Esther and Sarah vs. Viruses and Villains

In our  constant struggle to build successful lives, it is all too easy to be pulled down by hardship, dark recollections, terrifying fears, and sad thoughts. Dealing with the hysteria, as well as the reality, surrounding the coronavirus is only one example of the negativity that abounds. Nonetheless, we can confidently focus on moving forward by treating each day as its own opportunity to achieve success and happiness.

Tonight and tomorrow we celebrate Purim on which we read the Book of Esther. Like all “stories” in the Bible that we first meet as children, we often neglect to elevate our study of Esther to a more mature level. The book opens:

And it was in the days of Ahasuerosh, he was Ahasuerosh who reigned from Hodu to Kush, one hundred and twenty-seven provinces.
(Esther 1:1)

The number 127 occurs only one other time in all of Scripture—at the end of Sarah’s life.

And Sarah was a hundred and twenty-seven years old…
(Genesis 23:1)

Ancient Jewish wisdom links the two occurrences. In Scripture, numbers have great meaning. If a number only appears twice, we need to note the connection between the two occasions.

Imagine seven pennies lined up in a row upon a table. You spin each penny until they are all laying either heads or tails.

After the first spin, the arrangement of coins on the table might look like this (H=heads; T=tails):


After the second spin, the line of coins will probably look different. Some will fall the same way as the first time, while others will fall differently.

How many different ways can the seven coins fall?

Each coin can fall in one of two possibilities, heads or tails. The total number of possible arrangements is:

2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 X 2 = 128

Now, let’s forget coins and instead think of the seven days of the week.  Each 24-hour day comprises night and day, which represent darkness and light.

You will surely agree that seven coins each of which is made up of two parts, heads and tails, is the same, mathematically speaking, as seven days each made up of two parts, night and day.

So the first possible arrangement of seven days would be:

night night night night night night night

and the 128th arrangement would be:

day day day day day day day

Based on Biblical language, darkness or night is almost universally recognized as a metaphor for tough times while the bright light of day depicts brightness and optimism.  This means that there are 128 ways for my week to turn out.  Number 1 is seven dark and dismal days in a row and number 128 is a rapturous sequence of seven wonderful days.

We omit number one because any sequence of seven days must include a Sabbath.  Any week that includes a Sabbath cannot, by definition, be entirely bad.  This leaves us with 127 potential ways for a week to turn out.

Ancient Jewish wisdom links Sarah and Esther through the number 127.  Both women’s lives contained intense disappointment, pain and fear, yet both stayed hopeful. Both women were captive in an alien king’s palace and both had one son who played a major role in the future of the Jewish people. Both remained true to their destiny.

The secret we learn is that every day offers us a choice to liberate ourselves from negative emotional anchors of yesterday. Like Sarah and Esther, we will have painful and difficult times, yet we must choose not to see those times as the only model for our future. Each week gives us 127 new opportunities for optimism, joy and the fulfillment of our life mission.  We take whatever available steps we can to deflect tomorrow’s possible dangers or to protect ourselves from them as best we can.  Thereafter, we live today with gratitude and optimism.

Updated from Feb. 2018

15 thoughts on “Esther and Sarah vs. Viruses and Villains”

  1. I know if you flip a coin 7 times, the odds of getting 7 heads in a row is 1 in 2^7 or 1 in 128.

    And for the parallel of the 7 day week this would apply also. Minus one possibility of a totally bad week (dark^7) because of the Sabbath.

  2. I never heard queen esther has a son. Where I can find that in the Bible.?
    Thank you

  3. Hans H. Ziegler

    I like to answer Theresa Kahle. The Rabbi does not consern himself with NT. He can not in order to be
    true to the Tora. I believe that this is correct. In this way we can learn from Him.

    Thank you Rabbi

  4. I am always intrigued by your meaning through numbers. When I saw your statement that a number which only appears twice has meaning I decided to ask you a Christian question. You know how the number 666 has been used and abused in Christian teaching. I discovered that when the NT is combined with the OT the number actually appears twice. In the KJV I Kings 10:14 the weight of the gold that came to Solomon in one year was 666 talents. I’m well aware that may be a mistranslation of the Hebrew but very interested in your information about the validity of the observation and meaning to Christians if it’s a true reference.

  5. Greetings,
    Appreciate your work Rabbi! Let’s try this.
    6 days of work (good or bad) for man +1 day of rest made by God (good).
    “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it”. The sabbath day is set apart and is a good day.

  6. Where do we learn about Esther’s son? I’ve never heard that she had children.

    I love learning from you both! Thank you for sharing!

  7. I believe 127 combinations come from only subtracting the one possibility of dark dark dark dark dark dark dark. Any week cannot be all dark, as there is always some hope in the Sabbath. Thus, you can’t have a week of all dark. But you can have a week with 6 good days and 1 bad day, 5 good days and 2 bad days, etc.

  8. I understood the deletion is not of a whole day rather a deletion of one of the 128 possibilities. The deleted possibility is the one which would be the equivalent of 7 “nights”. Since every week contains an enlightened Sabbath the possibility of a night x 7 ceases to exist.

  9. Edward Rubinstein

    Dear Rabbi Lapin,

    I’ve been following you for a number of years and, for the most part, thoroughly enjoy your podcasts, writings, and TV show, and hopefully, I’ll see you in person one day. One of the many joys you produce is your interpretation of the Scriptures. Your analysis is often highly educational.

    I can’t seem to follow your logic here, however. If you remove the Sabbath from the week, then you only have 6 days, and that will add up only to 64 day/night combinations. You can’t take just one combination out of the 127, as intriguing as your analysis is.

    Regardless, please never stop being everyone’s Rabbi. Even those of us who have a rabbi need you.

    Chag Sameach,

    Edward Rubinstein

  10. 127 weeks from now (or 127 years from now, for that matter), only historians will remember the Corona virus and stock market thumps of this week, but Jewish families around the globe will be celebrating Purim. Thank you, Rabbi, for reminding us what is important in God’s grand scheme!

  11. This statement is mathematically incorrect, “We omit number one because any sequence of seven days must include a Sabbath. Any week that includes a Sabbath cannot, by definition, be entirely bad. This leaves us with 127 potential ways for a week to turn out.”

    If you take Sundays out (as being a good day for example) you have 64 possible ways for the week to go.

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