Allegories & Numbers: Thoughts on Kinah #27
Men of sound intellect and probity,
Weigh with good understanding what lies hidden
Behind the veil of strange allegory
Canto IX of the Inferno 61-63
The wisdom of the past has crossed the centuries hidden in popular customs, stories, children’s games, legends, traditions and seemingly innocuous books. This Kinah speaks to us through allegory and numbers. It challenges us to use our “sound intellect and probity” to discover what lies behind the veil of its allegory.
Many of the Kinot also use numbers in their structure and message. (This was once a common tool: Each one of the three parts of the Divine Comedy, quoted above, has exactly 33 cantos. Each Canto has exactly 115 0r 160 lines, the sum of whose digits is seven.) This lament directly uses numbers to draw us in to the powerful scene that lies at its core:
As Jeremiah departed from the Temple (ruins), he met a woman of beautiful features who was filthy.
“I command you, in the name of God and man, to reveal whether you are one of the demons or of humankind.”
“I am neither demon, nor worthless lump of clay. I am the spirit of the Jewish people,
the daughter of one
and of three,
my offspring number sixty
with one from twelve
The numbers are easily understood. However, if Jeremiah is walking away from the smoldering ruins of the Temple, how filthy and disgusting would this beautiful woman have to be for a prophet to say are you a demon or human?
How many corpses has he seen? How many broken twisted bodies?
How much evil had he witnessed during the siege?
How horrible could this woman of beautiful features have been to catch Yirmeyahu’s eyes, let alone provoke him to ask such a horrible question: ” are you a woman or a demon?”
It could not have been her filth that caught the prophet’s attention. No matter how filthy she may have been, he had seen worse.
No, it wasn’t the filth, but her beautiful features that showed through the filth. How could she retain such striking beauty under such horrible conditions?
Thus she becomes an allegory for the Spirit of Israel. How will they survive? No human being could maintain his/her beauty in exile. Would Israel remain beautiful in Babylon? Would she give up her beauty in order to survive? Would she become something other than human in order to survive?
Israel is her spirit that connects all to each other and her roots. Her survival is neither human or demonic.
The key is to focus on her beauty underneath all the filth. Only then will we see her indomitable spirit in all her magnificence and strength.
This is the allegory of this tale.