America built three big, bold and beautiful bridges during a period of only 6 years. In 1931, the George Washington Bridge leaped the Hudson River and linked Manhattan to New Jersey. That same year brought us the Bayonne Bridge linking Staten Island to New Jersey and in 1937 San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge opened.
Three astounding inventions that changed our world each occurred about one hundred years apart from one another. For thousands of years, until about 1750, the only way to make things move was with human muscle, animal muscle, wind or moving water. Then the steam engine appeared which could perform vastly more work than the work originally needed to obtain the coal to fuel it. For thousands of years the fastest way to communicate information was to send a man on a horse. About a hundred years after the invention of the steam engine, in 1844, Samuel Morse sent an electronic message down a copper wire from the Capitol in Washington DC to Penn Station in Baltimore. In 1948 William Shockley at Bell Labs invented the transistor making possible the digital world we take for granted today.
Three revolutions help us understand the American War of Independence: the English Civil War of 1643, the French Revolution in 1789 and the Russian Revolution in 1917.
The three previous paragraphs are intended to demonstrate a truism of successful speaking and writing. Our attention tends to be attracted and retained by a list of three items. I could have added the San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge to the first paragraph; it was opened in 1936. I could have added the invention of the airplane by the Wright Brothers in 1903 to the second paragraph. I could have added the Mexican revolution of 1910 to my third paragraph. However, in each paragraph, I deliberately wanted three items.
Consider Solomon’s wisdom as revealed in these three observations from Ecclesiastes about two being better than one.
1) Two are better off than one, because they produce more working together than the total of what each would produce alone. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)
2) They constantly energize one another just as two sleeping together warm one another. (Ecclesiastes 4:11)
3) Two working together can far better overcome adversity than one alone. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
Solomon then concludes the passage with a metaphor about a certain kind of cord not parting easily. Now I ask you to guess. Since he has just been talking of ways in which two are better than one, wouldn’t you expect Solomon’s conclusion to be “…and a double cord won’t easily break.”? This would neatly wrap up the idea that two are stronger and more effective than one, which was the entire point of the last few verses.
Yet, what he really wrote was:
“…a three-strand cord won’t easily part.”
Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that the wise king was not trying to provide yet another example of how two partnering together will achieve far more than the sum of what two loners could each accomplish. That is obvious to anyone and requires no evidence. With his three stranded metaphor, Solomon is explaining why he brought not one, not two, but three separate examples of two being better. He is saying that we won’t quickly forget that two are better than one because he gave us not one, not two, but three examples of the axiom. The reader will always remember that two are better than one because he’s just read three examples followed by the explanation that the three-stranded cord will not quickly part.
Here are three really effective phrases to use in the next speech you have to deliver for work, at a family event, or to a civic group with which you are affiliated. (i) I am going to offer you three reasons why we need to start carrying the new Chinese manufactured widget in our catalog. (ii) We all feel palpable joy at this wedding because we know three ways in which we can see that Jack and Jill are just meant to be together. (iii) Our membership drive will achieve its goals if we deploy the following three strategies.
The three advantages that King Solomon speaks about for reaching out and establishing relationships with others help explain why we have established a new group on Facebook, Friends of Rabbi Daniel and Susan Lapin. We want to encourage our readers and listeners to exchange ideas with each other. We benefit so much from knowing you and we believe that you will benefit from ‘meeting’ each other. If you do use social media, please head over and see how this group can add to your life.
8 thoughts on “Say it Once, Say it Twice…”
I once heard spoken a brief message inspired by the Holy Spirit to a group of about 100 people. He said to us: “As a three-fold cord is not easily broken, neither is the three-fold cord of my Oath, My Covenant and My Love easily broken, by which I have bound you to Myself.”
Rabbi Lapin — Not quite sure what point you were making with the political revolutions you cited. The American Revolution happened before the French Revolution and I believe the former is thought to have helped inspire the latter, although they were very different from each other as revolutions go, as I’m sure you know.
Thank so much for writing. The point I was making was that presenting lists of three items in writing and speech is especially effective. Reference to various world revolutions was merely explanatory. What I wrote was, “Three revolutions help us understand the American War of Independence” Wouldn’t you agree that an event can often be understood by comparing and contrasting it with other events that occurred both earlier and later than the event under scrutiny? That said, I have written on how the French and Russian were hostile to the church and the English and American were fueled from the pulpits of churches. So to clarify, I wasn’t writing a piece about world revolutionary movements, I merely used the 3 revolutions I cited as examples just as I used 3 inventions and 3 bridges as examples.
Another great drash, thank you! I write and I have always used this rule of 3 instinctually. I can’t remember ever being specifically taught about this before, but I feel that my work is off balance if I only use one or two in a list of examples, etc. It is easy, helpful, and effective to use the cadence. 😉
It’s nice to see the principal in Solomon’s teachings, but do we have any insight as to why we are wired this way? I’m simply curious.
Thanks, as always, for bringing Ancient Jewish Wisdom to us in such an articulate way.
Thanks for writing such kind words. We find in sources like Ethics of the Fathers that the rule of 3 is regularly used. For instance, “Upon 3 things the world stands” etc. I will look for an explanation of why we seem to respond best to this pattern.
I smacked my forehead when you mentioned Pirke Avot. Of course! But that still leaves the question as to _why_ it works so well. I really look forward to hearing what you uncover.
With much gratitude,
I was taught in the Christian faith that the three stranded cord refers mainly to marriage with the husband and wife tied together with G-d firmly in the middle. Of course it is always best if G-d is in the middle and paramount in all relationships.
I read your article on “The Secret War” last night. Although I know we’ve been headed for trouble a long time, it shook me. I am trying to be ready for what is coming and look to “the Boss” for direction. Somehow we need to convince people that we have just as much right to believe what “we ” believe as they have a right to believe what “they” believe. If we can keep the US Constitution from being shredded, maybe that is where to start. I for one am very grateful to have you and Susan on our side. I suppose our three stranded cord would be G-d, Judaism and Christianity.
Thanks for listening,
Thanks for your lovely letter, Terry.
Times are challenging but we can win.
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