Five and One by Rabbi Shawn Zell

Mention the term “Five and Dime” 75 years ago, to just about anyone living in this country, and there would be immediate name recognition. “Five and Dime” was synonymous with what was once known as a variety store. “Five and Dime” was synonymous with chain stores such as Ben Franklin Stores or Woolworths. Alas, such names have been consigned to the annals of history.          

Mention the term “Five and One” to just about anyone living in this country and you will be met with a blank stare. And that is a great shame.  “Five and One” ought to evoke a connection with Presidents Weekend, in that Abraham Lincoln’s portrait graces the five-dollar bill, while George Washington’s portrait graces the one-dollar bill. For American Jews, the messages conveyed by “Five and One” are both profound and invaluable.               

“Five and One” are parts of the human anatomy. “Five and One” are inextricably linked and are interdependent. Bilaterally, humans are designed to come into this world with five fingers as part of one hand. Our Jewish heritage sees yet, a deeper message when considering “Five and One”. The Torah reminds us that “Five and One” are inherently connected with liberation. It is G-d, who reassures Moshe that Pharaoh will ultimately send the Children of Israel from Egypt because of a divine strong hand consisting of five fingers (Exodus 6:1); it is Pharaoh’s band of sorcerers, however, who point out, that it would be wise for Pharaoh to cut his losses when they exclaim: “It is the finger of G-d” (Exodus 8:15). American currency – the one-dollar bill and the five-dollar bill – is also inherently connected with American history. Was it not George Washington who held up his hand, proclaiming that the thirteen colonies would no longer remain subservient to the British? Was it not Abraham Lincoln who extended his five fingers from his gangly arms, as he granted pardons for ex-Confederates because he knew that a house divided against itself cannot stand?            

“Five and One” evokes the relationship between G-d and His chosen. A mere seven weeks after leaving Egypt, our ancestors stood at the foot of Mt. Sinai. It was there, that a relationship unique in the history of mankind, would be etched in stone, in the most literal sense. Pledging fealty and loyalty to one G-d, our biblical ancestors received via Moshe, a covenant that would eventually be recorded in five volumes. We refer to those five volumes as to the “Chumash” or the Five Books of Moses. Although not intended as such, American history buffs ought to be able to point out, a mere month prior to revolting against British rule, an act that would immediately result in war against King George III, a committee of five was appointed at the Second Continental Congress, to draft what would ultimately become the text of the Declaration of Independence. Remarkably, the efforts of five committee members resulted in one document that would change the course of history.  

Quintessential is a word used when people wish to express terms such as “consummate” and “exemplary”. Quintessential hearkens back to medieval philosophy when it was believed that the world was composed of four essences: earth, air, fire, and water. Not so, the stars and planets. Unlike the earth, there was a fifth, ultimate essence that defined these celestial bodies.  Hence the term quintessential. Judaism believes that if a person were truly able to follow and absorb the mitzvot, he would become the quintessential Jew; if a person were truly able to incorporate all five essences, he would evolve into a one-of-a-kind person.              

If a picture is worth a thousand words, let us then look at a one-dollar bill; let us look at a five-dollar bill. In doing so, let us recall the hand of Washington, who was signaling to the British that the Thirteen Colonies had endured enough. Let us think of the beckoning fingers of Lincoln, imploring both sides to unite. Let us remember, that perhaps the Declaration of Independence being authored by a committee of five, was unwittingly fashioned after the declaration of G-d’s uniqueness, embodied in the five books of Moses. And let us appreciate that the quintessential aspects of these United States, find their origins in the one-of-a-kind leadership of President George Washington and President Abraham Lincoln.