The Significance of The Number Twenty-four

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)


The Creation of Twenty-four. 1

The Tanach. 1

Priests and Levites. 2

The Mystery of Unity. 4

Hindrances to Repentance. 5

Rabbi Akiva’s Talmidim.. 7

Conclusion: 8


In this study I would like to answer the following questions:  What in the meaning of the number twenty-four (24)? What is the significance of the number twenty-four? The number twenty-four written in Hebrew letters is “kaf-dalet” - כד. The number twenty-four in Hebrew spells out the word “kad” or pitcher.


כד = Twenty-four = kad = pitcher


The number twenty-four is associated with judgment and severity. In some way, unity is also associated with the number twenty-four.


The Creation of Twenty-four


The first usage of the number twenty-four is at the dedication of the altar in the Mishkan (the Tabernacle in the wilderness):


Bamidbar (Numbers) 7:88 And all the oxen for the sacrifice of the peace offerings were twenty and four bullocks, the rams sixty, the he goats sixty, the lambs of the first year sixty. This was the dedication of the altar, after that it was anointed.


The concept of twenty-four was created in this pasuk. This pasuk teaches us that twenty-four is intimately associated with the altar in the Mishkan.


The Tanach


According to the Talmud, the Tanach[1] consists of twenty-four books. This number is derived by not dividing first and second Shmuel, first and second Kings, first and second Chronicles, by treating Ezra and Nechemiah as one book, and by counting the twelve minor prophets as one book.


Taanit 8a to whom his studies are as hard as iron, it is because he has failed to systematize his studies, as it is said, And one do not whet the edge. What is his remedy? Let him attend the school even more regularly, as it is said, Then must he put to more strength; but wisdom is profitable to direct. [The latter words indicate] how much more profitable would his efforts be if he had originally systematized his studies. Thus for example, Resh Lakish made it his practice to repeat in systematic order his studies forty times corresponding to the forty days during which the Torah was given, and only then would he come before R. Johanan. R. Adda b. Abbahu made it his practice to repeat in systematic order his studies twenty-four times corresponding to the [twenty-four books which embody] the Torah, the Prophets and the Hagiographa, and only then would he come before Raba.


Midrash Bamidbar Rabba to Numbers 7:48-89 R. Berekiah the priest, the son of Rabbi, said: We read the text ‘masmeroth’ but the written form is actually ‘mishmaroth.’ As the number of priestly and levitical divisions is twenty-four, so the number of books in the Bible is twenty-four. The words of the Scribes are compared to the words of the Torah, thus teaching that the former are as true as the latter. Another exposition of the expression ‘And as nails  (masmeroth)’. The written form is ‘mishmaroth’, to imply that as the number of divisions is twenty-four so the number of nails must be twenty-four.


The twenty-four “Books” in the Tanach are as follows:


1-5: The Five Books of Moses Torah:

Y Bereshit, or Genesis

Y Shemot, or Exodus

Y VaYikra, or Leviticus

Y BaMidbar, or Numbers

Y Devarim, or Deuteronomy.


6-9: The “Neviim Rishonim,” the Early, or Former, Prophets:

Y Yehoshua or Joshua

Y “Shoftim” or Judges

Y Shmuel or Samuel I and II

Y “Melachim” or Kings I and II


10-13: The “Neviim Acharonim,” the Later Prophets:

Y Yeshayahu or Isaiah

Y Yirmiyahu or Jeremiah

Y Yechezkel or Ezekiel

Y “Trei Asar” or Minor Prophets (or “The Twelve Prophets”). Books and Prophets within “Trei Asar”: Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi


14-16: The “Sifrei Emet,” “Books of Truth”:

Y “Tehillim” or Psalms

Y “Mishlei” or Proverbs

Y “Iyov” or Job


17-21: The “Five Megilot” or “Five Scrolls”:

Y “Shir HaShirim” or Song of Songs

Y Rut or Ruth

Y “Eichah” or Lamentations

Y “Kohelet” or Ecclesiastes

Y Esther


22-24: The “Other Writings”:

Y Daniel

Y Ezra-Nehemiah

Y “Divrei HaYamim” or Chronicles I and II.


Thus the Tanach is united in the twenty-four which unifies the books, forming them into a single entity.


The twenty-four books of the Scriptures are likened to a pitcher of water from the great sea (the number twenty-four in Hebrew spells out the word “Kad,” or pitcher).


Priests and Levites


The Kahuna (Priesthood) was divided into twenty-four Mishmarot (courses). Every week, another Mishmeret (Ma’amad) would serve in the Mikdash (Sanctuary); during the pilgrimage festivals of Pesach, Succoth, Shavuot, Kohanim (Priests) from all the Mishmarot served. The Mishmarot were the families of the Levites, that were designated by King David for service in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple):


Divrei Hayamim (1 Chronicles) 23:1 So when David was old and full of days, he made Solomon his son king over Israel. 2  And he gathered together all the princes of Israel, with the priests and the Levites. 3  Now the Levites were numbered from the age of thirty years and upward: and their number by their polls, man by man, was thirty and eight thousand. 4  Of which, twenty and four thousand were to set forward the work of the house of HaShem; and six thousand were officers and judges: 5  Moreover four thousand were porters; and four thousand praised HaShem with the instruments which I made, said David, to praise therewith. 6  And David divided them into courses among the sons of Levi, namely, Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 7  Of the Gershonites were, Laadan, and Shimei. 8  The sons of Laadan; the chief was Jehiel, and Zetham, and Joel, three. 9  The sons of Shimei; Shelomith, and Haziel, and Haran, three. These were the chief of the fathers of Laadan. 10  And the sons of Shimei were, Jahath, Zina, and Jeush, and Beriah. These four were the sons of Shimei. 11  And Jahath was the chief, and Zizah the second: but Jeush and Beriah had not many sons; therefore they were in one reckoning, according to their father’s house. 12  The sons of Kohath; Amram, Izhar, Hebron, and Uzziel, four. 13  The sons of Amram; Aaron and Moses: and Aaron was separated, that he should sanctify the most holy things, he and his sons forever, to burn incense before HaShem, to minister unto him, and to bless in his name for ever. 14  Now concerning Moses the man of God, his sons were named of the tribe of Levi. 15  The sons of Moses were, Gershom, and Eliezer. 16  Of the sons of Gershom, Shebuel was the chief. 17  And the sons of Eliezer were, Rehabiah the chief. And Eliezer had none other sons; but the sons of Rehabiah were very many. 18  Of the sons of Izhar; Shelomith the chief. 19  Of the sons of Hebron; Jeriah the first, Amariah the second, Jahaziel the third, and Jekameam the fourth. 20  Of the sons of Uzziel; Michah the first, and Jesiah the second. 21  The sons of Merari; Mahli, and Mushi. The sons of Mahli; Eleazar, and Kish. 22  And Eleazar died, and had no sons, but daughters: and their brethren the sons of Kish took them. 23  The sons of Mushi; Mahli, and Eder, and Jeremoth, three. 24  These were the sons of Levi after the house of their fathers; even the chief of the fathers, as they were counted by number of names by their polls, that did the work for the service of the house of HaShem, from the age of twenty years and upward.




Taanit 27a R. Hama b. Guria said in the name of Rab: Moses instituted for Israel eight Mishmaroth, four from [the family of] Eleazar and four from [the family of] Ithamar; Samuel came and increased them to sixteen; David came and increased them to twenty-four, as it is said, In the fortieth year of the reign of David they were sought for, and there were found among them mighty men of valor at Jazer of Gilead.




“To the north of the altar were rings, six rows of four each, and some say four rows of six each, at which they slaughtered the animal offerings”. And what exactly were these rings? Tif’eret Yisrael explains, “Every Mishmeret (Ma’amad), of the twenty-four, had its own special ring, (embedded into the stone floor of the courtyard north of the altar) fashioned similar to an arch, which opened on one side on a pivot. They would raise the arch on its pivot and place the neck of the animal under it. Then the ring would be closed and the end attached to the floor thus preventing the animal from moving around.


All the people, inhabitants of the towns, of Israel, which constituted the Ma’amad, assembled in the city of the Ma’amad.” [A Ma’amad was the group of Israelites representing a particular geographic area. Eretz Yisrael was divided into twenty-four Ma’amad districts and each of the twenty-four Ma’amad groups was associated with one of the twenty-four Mishmarot (families) of the Levites and the Priests. Both the Ma’amad group and the associated Mishmar of Priests represented the same district. When a Mishmar was called to officiate in the Beit HaMikdash, some of the members of its associated Ma’amad group would go up to Jerusalem, enter the Azara and serve as witnesses to the daily sacrificial rite as representatives of their Ma’amad and all of the people of Israel.]


Thus we see that the Priests represented the Jews of their district. From this we can see that the twenty-four mishmarot were a picture of the unity of Israel.




The Gemara states that there are twenty-four instances in Scripture where the Priests are referred to as Levites. Reb Tzadok HaKohen from Lublin writes that the concept of Shabbat is mentioned twelve times in the Torah, and we know that everything on Shabbat is double, so essentially Shabbat is represented by the number twenty-four. This idea is also reflected in the fact that a bride adorns herself with twenty-four ornaments, and the Shabbat is referred to as the bride. In a similar vein we can suggest that the Zohar states that a Torah scholar is akin to Shabbat, and the Priests and Levites were the quintessential Torah scholars amongst the Jewish People, so it is appropriate that the Priests are referred to as Levites twenty-four times in Scripture.


The Mystery of Unity


Soncino Zohar, Shemot, Section 2, Page 139b  ‘There are thirteen things enumerated apart from the stones, which, taken altogether, make twenty- five in the supernal mystery of the union. Corresponding to these twenty-five, Moses chiselled twenty-five letters in writing the mystery of the Shema (the twenty-five Hebrew letters contained in the verse, “hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one”). Jacob wished to express the unity below and did so in the twenty-four letters of the response to the Shema: “Blessed be the Name of His glorious Kingdom for ever and ever.” He did not bring it up to twenty-five because the Tabernacle was not yet.


Jacob wanted to establish the “Mystery of Unity” below [on earth], and composed the twenty-four letters of, “Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom forever.” He didn’t make it twenty-five letters since the Tabernacle had yet to be built. Once the Tabernacle was built, the first word was completed ... With regard to this it says, “God spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying ...” (Leviticus 1:1), which has twenty-five letters.


What does this mean?


The “Mystery of Unity” refers to the supernatural state of existence when all negative traits disappear, traits that lead to division among people, such as hatred, jealousy, anger, and so on. This will be the “state of union” in the Messianic time, when the human inclination to do evil will be removed permanently.




There are twenty-four Ornaments of the Bride.[2] These correspond to the twenty-four books of Scripture that comprise the main part of the Shavuot night Tikkun, as well as the twenty-four possible combinations of HaShem’s holy Name Adonai, that correspond to the Sefirah of Malchut. By reciting the Tikkun of Shavuot night, one clothes the Bride, the Divine Presence, in beautiful garments that make her fit for union with the King.


The Zohar makes it very clear: those of us who want to be part of the Light revealed in the morning, the Zohar speaks of the marriage, the coming together of Zeir Anpin and Malchut, this work we are about to do, the reading of the twenty-four books, and the mediation on the twenty-four combinations at the end of each reading, that is how we prepare the bride for the union. That is how we prepare ourselves to receive the tremendous Light to be revealed in the morning.




Midrash Bamidbar Rabba to Numbers  4:17 – 5:10 The twenty-four priestly gifts assigned to the tribe of Levi; ten in the Sanctuary:

  1. The sin-offering of cattle,
  2. guilt-offering for undoubted commission of offences,
  3. communal peace-offerings,
  4. sin-offering of fowl,
  5. guilt-offering for doubtful commission of offence,
  6. the leper’s log of oil,
  7. the two loaves,
  8. the show bread,
  9. the surplus of the ‘omer, and
  10. the remnants of meal offerings],


Ten on the Land [Lit. ‘in the borders’, the technical designation of Eretz Israel as distinct from Jerusalem]. The ten are:

  1. Teruma,
  2. teruma of the tithe the cake of dough,
  3. the first of the fleece,
  4. gifts consisting of the shoulder cheeks, and maw, - these count as one,
  5. redemption money of the firstborn,
  6. the substitute for the firstling ass,
  7. field of possession,
  8. devoted field, and
  9. the restoration of anything taken illegitimately from a proselyte;
  10. if he dies without heirs, restoration must be made to the priest,[3]


And four in Jerusalem

  1. The firstling,
  2. firstfruits,
  3. contribution from thank-offerings and
  4. the ram of the nazirite, and the skins of sacrifices.


Hindrances to Repentance


Rambam’s list of twenty-four situations which prevent teshuva.[4]


This chapter lists twenty-four things that prevent repentance, and tells us that even so, there is nothing that stands in the way of repentance.


1) There are twenty-four things for which repentance cannot be done. Four of these are very great sins, and if one commits any of them God will not accept one’s repentance on account of the seriousness of the sin. These four sins are as follows:


(i) Causing a lot of people to sin. Included in this category is preventing a lot of people from fulfilling a mitzva.[5]


(ii) Bringing one’s fellow from good to bad, e.g. by enticing or influencing him.


(iii) Not preventing one’s son from entering a bad culture. Since one’s son is in one’s charge, then if one had tried to prevent him he wouldn’t have entered the bad culture, so it is as if one has caused him to sin. Included in this category is not preventing another person or persons from doing wrong but instead leaving them to their failings.


(iv) Sinning with the intention of repenting afterwards. Included in this category is sinning with the intention of waiting for the Day of Atonement to atone one.


2) There are five sins which lock the Gates of Repentance for one, and they are as follows:


(i) Disassociating oneself from the community, for at a time when they repent one won’t be associated with them or with the merit of their repentance.


(ii) Arguing with the words of the Sages, for arguing like this causes one to disassociate, whereupon one won’t know [how to reach] the Gates of Repentance.


(iii) Mocking the mitzvot, which makes them as nothing in one’s own opinion, so that one won’t fulfill them - if one doesn’t fulfill them, how else will one achieve merits?!


(iv) Disgracing one’s Rabbis, for doing this will cause one to be pushed and loathed like Gehazi, and when one is bothered it will transpire that one is not learning, or being taught, the true way.


(v) Hating the rebukes [in the Torah], for this obstructs repentance. Rebuke leads to repentance.


When one remembers one’s sins and is humiliated by them, one will repent, as it is written, “Remember, and don’t forget, how you provoked the Lord you God to have been rebellious, et cetera”, and it is also written, “Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear, until this day”, and it is also written, “Do you thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise people? Is He not your father who bought you?”. Isaiah similarly rebuked the Jews by saying, “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with iniquity, a seed of evildoers, children that deal corruptly”, and, “The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people does not consider”, and, “Because I know that you are obstinate and your neck is an iron sinew and your forehead brass”. In this vein the Lord has commanded us to rebuke sinners, as it is written, “Cry aloud, do not spare, raise your voice like a shofar and show my people their transgression”. Similarly, all the Prophets rebuked the Jews until they repented. Therefore, in each and every Jewish community, a wise, God-fearing and great person who is loved by everyone should rise up, rebuke everybody and make them repent. One who hates rebukes will not be affected by them and will remain with his sins, which in his opinion are good.


3) There are five sins for which there is no complete repentance, because they are sins committed against one’s fellow man but one doesn’t know against whom exactly one had sinned in order to [be able to] pay him back or ask for forgiveness. These sins are as follows:


(i) Cursing a group of people, but not a particular person, for then one can ask an individual for forgiveness.


(ii) Teaming up with a thief, because one doesn’t to whom the stolen articles belong. The thief steals from many people and brings the stolen goods to one, which one accepts. Furthermore, this is encouraging the thief to steal, thereby one is causing him to sin.


(iii) Finding a lost article and not searching for its owner. When, after some time, one repents, one will not know to whom to return it.


(iv) Using charity which has been set aside for poor people, orphans and widows. Such people are miserable and not very well known, move around a lot from town to town, and hardly anybody knows them. Anybody who uses their charity won’t know to whom to pay it back.


(v) Accepting a bribe in order to bias a judgment. One who does so will not feel as though he is having is judgment affected and so will not correct it, for this matter is uncontrollable. Furthermore, one is causing the briber to sin.


4) There are five sins for which one [probably] won’t repent, because in most people’s opinions these are minor sins and not even considered as sins. These sins are as follows:


(i) Eating a meal such that one’s host will have insufficient food for his next meal - this is also akin to theft. One who does this will not consider it a sin, and will try to justify it by saying that he had permission to eat.


(ii) Using the guarantee of a loan given to a poor person, for such an item would be a spade or plough. Somebody who acts in this way will think that the poor person isn’t lacking the item and will not count it as theft.


(iii) Looking at the nakedness of any of one’s close relatives. One who does this will think it as nothing, for the reason that he did not draw near to, or have intercourse with, her. He does not know that staring is a great sin and causes coition, as it is written, “...and that you do not stray after your own heart and your own eyes“.


(iv) One who revels in the degradation of someone else will not consider it a sin, because the person in question was not standing there and was not shamed or embarrassed, but he is instead comparing that person’s actions to his own so that he will be respected and the other person will be shamed.


(v) One who suspects properly-acting people [of sinning] will not consider it a sin, because he will think that he is not causing any damage, but that there is only suspicion present. He does not know that this is a great sin, for he is considering properly-acting people as sinners.


5) There are five sins to which people who commit them are attracted and find it difficult to retract from. Therefore, one has to be careful not to be attracted by them, for they all extremely bad temperaments. These sins include slander, tale-bearing, having bad thoughts, and making friends with a wicked person, because one will learn from his actions and will become wicked. Solomon said, “A companion of fools shall suffer harm”. It has already been explained in the Laws of Temperaments what one has to accustom oneself to - how much more so a penitent [has to accustom himself to these things].


6) None of these sins completely prevents repentance, even though they may inhibit it. If somebody repented for having committed one of these sins his repentance is accepted, and he will get a share in the World To Come.


From these twenty-four we can see that teshuva, repentance, is a key ingredient that enables a sinner to unify himself with the people of Israel.


Rabbi Akiva’s Talmidim


We are taught that the twenty-four thousand talmidim of R. Akiva died because of lack of mutual respect which eclipsed their greatness in learning. These talmidim all died between Pesach and Lag B’Omer. Because HaShem was displeased with the service of the talmidim, they died.


Our Sages teach that the greatness of these talmidim was such that they each viewed himself as a teacher and not as a student, in relation to the rest of the twenty-four thousand. Thus they refused to learn from each other. They were all givers. However, without a receiver, a giver is impotent. It is like having a man without his wife. Because there were no receivers, there was not unity (think of the unity between a husband and wife). Thus the “twenty-four” died because they lacked the unity required of talmidim, and indeed of all Israel. Each of us should strive to teach when it is required, and strive to learn when another is teaching. We call all learn from everyone because HaShem has given a different measure of Torah to every man.




A kab is four logs of twenty-four eggs.


Lit., ‘from time to time’, the technical phrase for a twenty-four hour day.


Lit., ‘and when his time to marry arrives’, i.e. at the end of the period of twenty-four months allowed for the nursing of a child.


Our Rabbis taught: A child must be breast fed for twenty-four months. From that age onwards he is to be regarded as one who sucks an abominable thing; these are the words of R. Eliezer.




Revelation 4:1 After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven. And the first voice which I heard was like a trumpet speaking with me, saying, “Come up here, and I will show you things which must take place after this.” 2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne. 3 And He who sat there was like a jasper and a sardius stone in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, in appearance like an emerald. 4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones, and on the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting, clothed in white robes; and they had crowns of gold on their heads.


All laws pertaining to the Sabbath were put into one tractate called Shabbat (Hebrew for “Sabbath”). The laws contained in Shabbat’s twenty-four chapters are far more extensive than those contained in the Torah.




Today is twenty-four days which are three weeks and three days in the Omer.




The Zohar makes it very clear: those of us who want to be part of the Light revealed in the morning — the Zohar speaks of the marriage, the coming together of Zeir Anpin and Malchut, this work we are about to do, the reading of the twenty-four books, and the mediation on the twenty-four combinations at the end of each reading — that is how we prepare the bride for the union. That is how we prepare ourselves to receive the tremendous Light to be revealed in the morning.




There are twenty-four major and minor keys in Western tonal music, not counting enharmonic equivalents.




Hakham Akiba had 24,000 talmidim who all died during the Omer period because they did not have proper respect for each other.




In the days of Solomon his son, when he comes to bring the Ark into the Holy of Holies and the gates cling to each other, he [Solomon] recited twenty-four praises, but he was not answered until he said: “Do not turn back the face of Your anointed; remember the kind deeds of David, Your servant.”


In Tehillim (Psalm) 24:7 he says that Solomon recited 24 praises to get the gates to the Holy of Holies open.






The questions is:  What do the Mishkan, the Levites, the books of the Tanach have in common?


If one looks closely, one can almost see Mashiach in these “twenty-fours”.


Yochanan (John) 2:19 Yeshua answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days? But he spake of the temple of his body.


The Mishkan and the Temple were represented by twenty-four which is why the number twenty-four was created with regard to the Mishkan. Here we see that the Temple represents Mashiach who is the embodiment of Israel.[6] Further, it is understood that one of the tasks of Mashiach ben David is to rebuild the Temple.


The Levites also represented Israel in the Mishkan and the Temple.


Shemot (Exodus) 38:21 This is the sum of the tabernacle, even of the tabernacle of testimony, as it was counted, according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, son to Aaron the priest.


Bamidbar (Numbers) 1:50 But thou shalt appoint the Levites over the tabernacle of testimony, and over all the vessels thereof, and over all things that belong to it: they shall bear the tabernacle, and all the vessels thereof; and they shall minister unto it, and shall encamp round about the tabernacle.


Bamidbar (Numbers) 1:53 But the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the Levites shall keep the charge of the tabernacle of testimony.


We also know that the Mashiach is the embodiment of The Word of HaShem – the Tanach.


Yochanan (John) 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.


Now we can understand that not only is twenty-four associated with judgment that is embodied by the Mishkan and the Temple. It is also clear that twenty-four indicates the unity that we all have in Mashiach.


כד = Twenty-four = kad = pitcher


Let’s return to the beginning of this paper.


What is a כד = kad = pitcher? A kad is a vessel for water. It is understood that water always is a metaphor for the Torah.


What is a Mishkan or a Temple? It is a kad, a vessel to contain Israel, the body of Mashiach.


What is the Tanach? Is it not a kad to contain the words of life?


What are the Levites? Are they not the kad, the vessel, that contains all Israel? They are a kad because they represent Israel in the Mishkan and the Temple.


Without unduly belaboring the point, we can now see that twenty-four is a kad, a vessel. We can also see that the contents of a kad are unified in this vessel. We can also understand that when items are gathered into a kad, by necessity they are judged as fit to be together.




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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[1] The so called “Old Testament”

[2] See Rashi on Shemot (Exodus) 31:18

[3] Bamidbar (Numbers). 5:8, is referred to such a case.

[4] Hilkhot Teshuva ch. 4

[5] A mitzva is the accomplishment of the commands of HaShem.

[6] Consider that the Mashiach will embody Israel as the king.