Seventy and Da'as
Returning to the discussion about the significance of the number seventy, we recall that:
Anyone who becomes settled through wine has the knowledge (da'as) of his Creator ... has the knowledge (da'as) of the Seventy Elders; wine was given with seventy letters (Rashi: the gematria of yaiyin-wine-is 70), and the mystery (of Torah) was given with seventy letters (sod-mystery-also equals 70)-when wine goes in, secrets go out. (Eiruvin 65a)
Thus, the Talmud already equates the number seventy with wine, elders, da'as, and with sod-the inner essence of Torah. In the Haggadah shel Pesach, it is Rebi Elazar ben Azaryah who first became "like a man of seventy" before he could understand the deeper understanding of a verse. Now we will see how the Torah and history relates the number seventy to Purim and the victory of Torah Sh'b'al Peh.
So says Hashem: After seventy years of Bavel are completed, I will remember you and fulfill My good word concerning you, to return you to this place. (Yirmiyahu 29:10)
I, Daniel, pondered in the books the number of years of the word of God that came to Yirmiyahu the prophet regarding the completion of the destruction of Yerushalayim: seventy years. (Daniel 9:2)
Since the first exile into Bavel (3338/423 BCE), and its subsequent redemption (3408/353 BCE), the Jewish people have entered another three.1 Unfortunately, as a people, we're used to exile by now as a way of life, and the faithful among us still await the fulfillment of the prophecy that Moshiach will one day come and put an end to exile altogether. In the meantime, the non-Jewish world stopped paying attention to such prophecies long ago.
However, that's not the way it always was. There was a time when Jewish prophecies, especially those that foretold of miraculous redemptions, humbled even the most fearsome of non-Jewish rulers. Even Achashveros himself couldn't help but worry aloud to Haman:
But Haman assured him:
"The Jews are sleeping. Because they no longer perform mitzvos as they once did, they do not merit heavenly intercession." (Megillah 13b)
Achashveros referred to Belshazzar, whose grave miscalculation of the seventy years resulted in his being assassinated by Daryavash (Darius) the Mede, and his son-in-law, Cyrus the Persian. Thus, to the kings of that period of time, the seventy years meant everything, for, they knew and believed that if the prophecy were to be fulfilled, then it would also mean that the greatest empire of that time would fall to the weakest, and that the eternal commitment made by God to Avraham would once again be substantiated.
There was only one problem: no one knew just what year the exile began, and therefore, which year marked the end of the seventy years. It was a mystery, a sod, and one that cost Belshazzar his life, for the next day after his premature feast in celebration of the end of the seventy years, Daryavash and Cyrus did their deed, and the mighty kingdom of Bavel passed into the hands of Persia.
Achashveros had made his own calculation, and according to his arithmetic, the seventy years came to a close in the third year of his reign (3394/367 BCE).2 He looked around, and saw that the Jewish people had not been redeemed; he was still in power. Nothing out of the ordinary had occurred, and Achashveros read this to mean that God had given up on the Jewish people, divorcing Himself from the nation as a man does his wife.
In celebration of this momentous occasion, he made his famous 180-day feast, and used the kelim (vessels) from the Temple.3 It is with this feast that the story of Megillos Esther begins. Thus, the entire stage upon which the miraculous redemption would be played out was set with the ambiguity of the seventy years.
To begin with, it is important to point out that the seventy-year exile was seventy years long for a reason. God warned that, in response to disobedience,
I will disperse you among the nations, and will draw out a sword after you; your land will be desolate and your cities destroyed. Then the land will enjoy her rests, as long as it remains desolate. (VaYikrah 26:33)
The land remained desolate for seventy years, corresponding to the seventy sh'mittah cycles that went unobserved prior to the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the nation.4 The Torah states that:
... When you come into the Land which I will give to you, then the Land should rest; it is a rest to God. Six years you should sow your field, and for six years you can prune your vineyard, and gather in your produce. In the seventh year it will be a rest for the Land, a rest to God; you must not sow your field or prune your vineyard. (VaYikrah 25:2)
Furthermore, the Torah states:
You should count seven rest-years, forty-nine years ... You must sanctify the fiftieth year and proclaim freedom throughout the entire land ... (VaYikrah 25:8;10)
The fiftieth year of the Sh'mittah cycle, called the Yovel year, is exceptionally holy, and alludes to the Fifty Gates of Understanding. It represents the culmination of all that was achieved in the previous forty-nine years, just as Shavuos represents the sum total of spiritual growth achieved during the forty-nine days of the omer. Hence, buried within the seventy-year exile of Bavel is another allusion to the Fifty Gates of Understanding.
As Megillos Esther comes to testify, Achashveros had been wrong as well. The seventy years came to a peaceful close in the year 3408, or 353 BCE-for the Jewish people-two years after the death of Achashveros, and two years into the reign of Daryavash (the son of Esther and Achashveros, who ordered the resumption of the Temple construction). Achashveros had been dreadfully wrong: God had not abandoned His treasured nation and, in the end, had come looking for them. Purim was, and is, a celebration of the reunion between God and His people.
However, the role of the number seventy in the story and in the overcoming of Amalek is not yet over.
The victory over Haman was spearheaded by the tzadik, Mordechai, but greatly aided by Divine Providence. For, the turning point in the battle between Haman and Mordechai clearly was the night Achashveros decided to reward the man who saved his life-who just happened to have been Mordechai.5
As the story is told in the Megillah, two of Achashveros' guards, Bigsan and Seresh, had plotted to kill him. As history shows, assassination was a common event in those days, and every emperor lived in fear a coup.
However, Mordechai, who happened to have been sitting at the King's gate overheard them plotting. He then reported what he heard to Esther, who passed on the information to Achashveros himself. Bigsan and Seresh were duly executed, and Mordechai was recorded in the Persian chronicles as having saved the king.
However, though Mordechai should have been rewarded immediately for having saved the king's life, instead, his deed went unnoticed. It wasn't until the night that Achashveros couldn't sleep, for fear of such a coup, that he had the Chronicles read to him, to see if he had overlooked a favor he owed.
It was at that time that Haman had resolved to build his gallows to hang Mordechai, who refused to bow down to him. Just prior to Haman's entry into the King's chamber, Achashveros learned of Mordechai's heroic deed, and how he had yet to be rewarded. Haman entered the room with impeccable timing, seeking royal permission to hang Mordechai. However, at just that time, the King needed some advice:
What should be done for the man whom the King especially wants to honor? (Esther 6:6)
The timing of the question, and Haman's inflated ego, forced him to believe that the King was asking in a roundabout manner how to honor himself, Haman. Haman fell for the trap, and though he had come to the palace seeking the king's permission to hang Mordechai, he left instead with the King's command to personally parade Mordechai through the streets of Shushan, calling out in humiliation:
This is what is done for the man whom the king especially wants to honor.
... But whom Haman especially wanted to do away with.
Can there be any more obvious turning point in the story? Clearly it was Mordechai's presence at the secret planning of the assassination attempt that led, eventually, to Haman's demise and Jewish victory. For this reason, the rabbis state:
Anyone who says something over in the name of the one who said it hastens the geulah, as it says, "Esther told it to the king in Mordechai's name" (Esther 2:22). (Pirke Avos 6:6)
It was a good thing that Mordechai knew all seventy languages (a prerequisite for being on the Sanhedrin). For, Bigsan and Seresh had spoken in their native tongue, Tarsian, and, had assumed that Mordechai couldn't understand a word they were saying. Why else would they have discussed so delicate a matter and risked their lives in front of a stranger, and a Jew yet!
However, Mordechai had a few secrets over them, and that was that he could understand even their language; and that they were planting the seeds for the eventual redemption from Golus Bavel.
The role of seventy continues.
If the number of possukim, from when Haman was elevated to his powerful position (3:1) until the possuk that records the kings order to hang him on his own gallows (7:10), are counted, they total seventy!-one possuk for each of the seventy days Haman ruled!
Mordechai is also associated with the number seventy, through his name. The Talmud asks:
Where does the Torah allude to Mordechai? It is written, "Take principle spices, or pure myrrh (mar-dror) five hundred shekels ..." (Shemos 30:23; Chullin 139b)
In the parsha that begins with the mitzvah of machtzis-hashekel (which we said pre-empted Haman's purchase of the right to destroy the Jewish people), there is an allusion to Mordechai; how fitting. In truth, the Torah is discussing the Incense-Offering to be used in the Temple service, but it is also the place the Talmud cites as a Torah allusion to Mordechai.
Interestingly enough, the words mar dror (which form the basis of Mordechai's name), can also mean "Master of Freedom." The Yovel year is also called a year of "dror," a year of freedom. It is the freedom of the da'as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, referred to by the rabbis:
The Tablets are God's handiwork and the script was God's writing engraved (charus) on the Tablets. Do not read charus (engraved), but cheirus (freedom), for there is no freer man than one who engages in the study of Torah. (Pirke Avos 6:2)
Eleven different types of spices were used to make up the Ketores-Incense-Offering;6 The fifth of the eleven spices was myrrh; the measure of the previous four was seventy maneh each (one maneh is equal to about 20 ounces).
Hence, the number seventy is not only associated with da'as, but with redemption as well. This is why, according to the Vilna Gaon, we recite Tehillim 20 (the number twenty will gain significance later) every weekday morning; it speaks of redemption, and it precedes the tefillah of redemption, "And a redeemer will come to Tzion ..." As one might have expected, it happens to have seventy words.
Thus, the seventy years alluded to by both Yirmiyahu and Daniel were not simply a reference to the end of the first exile of the Jewish people. Seventy alludes to da'as, a special kind of da'as; one that emerges from the Fifty Gates of Understanding. Hence:
God, Who has seventy Names, gave the Torah, which has seventy names, to Yisroel, which has seventy names which originated from the seventy souls that went down to Egypt with Ya'akov, and was chosen from among seventy nations, to celebrate seventy holy days in the year (52 of Shabbos and 18 of Yom Tovim, including Chol HaMoed); the Torah was transmitted to seventy elders. (Midrash Yelamdeinu)
There are seventy facets to Torah. (Zohar, Bereishis 36)
Thus, both prophets were foretelling of an upcoming revelation of knowledge so sublime that it would forever change the way the Jewish people and the world would view history.
However, knowing this is not enough. A connection must be made between the da'as of seventy and the da'as of the Fifty Gates of Understanding, if we are to arrive at a complete picture of Purim. It is the need for this connection that now leaves us at the entrance of the Mishkan, and seeking a deeper understanding of the story of Yosef, whom, we have already seen, is connected to the redemptive powers of seventy.
From Redemption to Redemption - Copyright © 1998 Rabbi Pinchas Winston
1 The Median Exile, which actually accounted for the last 52 years of the Babylonian Exile (since Media conquered Babylonia); the Greek Exile (120 years) which led to the story of Chanukah and its miraculous redemption in the year 165 BCE; and the final exile, the Roman Exile, which began prior to the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE), and which will continue until Moshiach comes.
2 Megillah 11b.
3 Megillah 11b.
4 Rashi, VaYikrah 25:18.
5 Esther 6:10.
6 Krisos 6a; eleven is a number associated with da'as, since the eleventh sefirah is Da'as. Wherever the issue of da'as arises, it is not unusual to find the number eleven as well. In fact, the total time it was to have taken the Jewish people to travel from Egypt to Eretz Yisroel (Derech Pelishtim) was eleven days. However, the Torah tells us that the nation had not been ready for so direct a route to the da'as of Eretz Yisroel (Shemos 13:17). Also, the number of days by which the lunar year (central to Jewish life) is less than the solar year is also eleven (Rashi, Yoma 65b), and Kabballistically, this is also an idea very much related to da'as. There are many others.