There is something in the human psyche that is attracted to groups of three. Research shows that three examples form the most powerful argument for persuasion. Comedians use groups of three to make us laugh. The U.S. Marine Corps uses the “Rule of Three” for all levels of organization, because it is their experience that an effective Marine can attend to three things at once, no more.
- Two is a coincidence. Three is a pattern.
- Two have a disagreement. Three has decision-making power.
- Two is a couple. Three is a crowd.
Three also shows up in Jewish practice and tradition. A beit din [rabbinical court] consists of at least three rabbis. In modern times, a beit din is composed of three rabbis, and usually it is convened to authorize a conversion.
Three also has special significance at mealtimes. While we say blessings before we eat food to take note that it comes from God, we say a blessing of thanksgiving after a meal. That blessing is called the Birkat Hamazon, the Blessing for Satisfaction, from the passage in Deuteronomy:
And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the Eternal your God for the good land which God has given you. – Deuteronomy 8:10
It’s a long and beautiful blessing. It is a “thank you” blessing, but it doesn’t stop with a private thanksgiving. It goes on to thank God for sustaining all creatures, for sustaining the Jewish People, asking that God sustain the Jews in the future (sort of a thanks-in-advance) and then a fourth blessing gives thanks for the many happy relations between God and Israel.
If three or more Jews say or sing it, there is a special introduction, called the zimmun, an invitation to the group to say the blessing:
If three Jews eat together, they have an obligation to invite one another [to say the blessing after a meal.] – Mishnah Berakhot, 7.1
What does this have to do with Chanukah? Chanukah is a feast of dedication. Dedication is public, not private. We advertise it. And because it is not private, we invite other Jews to celebrate it with us.
As the nights go by, the light grows. Tonight, with three candles lit, we advertise the miracle and invite other Jews to celebrate, to dedicate themselves, to grow in relationship with the Jewish people.