In the third month of the year, Sivan, the third child in the family, Moses, gave a nation that can be broken down into three parts—Kohen, Levi and Yisrael—the Torah, which comprises three parts: Torah, Neviim and Ketuvim (Shabbat 88a).

What is the symbolism of the number three? Three represents unity. Two represents division—two opposing forces, opinions or ideas. But when a third is added, we can unite the two, just as a mediator does. G‑d gave us the Torah in the third month to remind us that even if we see a world of contradictions, endless chaos and opposing forces, the Torah will give us the ability to unite spirituality and physicality.1

We are nearing the end of the period of Sefirat HaOmer, counting the Omer. While this period is a countdown to the big day of receiving the Torah, it also serves another purpose. It is a time in which we mourn the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died in a plague. Their plague was a direct response to the students’ inability to uphold the important mitzvah of Ahavat Yisrael, loving one’s fellow Jew.

Ahavat Yisrael is considered Rabbi Akiva’s mission statement, his rallying cry. How is it possible that his very own students did not practice it? The Rebbe explains that it was not that they didn’t care about loving their fellow; actually, they cared so much that they could not respectfully allow them to follow something that they felt was wrong!2 If the next student didn’t think the same way they did, they could not handle the differing opinion and could not respect or co-exist with that opinion.

Clearly, this is not the definition of true Ahavat Yisroel. Who shows us what true peace means?

The Talmud also talks about two academic institutions that lived just a few generations prior to Rabbi Akiva and his students. They are famously known as Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai. These two schools of thought differed heavily on many, many topics; the Talmud is filled with their disagreements. But unlike Rabbi Akiva’s charges, these students were known to have such deep respect for each other that they could honor each other’s opinion while retaining their own.

The natural human approach (and the approach of Rabbi Akiva’s students) is that if I strongly believe that my opinion is true, there is no room for my friends to disagree. If I have evidence that sugar is bad for you—and I deeply care about you—I don’t want you to eat any sugar! But the Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai way was unique. They had such deep respect for each other that they could say, “I have evidence that sugar is bad for you, but you have evidence that sugar is good for you, and I have such respect for you that I can give you sugar because I trust and respect you.”

The kicker is they did not have to compromise on their opinion or herald a winner. They were able to retain their own stance while fully respecting each other.

That is true peace. That is true harmony.

How often do we make enough room for two opposing opinions without forcing them to compromise, to change or to make a choice—one right, the other wrong?

Even in our own minds, we often feel like we have two opposing parts of ourselves: the spiritual part and the materialistic part; the happy part and the sad part; the work part and the fun part. We often feel like we need to choose one.

Yet the lesson of the third month—the lesson of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai—is that true peace can only occur when we allow space for both, with our love and respect as a third uniting force. We can honor both of those parts of us and let them co-exist without diminishing the other, without forcing them to give in to the other. We can practice this with our fellow Jews, too, as this month of unity arrives.


Lift up your hands, palm facing upward, on either side of your body. Think of something in your life that feels divisive, like two opposing forces. Mentally place one force in one hand and place the other force in your other hand.

Hold them, feel their metaphoric weight. Focus on your left hand first, honor that part of you. Celebrate that part of you. Now focus on your right hand and honor that part of you. Celebrate that part of you.

You have two hands in front of you, and they are united by the body that they are connected to; they are housed by one uniting force that is you. Feel the way your left arm snakes down to your body, moves across the shoulder into your right arm all the way out to your fingertips. Notice that despite being clearly divided, they are also united by the third party.

There can be true peace, despite opposing forces existing simultaneously. Even inside of your one being, there can be unity amid diversity.

Hold that thought. Then take it and apply it to others around you.