Numbers have great meaning in Judaism, and Israel’s 70th year of independence takes on special significance when we realize that, according to Jewish tradition, 70 represents the nations of the world.
The number 70 forms a bookend, alluded to at the beginning and the end of the Five Books of Moses.
The first time the number 70 appears is in the lists of genealogy following the flood. Genesis chapter 10 enumerates exactly 70 descendants of Noah. According to the medieval commentator Rabbenu Bacheye, “We learn from this verse that the world comprises 70 nations, each with its own language.”
From Genesis, the Torah proceeds to tell the story of the formation of the Jewish people. However, we return to the universal number 70 at the close of the Chumash.
As the People of Israel prepare to enter the Land of Israel, Moses instructs the nation to gather large stones, cover them with plaster and inscribe “every word of this teaching most distinctly [be’er hetev]” (Deuteronomy 27:8). The Talmud explains that “be’er hetev” means Moses translated the Torah into 70 languages. It was not enough that “this teaching” be understood by Israel, Moses wanted it to be shared with all the 70 nations in their own language.
This concept seems foreign to Jews, after all, we are not a proselytizing people. Throughout history, the Torah was something we taught our children, but not our neighbors.
As the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world and learned to speak in those 70 languages, we never forgot our own, holy tongue, and whispered Hebrew prayers and the teachings of the Torah quietly, to ourselves, in our synagogues and study halls.
For most of our history, we bent our heads lovingly toward the text of the Torah but were huddled in a defensive posture from the rest of the world around us, including those 70 nations whose good graces we depended upon. The mandate of Moses to proudly disseminate our teachings to the rest of the world was long forgotten.
Everything changed with the founding of the State of Israel 70 years ago.
Even secular Zionists saw the restoration of Israel as the fulfillment of the Jewish people’s universal destiny to have a profound impact on the entire world.
An impassioned prime minister David Ben-Gurion spoke about the great influence the Bible had in forming “an inspired people that believed in its pioneering mission to all men, in the mission that had been preached by the prophets of Israel.”
Over the past seven decades, Israel has moved our universal mission forward in ways unimaginable, even to Ben-Gurion.
In 2018, Israel’s greatest ally, the United States, is moving its embassy to Jerusalem. Incoming tourism to the Jewish state is at an all-time high. New relationships are developing with long hostile enemy nations, such as Saudi Arabia. And we have new trade partners in the Far East. These are all signs that the nations of the world are embracing Israel in unprecedented ways.
There is a major opportunity for Israel over the next 70 years and beyond to convince more countries to move their embassies to our nation’s capital; to expand the numbers of incoming tourists and prospective global investors; and ultimately to have a much greater impact on the world.
Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post