara makes a point of telling us that “Vayihi b’may” is mentioned five times, it is meant to communicate that these moments of history are true manifestations of suffering and difficulty.


From Gal Einai Institute


So said HaShem to these bones: ‘Behold, I shall bring spirit into you and you shall live. And I shall place blood vessels on you and raise flesh upon you, and cover you with skin. And I shall give spirit into you and you shall live, and you shall know that I am HaShem.’


In the above passage from the Ezekiel 37 we find a four-level depiction of the body: bones, blood vessels, flesh, and skin, and a fifth, spiritual level that gives life to the body, spirit. The model most fitting for a comparative analysis of this structure is the four-letter essential Name of HaShem, with the apex of the yud forming the transcendent fifth level.


Whenever this four-level system is used to contemplate “existence,” there is always a fifth, higher and all-inclusive level that enlivens the other four. This fifth level is seen as the source of existence, and in the case of the body is the spirit of life, which comes to enliven all the other levels. As we will see presently, this corresponds to the respiratory system. The following chart summarizes the general model we have now described.



The spirit of life [respiration]



Thorn of yud







Blood vessels







midot—character attributes








Berachoth 57b Five things are a sixtieth part of something else: namely, fire, honey, Sabbath, sleep and a dream. Fire is one-sixtieth part of Gehinnom. Honey is one-sixtieth part of manna. Sabbath is one-sixtieth part of the world to come. Sleep is one-sixtieth part of death. A dream is one-sixtieth part of prophecy.


* * *


The Torah uses four expressions to describe our redemption from Egypt: HaShem said to the Jews in Egypt[8]:


“I will take you out from under Egypt’s burdens - Vehotzeiti


“And I will save you from their servitude - Vehitzalti


“And I will redeem you - Vega’alti


“And I will take you as My nation - Velakachti


We didn’t go from a slave nation to being the Chosen People at Mount Sinai overnight. There were different stages of redemption. The above phrases described these different stages. Each cup of wine represents one of these levels.


There’s actually a fifth expression of redemption, “Veheveiti” (and I will bring you into the Land of Israel). This is seen as a reference to the future redemption, to be announced by Elijah the Prophet, when HaShem will gather the Jews from the “four corners of the earth” and return them to their Land. This level of redemption is represented by the fifth cup, called “Elijah’s cup,” which we pour but we do not drink. The other four cups are drunk as part of the seder.


* * *


This revelation of the yechida is directly connected with Tishri, which contains Yom Kippur, the day of five prayers (including Ne’ila) on which the fifth level of the soul (the yechida) is revealed.


* * *


The altar was five cubits long and five cubits wide. The Hebrew numeral for five is the letter hay. The hay has two vertical lines and one horizontal line that extends above them with a slight gap in the upper left corner between the horizontal and vertical lines. This shape holds relevance to the altar.


* * *


Me’iri (R. Menahem HaMei’ri, Provence (France), 1249 – 1316), referring to the five who are expected to engage in spiritual intercourse, disagrees with Rambam relative to the source. For him, the concept of the five is based on simple arithmetic: Three judges and two litigants involved in a din Torah.


* * *


the Gemara says further that the earth was created with the five fingers of HaShem. This might allude to the four “Yesodot,” or states of physical being[9] -- earth (solid), water (liquid), air (gas), and fire (energy) -- as well as the fifth Yesod, Nefesh (the spiritual element), which together describe all


* * *


The number five is also associated with the corners of the head. Lets first look at what the Torah has to say:


Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:27 You shall not round the corners of your heads, nor mar the edges of your beards.


Rashi, on Vayikra (Leviticus) 19:27 tells us about the corners:


the edge of your beard [meaning:] The end of the beard and its borders. And these are five: two on each cheek at the top [edge of the cheek] near the head, where [the cheek] is broad and has two “corners” [i.e., extremities, one near the temple and the other at the end of the cheek bone towards the center of the face]—and one below, on the chin, at the point where the two cheeks join together.[10]


Rashi tells us that there are five (5) corners to the head.


* * *


The Arizal explains that numbers have their origins in the supernal spiritual worlds. Single digit numbers correspond to the physical realm Asiyah, the sefirat Malkhut. Tens correspond to the angelic realm Yetzirah, the sefirat Tiferet. Hundreds correspond to the Neshama realm Beriah, the sefirat Binah, Imma. Being that hundreds emanate from the realm of Imma, they are the source of blessing. Therefore, all offerings are the rectification of 100% of the produce offered.

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

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Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

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[1] Bereshit, Shemot, Vayikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim.

[3] Five years is, thus, an accepted period for the first phase of education. Commencing Scripture at five, one is ready for Mishna at ten.

[4] Nephesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, Yachida.

[5] The so called Old Testament.

[6] Menachoth 29b

[7] Tehillim (Psalms) 90:2.

[8] Exodus 6:6-8

[9] Bamidbar Rabbah 14:12, Zohar 2:24a

[10] Torath Kohanim 19:74; Mak. 20b