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On the Meaning of Three

On the Meaning of Three

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One symbolizes unity, agreement, simplicity. When something exists alone, nothing disturbs it. It remains completely at peace, without regard for anything else.

Two symbolizes duality, tension and complexity.

The number three symbolizes a harmony that includes and synthesizes two opposites. The unity symbolized by the number three isn’t accomplished by getting rid of number two, the entity that caused the discord, and reverting to the unity symbolized by number one. Rather, three merges the two to create a new entity, one that harmoniously includes both opposites. On its own, Entity A leaves no room for Entity B, and Entity B does not allow for the existence of Entity A. Entity C demonstrates how A and B really are compatible, and even complementary. Bringing together two opposites (A and B) requires the introduction of an entity or common goal (C) that is greater than both of them.

The first three days of creation serve as an example for these three stages. On the first day, life had not yet been created. At the conclusion of the first day, the Torah writes, “It was evening and it was morning, one day.” Our sages comment on this verse that it was a “day of One.” G‑d was the only existence; even the angels had yet to be created. There was complete and simple unity.

The second day of creation symbolizes separation and discord. On that day G‑d separated the waters above the heavens from the waters below the heavens. This generated the first dichotomy. Now there were two opposites—heaven and earth, spirituality and physicality.1 Unlike the other five days of creation, regarding the second day the Torah doesn’t say that “G‑d saw that it was good.” When there is conflict and tension, the situation can not be qualified as “good.”

On the third day G‑d confined the waters to the seas and uncovered the dry land, which allowed for the creation of vegetation later that day. Now the light, the dark, the heaven, the earth and the waters were all working together harmoniously to produce. On the third day the Torah tells us that it was good twice. The third day didn’t undo the separation of the first two days. The polarity still exists, but the polarity became part of a greater unity. And that is doubly good.

When the two opposites merge and work together, the resulting unity is greater than the unity of one being on its own. Because the number one symbolizes peace that is achieved by excluding all others.

In a nutshell, one stands for unity. Two stands for disagreement. Three stands for the harmony of opposites that includes the properties of one and two. This idea, of the three stages, is especially common in the works of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. For examples of this concept, I recommend you read:

The Mathematics of Marriage, which demonstrates these three levels in marriage, our relationship with G‑d and the giving of the Torah.

The Third Month Family, which demonstrates that the “three model” of unity is the key to successful parenting.

Rabbi Eliezer Posner


FOOTNOTES
1.

In the mystical works it is explained that water is symbolic of pleasure. There are two sorts of pleasures: a) the “Upper Waters,” i.e., the spiritual pleasures reserved for the souls and angels that inhabit the supernal spiritual worlds, and b) the “Lower Waters,” the earthly mundane pleasures that pervade this physical world.

Eliezer Posner is a former member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (10)
December 29, 2012
Thank you so kindly for this simple article. G_d is so profound and thank you for showing us a spark of His magnitude
Louie
September 10, 2012
Rabbi Eliezer Posner
Rabbi Eliezer Posner, you are an inspiration for us all. I really enjoyed this article, and will recommit for the high holidays with its message. I bless you with continued work in inspiring yiddins all around the world!
Anonymous
September 9, 2012
thankyou
this was a very helpful lesson and G-d willing i will do as you suggest and glimpse the other two, linked documents (making 3 in total!) G-d bless all
Michelle
uk
September 9, 2012
A nice article!
Thanks, Posner!
Abdullah
Jeddah, S. Arabia
June 9, 2011
“It was evening and it was morning, one day”
It is interesting that the sages comment on this verse that it was a "day of One." It was on Day One that G-d said, "Let there be light," and there was light. A "day of One" agrees with the concept that light was not created, but rather manifested out of the darkness. G-d being the only existence, it appears that darkness represents G-d’s Divine Attribute of Justice/Judgment and light represents G-d’s Divine Attribute of Mercy. This correlation is found throughout Torah, a prime example being G-d’s judgment of Egypt by darkness for three days, “but for all the children of Israel there was light in their dwellings”, for the Mercy of G-d was upon them. Thus, there was unity and completeness on Day One.


Anonymous
pismo beach, california
August 15, 2009
Three
Can it also be connected with the 3 forces in the atom? Proton,electron, and neutron.

Implying that withouth these 3 forces nothing can be created(genesis)?
Anonymous
northville, Mich
novijewishcenter.com
December 4, 2008
3
Isn't it fitting that this article has three comments? Oh well, I've gone ahead and ruined it. Now it has four.
Sammy Ekol
March 9, 2008
Symbolism of three
Can one imply that this particular description of the symbolism of three is why a woman would wave her hands three times after lighting the Shabbas candles? To draw the various aspects of Godliness towards her, or, to represent the unity, duality and harmony of the world? Or is there another or other interpretations for that action?
Leah Bayla
Champaign, IL
December 15, 2007
The three partners in conception
You brought up a good point! The Talmud (Nidda 31a) writes that there are three partners in the formation of a person: G-d, the father and the mother. The parents each contribute to the creation of the body, and God puts in the spirit.

This is an example of the pattern described in the article: the father contributes the sperm cell. The mother contributes the egg cell. God, who is not limited to "male" or "female" roles, unifies the two cells and makes them into a living body.
Eliezer Posner (author)
December 11, 2007
Is three a symbol of the three partners in creating a human being, G-d and the two parents?
Anonymous
Brooklyn, NY