Three is the first number that can create an object; a triangle. A chair needs a minimum of three legs to stand. Three is a primary number – a number that can’t be divided but only be built on. It is the beginning of solidness. By Jewish law once an event happens three times it is hazakah it is to be expected again for good or bad.
Many of the sayings in Pereke Avot are based on three things:
- Shimon the Righteous would say: The world stands on three things: Torah, the service of God, and deeds of kindness. 1:2
- Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nitai of Arbel received from them. Yehoshua ben Perachia says, “Make for yourself a mentor, acquire for yourself a friend and judge every person as meritorious.” 1:6
- Nitai of Arbel says: “Distance [yourself] from a bad neighbor, do not befriend an evildoer and do not despair of punishment.”1:7
- He [Rabbi Hillel] used to say: If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, then when? 1:14
- Rabban Gamliel says, “Make for yourself a mentor, remove yourself from doubt and do not frequently tithe by estimation.” 1:16
- Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says, “On three things the world stands: on judgment, on truth and on peace, as it is said (Zachariah 8:16), ‘Judge truth and the justice of peace in your gates.’ 1:18
- Akavia ben Mahalalel says: Keep your eye on three things, and you will not come to sin: Know from where you came, and to where you are going, and before Whom you are destined to give an account and a reckoning. From where did you come? 3:1
- Rabbi Yishmael says: Be yielding to an elder, pleasant to a youth and greet every person with joy. 3:12
- Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua says: Let the honor of your student be dear to you as your own, and the honor of your fellow like the reverence of your teacher, and the reverence of your teacher like the reverence of Heaven. 4:12
- Rabbi Elazar HaKapor says: Envy, lust and honor drive a man from the world. 4:21
Why is the number three used as the basis to understand? When a person has an idea it is one central thought; but only after there are at least three conditions to support the idea will it be substantiated – given validity. Again the concept of three is to be based on solid ground.
Three is reflected in many of our concepts. The Magan Dovid the Jewish 6 pointed star is two triangles facing opposite direction. I had heard that it represents our relationships. Our relationship with G-d, the Torah and Israel; which is represented by the bottom triangle – the triangle that faces up towards G-d.
And G-d has a relationship with us and the Torah and the land of Israel.
The Jewish star is the symbol of our connection to our roots and our future.
We have three primary relationships in life. We have to learn to live with ourself, with God, and with others. We have three resources to function in the world: thought, speech and action. Time itself is divided into three categories: the past, the present and the future.
On Rosh Hashana we are again reminded of the three prong approach: “Teshuva (Return), Tefillah, (Prayer) and Tzedakah (Righteousness) avert the bad decree.”
Our nation was started with three fathers; Avraham who epitomized the mida of chesed, Yitzhak who represented moral strength and Yaacov was know for honesty. Those three midot are reflected in the Mishna as mentioned above: ‘the world stands on three things: on judgment, on truth and on peace.’ Yitzhak was judgment, Yaacov was truth and Avraham was peace.
On Shauvos we received the Torah on Mount Sinai and became a holy nation who were bound with G-d, Torah and headed for Israel.