The very first question I was asked about gematriyah (the numerology of Kabbalah) was the significance of the number 11?
In class we teach about your “awake number”—a number that signifies and signals to you that your are following your destiny—connecting with the fragments of your puzzle.
We find the number 11 in the spices used for the incense (Ketoret) burned in the Temple—according to tradition ten of the spices were sweet smelling—the 11th (Galbunum) was foul smelling. The Rabbis explain that when mixed—the foul smelling spice created a stronger sweet smell—in a sense the incense needs a bit of its opposite to achieve its full potential. The Talmud offers a novel interpretation of this mixture of the incense—drawing a parallel to the importance of including sinners (the 11th element) into the holy congregation. The phrase in the Talmud is: A communal fast that does not include the sinners is not a fast. At the outset of Yom Kippur service, prior to chanting the Kol Nidrei service the prayers include recognition of praying with the sinners. Are we not all sinners? What is the meaning of the Talmudic statement or our tradition on Yom Kippur eve?
Sinners in this context may mean instead those who dissent—they are not accepting the norm of the community—they may be in synagogue (and even fasting) for their own motivations and not in line with the community’s way of understanding.
The number 11 then helps us to focus on the opposite of any idea that we may hold true and dear and be totally convinced of. If we are to end up with anything that will be pleasing to the Divine, a fragrance that reflects the deepest essence, it must include the dissenting opinion—whether in others or in ourselves.
As Rita and I celebrate our 4th anniversary of marriage on 11/11/11 we will burn some incense—assuredly there has been 10 measures of sweetness and a measure of Galbunum. The challenging moments are there to help us grow—the dissenting opinion to help us clarify our own thinking—the anger or sadness that leads to greater awareness. Love too requires the 11th spice—it matures and deepens through the bitterness of disappointments as long as the basis of the mixture is sweetness.