In our previous article (click here), we spoke about seeing faces and sharing ideas. This present article will discuss the art of positively connecting with others.

Wonder of Wonders

In November 2011, Facebook announced that there were now just 4.74 degrees of separation among their 721 million active users [reduced from 5.28 in 2008]. Jewish thought may instead call these degrees of connection because the number 474 is also equal to the sefira of knowledge (da’at); the power of connection in the soul.

To be connected in this sense means to recognize the other person. As Facebook wrote when announcing their findings:

"Thus, when considering even the most distant Facebook user in the Siberian tundra or the Peruvian rainforest, a friend of your friend probably knows a friend of their friend."

What does it take to recognize a person living on the opposite side of the world?

When we speak of 4.74 degrees between people, we are really asking: What does it take to recognize a person living on the opposite side of the world?

How 474 Connects

If you count from the beginning of the Torah, the 474th word is "when they were created" (b’hibaram). In the Tanya, it is explained that the sefira of knowledge is the source that enables a person to bind and connect with something. So this 474th word of the Torah, the "knowledge" word of the Torah (= 474, da’at), alludes to God’s power to connect with His creation.

The letters of b’hibaram ("when they were created") also permute to spell "with Abraham" (b’Abraham), suggesting that the heavens and the earth were created with the loving-kindness of Abraham. To explain further, God binds and connects Himself with creation through Abraham and to his soul root in loving-kindness. So when meditating on how our connection to others comes in measurements of 474, we should really be focusing our attention on Abraham and his loving-kindness for others.

Six Degrees

Before Facebook’s 4.74 degrees, the concepts were known simply as the "six degrees of separation." That is, that any two people are on average separated by no more than six intermediate connections.

(The idea was first proposed in 1929 by Hungarian author Frigyes Karinthy, and dramatized by the play and movie by John Guare. Since 1994, the concept was once again made popular by actor Kevin Bacon.)

Instead of six degrees of separation, Jewish thought approaches it as six degrees of connectivity. Consciousness (dei’ot) has a value of 79 and when multiplied by six equals 474 (knowledge). Thus when seeking to connect with others, there are always six doors or chambers of the heart that need to be opened.

In order to know and recognize others, we must first learn to know ourselves.

The Zohar calls knowledge the key that opens up the six chambers of the heart. In order to know and recognize others, we must first learn to know ourselves.

Knowledge is associated with the soul powers of memory and concentration. To be connected to others also means to be sensitive to and recognize the meaningful thoughts and ideas of others.

Small World Phenomenon

The world is shrinking. Not only in the way we interact with one another, but in the time it takes to correspond. If the wonder of technology and the internet was that it lets us interact with people on the other side of the world, the new wonder today is how fast we can recognize new faces.

We begin to recognize others when we recognize and tap our own capabilities (to ‘friend’ or ‘like’ myself). Our six degrees of separation are the six chambers of the heart that we need to traverse before we can truly connect with others.

Now the smallest degree of separation between two objects is one. That is why the Tanya states to look beyond the physical: "only the bodies are distinct from each other" but all Israel finds their "joy in the joy of the soul alone." By viewing our souls as primary, we reach a separation point of zero. From this zero perspective we can recognize the true one God that connects us all.

Seeing the Tree in the Forest

The number 474 is also equal to the "tree of the field" (etz hasade) as in the expression "Man is likened to the tree of the field." (Deuteronomy 20:19) Significantly, the numerical value of the Hebrew word "tree" (etz, spelled ayin-tzadi) is 160, identical to the numerical value of "image" (Tzelem).

This echoes what we saw earlier that the entire heavens and the earth were created "with Abraham." The Torah relates that man was created "in the image of God" (b’tzelem Elokim) which equals 248, the same as Abraham. So too, the image of the tree in the field is an Abrahamic image. As Abraham was the first to seek God’s unity and the first patriarch of the Jewish people, to reduce degrees of separation, a person should first be connected to the tree of Abraham and the Righteous of Israel.

[The content of this article was inspired by the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh of Gal Einai (//]