Jews are known for many superstitions. We protect our homes with hamsas (a hand of God) and evil eye amulets; expectant parents wait to set up nurseries until after a baby is born, and don’t reveal its name until after the naming ceremony. We change the name of the sick or dying to try to deceive the Angel of Death, and cover our mirrors after a death lest the soul of the deceased become “caught” in the mirror.
There are those who link anxiety over the number 13 to early Christianity. At Jesus’ Last Supper some say that the betrayer Judas was the 13th to join the table. This may be the origin of the superstition that when 13 dine one will die within the year. Others point to ancient Norse lore which holds that evil was first introduced to the world by the treacherous god Loki, the 13th guest to appear at a dinner party in Valhalla, upsetting the balance of the 12 gods already in attendance. Indeed, mathematicians point to the perfection, balance and symmetry of the number twelve — 12 months in a solar year, 12 zodiac signs, two 12 hour segments in a day, etc. When it comes to 13, everything is thrown off balance bringing bad luck.
And all the more so Friday the 13th is thought to be a doubly bad omen to some. The restaurant TGIF notwithstanding, many consider Friday an unlucky day since Jesus was crucified on a Friday. In fact fear of Friday the 13th has its own name: “Paraskevidekatriaphobia!”
Jews, however, don’t seem much bothered about the number 13, in fact we embrace it! Perhaps this goes back to the book of Exodus wherein Moses encounters God’s 13 Attributes of Mercy. Our great medieval philosopher, Maimonides, lists 13 Principles of Faith. Likewise, Talmudic logic and law were condensed into 13 principles by Rabbi Ishmael. A young Jew comes of age at 13, then becoming a Bar/t Mitzvah. There are 13 months in a Jewish lunar leap year, and Queen Esther and Mordecai’s Purim victory was celebrated on the 13th of the Hebrew month Adar.
And there is more! In the Talmud, we read that the Holy Temple in Jerusalem was filled with thirteens! The Temple had 13 tzedakah (charity) boxes, 13 partition curtains, and 13 tables. The strings on the fringes of our prayer shawls, the tzitzit, include 13 knots symbolic of the 7 heavens and the 6 spaces between them.
Thus we might welcome Friday the 13th as a day of special blessing, a lucky time to begin a new endeavor. In that vein, we greet with anticipation our Shabbat celebration on Friday, January 13, as we kick off the very first performance of Mizmor Or (the Song of Light). Mary Wyke, our Temple’s fearless music director, has worked with students of all ages in our Makor Sunday Educational Program. She has prepared them to lead us in song and worship on this lucky Shabbat and hopefully many more to follow!
The gematria of the number 13 is spelled with the Hebrew letters forming “echad,” Hebrew for the word “one.” Thus, Friday the 13th this month will be an auspicious moment as the voices of our youth are raised together b’yachad, as one, in unity and harmony. Don’t be frightened, but join us on January 13, 2017 for an evening of luck, love, blessing and unity!
Rabbi Judy Chessin