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:
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.
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.]
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.
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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 Intermediaries – MOSES and AARON;
Two Tablets – BETWEEN MAN and GOD and BETWEEN MAN and his NEIGHBOR;…
Two Drives and Two Hearts – The EVIL Inclination and the GOOD Inclination;…
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 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. 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.)
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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.
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Why do we need witnesses?
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This study was written by
Rabbi Dr. Hillel ben David
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