This Friday is the 13th day of the month. We will have another Friday the 13th this year, in October.
Many people believe Friday the 13th is unlucky. In fact, there’s even a name for their concern: Paraskevidekatriaphobia, strung together from Greek words for Friday, 13 and fear.
According to Donald Dossey, a behavioral scientist and founder of Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, N.C., 17 to 21 million Americans suffer symptoms of this phobia. The Stress Management Center also notes that more than 80 percent of skyscrapers in the United States lack a “13th floor,” with most hotels and hospitals avoiding use of the number 13 for rooms as well.
Where did the fear come from?
While many people believe this phobia has ancient roots, it’s not something that was very common until later in the 19th century. However, there has long been the tradition that Jesus died on a Friday — which we commemorate each Good Friday. And since there were 13 people at the table at the Last Supper — Jesus and the 12 Apostles — the tradition developed that 13 at a table was unlucky, and even foretold death. Since Judas Iscariot was the 13th at table, we can see the connection.
Additionally, there are some traditions that say Adam and Eve ate the apple on a Friday, and that their son, Abel, was killed by his brother on a Friday as well.
The bad luck of the day itself more likely also traces to Norse legends. In fact, another name for “fear of Friday the 13th is Friggatriskaidekaphobia, named for the Norse goddess, Frigg. Frigg, for whom Friday is named, was the mother of Balder. Balder, the son of the god Odin, was treacherously killed by Loki, who just happened to be the 13th guest at a dinner party in Valhalla given in Balder’s honor.
On the other hand, “National Geographic” posited, on Nov. 13, 2015, that mathematicians and scientists believe that the number “13” has a bad rap mostly because it comes after the number 12. Twelve was “often considered a ‘perfect’ number, in the ancient world,” the magazine noted, adding that ancient Sumerians had a number system based on the number 12 that remains in use today. Just think of the fact that we have 12 months in a year and 24 (12+12) hours in a day. Even an hour is made up of five 12-minute blocks.
Then there is the number 12 in the Judeo-Christian tradition: 12 tribes of Israel, 12 Apostles and even 12 days of Christmas.
So how can number 13 even hope to measure up? (However, 13 is a lucky number in some Asian countries, in some schools of Buddhism and in the practice of feng shui.)
Still, while millions of people fear the number 13, there is a Jewish tradition that values 13. Devout Jews practice it every year, in prayers on the days between Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur, (the Day of Atonement). On these days, and on fast days, Jews pray the Slichot (or selichot) prayers. A central theme of these is “the 13 Attributes” of God’s Mercy.
These 13 attributes were taught directly by God to Moses after the incidence of the golden calf. They are found in Ex 34:6-7: “The Lord, the Lord, a God gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in love and fidelity, continuing his love for a thousand generations, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin; yet not declaring the guilty guiltless, but bringing punishment for their parents’ wickedness on children and children’s children to the third and fourth generation!”
Roughly translated, Jewish tradition explains these 13 attributes as:
God’s compassion even before we sin;
The repetition of God’s name empathizes God’s unchanging compassion, even after we sin;
- God’s merciful power as creator;
- God who eases distress;
- God who is gracious;
- God who is slow to anger and patient;
- God, full of kindness;
- God who is faithful in truth;
- God is merciful through many generations;
- God who forgives willful sins;
- God who forgives rebellion and defiance;
- God who forgives error and sins you did not intend to do;
- God who makes clean those who repent.
It is by these 13 attributes that God governs the world.
Rabbi Yitzchak Berkovits, an expert on the Torah, says reciting the “13 Attributes” arouses God’s mercy. However, they also provide an example on how to live.
“The classic Torah commentary ‘Tomar Devorah’ explains that although the ‘13 Attributes’ arouse divine mercy,” the rabbi added, “the recitation of these alone is inadequate. Rather, we need to make sure that in action, our own lifestyles reflect these attributes as well.
“For example, the Talmud says that if you are patient with others, then God will be patient with you. You can only demand that God employ all these attributes if you apply them in your own relationships.”
As we enter a new year, that isn’t a bad thing to remember for ourselves — try to live out the 13 merciful attributes in your own life — whether it’s Friday or not.
Sources: kolsimcha.org; chabad.org; dorsheitzedek.org; “Machzor for Yom Kippur”; torchweb.org; timeanddate.com; nationalgeographic.com; history.com; aisch.com; and myjewishlearning.com