The Significance of The Number Two

By Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David (Greg Killian)

 


In this study I would like to study the meaning of the number two. I would also like to see the significance of the number two.

 

The second letter of the Hebrew alef-bet,  bet - ב, mirrors the symbolism of the number two. It is called Bet. It is from this letter that we get our word, both. This letter is the first letter of the Torah and of the book of Bereshit (Genesis). Like the number two, Bet stands for the beginning of man’s journey. If we look at the number two in a positive sense, it stands for man, his realm and all that was created by HaShem for man’s benefit. If we look at it in a negative light, two stands for all that is separate or opposed to HaShem.

 

The number one implies that there exists but a single reality. It suggests absolute conformity. The number two represents separation, division,  and disunity (the two items have undone that unity that existed when there was only one item). Two represents right and left, giving versus restraint. The number three, however, finds an underlying unity between disparate entities. Thus the thirteenth hermeneutic rule of Ishmael expresses this resolution as: When two Biblical passages contradict each other the contradiction in question must be solved by reference to a third passage.

 

Rabbi Daniel Lapin’s thoughts:

 

The first time a word occurs in Scripture provides deep insight, so we need to know the first time the number two appears. (Hebrew grammar causes earlier appearances of two to have variant forms.)

 

שנים

 

Bereshit (Genesis) 6:19 And of all that lives, of all flesh, two of each you shall bring into the ark to keep alive with you, male and female they should be.

 

This reveals that the fundamental "two-ness" in the universe is male and female. Since the ultimate act of human creativity is creating a baby, we understand that two people can be far more creative than merely one, particularly if there is a male/female dynamic. However, two men or two women can have a male/female dynamic as well, for example in brainstorming a business idea. At any given moment one of the participants, whether male or female biologically speaking, is implanting the seed of an idea while the other is absorbing it. A moment later they exchange roles as the conversation continues.

 

Another aspect of the number two is that the Hebrew root of two = tooth. 

 

שנ

 

Even the very sound of the English word "tooth" carries within itself the sound of the number two (2-th). This highlights the point that two things complement one another. We have both upper and lower teeth and we need them both. Having only upper teeth or only lower teeth is worse than having no teeth at all.

 

One of the best Biblical examples of two is the Two Tablets that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Bible rarely refers to the Ten Commandments but calls them the Two Tablets about thirty times. This is because the quality of two they possess is so important. The two tablets complement one another and make it possible for us to create our moral matrix by consulting them both.

 

[There is so much vital information for our lives (and the life of our nation) buried in the Two Tablets that I created an  audio CD linking the respective pairs of commandments such as one and six, two and seven. In a stunning transformation, this converts Ten Commandments into five fundamental principles of human interaction. If the feedback I get is representative, you too will be amazed at how these commandments will come alive as you listen.]

 

Lastly, the Hebrew word for two is the same as the Hebrew word for years.

 

This informs us that there is some common feature linking the concept of two to the idea of years.

 

Each passing year naturally possesses similarities to its predecessor on both a global and very personal level. Nonetheless, nobody experiences two successive years as being identical.

 

Similarly, when we think of the power of two we think of two things close enough to be counted together, but not so identical as to be duplicates. Our spouses are incredibly close to us, we can often complete their sentences. But they are also sufficiently different to make the connection meaningful. I may consult two books for guidance in repairing my plumbing. They will both be about the problem I am experiencing but, to be helpful, each should tackle the project in a different way.

 

We understand that if we wish to change our oneness into a two, whether in seeking a spouse or a business partner, we need to find someone close and similar but not identical.

 

Essentially, the number two speaks to the fundamental duality which is so much a part of life. Day/Night. Good/Evil. Man/Woman. Light/Darkness. Plus/Minus. Hot/Cold. Yes, many things do exist on a spectrum, but they are easier to analyze and understand when we know the two dualities that anchor the ends of the spectrum.

 

* * *

 

The number two is expressed as the female dimension (she can double herself, thus all duplicated organs of the body are expressed in Hebrew by a feminine gender), the number two, the left hand; and is embodied in Yitzchak Avinu (Isaac).

 

Why did the Torah start with the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet and not the first? In his masterwork “The Wisdom in the Hebrew Alphabet”, Rabbi M. L. Munk explains that the Hebrew letter “BET” with its numerical value of two: Symbolizes our world, since everything earthly is embedded in plurality. All that was created for man’s use came in pairs:

The Torah – WRITTEN and ORAL;

The Commandments – ‘Mitzvot‘ – POSITIVE and NEGATIVE precepts;

The Intermediaries – MOSES and AARON;

The WorldHEAVEN and Earth;

The Luminaries – SUN and MOON;

Human – MALE / ADAM and FEMALE / EVE;…

Two Tablets – BETWEEN MAN and GOD and BETWEEN MAN and his NEIGHBOR;…

Two Drives and Two Hearts – The EVIL Inclination and the GOOD Inclination;…

Two Worlds – THIS WORLD – ‘OLAM HAZEH’ and THE WORLD TO COME – ‘OLAM HABAH’

 

If you look at the way our own human bodies are constructed, on each side of the torso is an arm and leg. Two arms, and two hands, and two legs with two feet are attached to the central core. Even internally, most of the organs come on doubles: The lungs, kidneys, and the inner chambers of the heart and the brain spread on two sides. The head has two eyes, ears, and nostrils. Yet all are rooted in the one, which brings the focus back on the first letter, the alef which was the first letter on the tablets of the ten commandments when HaShem states “anochi HaShem Elokeka]” – “I [am the Lord your God]. (Exodus 20:2).

 

The Maharal says that two:

1.              Implies proliferation. No number so completely conveys proliferation as the number two, for it is the only number that has the plural ending. Hence, two implies bountifulness and blessing. Similarly, the higher orders of two, namely 20 and 200 also imply increase. These are the letters בכר Bechor, meaning the firstborn who gets a double portion, and the letters of ברך the root of  ברכה  berachah, meaning blessing.

2.              Two, even together, are not a unified entity. Unlike other numbers, two cannot be whole, just as two parts cannot link together to complete a closed, unified figure. Every other number can be whole: one is inherently whole.

3.              Two hints at “dispute”. It takes two to argue.

 

Any type of change or growth always proceeds through the two phases of inspiration and integration. First there is the inspiration to a new realm of possibilities and then there is the effort to build these insights into the world.

 

  1. The first Beit HaMikdash with the Shechinah.
  2. The second Beit HaMikdash without the Shechinah. It was much bigger and more beautiful, yet it did not have the Presence of HaShem. It was here, though, that the Light of Chanukah was kindled. (The third Beit HaMikdash will be an eternal structure that reconciles these two.)

 

  1. The first set of Luchot (tablets) which contained the Word of HaShem, both written and oral, were carved and written by HaShem. This set of tablets were broken because of the sin of the golden calf.
  2. The second set of Luchot were carved by men and engraved by HaShem. These were preserved in the Beit HaMikdash.

 

  1. The Mashiach ben Yosef. He brought atonement for the sin of the Goyim, but He died in the process.
  2. The Mashiach ben David. He will endure.

 

  1. Adam HaRishon (the first Adam) was perfect, but he sinned and crashed the world.
  2. Adam HaSheni (the second Adam) rebuilt and corrected that which crashed.

 

  1. The kingship of Shaul which did not endure.
  2. The kingship of David which will endure.

 

1.        The soul before being put into a body is perfect, yet it has nothing of it’s own.

2.        The soul after being put in a body is no longer perfect, but it now owns what it has created.

 

  1. A person in the womb is taught the whole Torah and he can see from one end of the world to the other. As he is being born his Torah knowledge is driven into him so that he can not remember.
  2. A person outside the womb must struggle to learn and remember his Torah, but this Torah will endure.

 

  1. A man contributes the seed, the memories to a child. But, without the woman to build, his seed will not endure.
  2. A woman builds that seed into reality. She gives endurance to man’s seed.

 

1.      Torah study without mitzvot will not endure, but it is the first step.

2.      Mitzvot will endure, but they require Torah study in order to know what one must do.

 

1.       The giving of the Torah involved a stage of preparation that draws down and reveals the essence of the soul. This is accomplished through the census of the Jewish people. (This is Sivan 6 - Shavuot.)

2.       The giving of the Torah involved a stage of preparation involving the cultivation of our conscious powers, until they can serve as receptors for that essence. This is accomplished through the counting of the omer. (This is the fiftieth day.)

 

* * *

 

The concept of a blessing is to increase the lot of that being blessed. This is why, our Hakhamim teach, that the word baruch (bless) begins with the letter bet, which represents the number two, and the concept of increasing something. To be blessed is to have at least enough, and, to seek a blessing, is to seek more than one’s present lot in life.

 

* * *

 

Finally, two is the minimum number of witnesses for a legal event. Thus even here we have division.

Why do we need witnesses?

 

* * *

 

This study was written by

Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David

(Greg Killian).

Comments may be submitted to:

 

Rabbi Dr. Greg Killian

4544 Highline Drive SE

Olympia, WA 98501

 

Internet address:  gkilli@aol.com

Web page:  http://www.betemunah.org/

 

(360) 918-2905

 

Return to The WATCHMAN home page

Send comments to Greg Killian at his email address: gkilli@aol.com