Power of Three

June 24, 2009

5 min read


Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16 )

Three of the Ten Plagues appear in this week's Torah portion. The number three is actually hinted to in the name of the parsha, Bo (spelled bet, aleph) which has a numerical value of three.

Threesomes pop up all over the Torah, the Talmud, the holy literature - and are a core part of the creation. In fact it says in Pirkei Avot that the universe rests on three things: Torah, Divine Service, and acts of kindness. Just as a stool has three essential legs, so too these three pillars form a part of everything in existence.

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In the beginning of Genesis, God created the universe with a set of 10 statements: "And God said 'Let there be light'" (Genesis 1:3). Of course, there didn't need to be ten statements. God didn't need to create the universe in stages, and He didn't need to use the metaphor of speech.

The reason for the 10 statements is that the three main pillars of existence branch out into 10 principles or emanations of the Infinite. God is infinite, without pieces or divisions, but we are finite and connect to Him through various conduits. These conduits all boil down to 10 ideas, and those 10 ideas are built on the three pillars.

Each of the three main "tens" in the Torah are built in a similar way.

The second of the three "tens" is the Ten Plagues in Egypt. The third is the Ten Commandments.

If you examine these closely you'll realize that every "10" and every "three" are multiplying with each other. The kabbalists examine these multiples but realize that they go on infinitely. Within each set of 10, we find three, and from three, 10 branches out, and so on.

1) Ten Statements of Creation
2) Ten Plagues in Egypt
3) Ten Commandments

If, as we said, every threesome is based on the three pillars of creation, then these three sets of 10 are expressions of Torah, Divine Service and Kindness. Another way the Sages refer to the three pillars is: Harmony, Justice and Love.

  • Kindness is Love.
  • Divine Service is the same as Justice; they both relate to inner strength and control.
  • Torah is the source of Harmony, because the universe has opposing forces, and the Torah teaches how to harmonize those forces.

We can now try to match up the three sets of 10 to the three pillars.

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It's easy to match up the Ten Commandments to the Torah. Commandments are the essential part of the Torah, and the Ten Commandments are the roots of all the 613 commandments.

The commandments help society have harmony. When we violate the commandments - e.g. "don't lie," "don't steal," "don't kill," etc. - we create disharmony in society.

Similarly, each individual has desires that need to be channeled correctly, or that individual will suffer from a lack of internal harmony. For each desire there is a commandment that helps us understand and channel that desire.

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Each plague served a dual function. On one hand, it was a miracle, an act of God that transcended the laws on nature in order to demonstrate the authority of the One Supreme Being. On the other hand, it was a punishment to the Egyptians for the way they oppressed and tortured the Israelites.

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At first glance, it may not be obvious what is the connection between the Ten Statements of creation and love. We don't call God "love." This is a mistake to label God. You can't label the Infinite. It defies definition. A definition serves to limit the subject. However, we know that God loves us. He tells us so in many ways.

The universe is built on love. That's the starting point. If the Almighty is infinite, then He needs nothing. He is not bored with Himself; He's infinite. He's not lonely; He's infinite. If He chose to create us, it can only be for our sake, since He needs nothing. Therefore, everything in existence is seen as some kind of benefit to mankind.

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We can't see God, but through His creation we can come to understand Him. If you look around, you'll find other examples of threesomes in the world, and you can try to figure out how each one relates to one of the three pillars. It's like a diamond with different facets.

Look for Him, and you'll find Him everywhere.

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Spiritual Exercise:

Examine your life and ask yourself if you feel in harmony. If there is an imbalance, you need to strengthen your three pillars. Find out which pillar is in most need of repair, and make a plan to fix it.

Next Steps