All week we have been looking at the missions and essence of the “three men”—the three angels—that appeared to Abraham. Let us now approach this topic using another technique: generalizing outward by looking at all the occurrences of the phrase “three men” (שלשה אנשים ) in the Tanach. We find that this phrase appears altogether three times:
- “Behold three men were standing upon him” in our parshah.
- “Appoint three men from each tribe and I will send them and they will rise and survey the land….”1
- “Three men ascending to God at Bethel will meet you there.”2
It is important when encountering a verse to go back to the actual text and read it in context. Many times, even if you feel that you remember the context, it is still enlightening to see the verse in its original in the Tanach, not to mention the segulah value of having an original Hebrew Tanach and looking at the actual words.
Regarding the mention of this phrase in our parshah, we have already noted earlier that in it, Gavri’el and Repha’el are included within Micha’el. Or, in Kabbalistic terminology we would say that they represent the aspects of chagat (the sefirot of loving-kindness, might, and beauty) as they are inter-included in loving-kindness, the unique attribute of Abraham himself.3
Continuing this idea, we can see that the three men from each tribe appointed by Joshua (the second appearance of the phrase “three men” in the Tanach) correspond to the three sefirot chagat as they are included within the sefirah of might. This because, every act of surveying or measuring, especially for the purpose of drawing borders (in this case, between the plots of land allocated to each tribe), is an act of might. Likewise we find that when Ezekiel is shown the dimensions of the Third Temple in the prophecy appearing at the end of his book, the one measuring is the angel Gavri’el, the angel of might.
Finally, the three men that Samuel prophesized that Saul would meet, correspond to chagatas they are included within beauty. How is this so? In the Arizal’s teachings we find that the foundation (or womb) of Ima covers the sefirot of loving-kindness and might and, particularly, the top third of the sefirah of beauty (which in this context is seen to include the first two). Practically speaking this means that there is a facet of our psychological emotions that can function without being experienced (covered up in the concealed world of our meditation). This is the inner meaning of the words: “ascending to God.” The experience of prophecy is likened to a person disrobing his physical experience, which at its heart is the experience of self.4
So, now we have a beautiful inter-inclusion of all three sefirot chagat in one another, and altogether 9 different aspects of “three men.” Indeed, in Hebrew, the phrase “three men”שלשה אנשים has 9 letters, each corresponding to another facet of this consummate inter-inclusion.
Angels and men
We have already seen that the gematria of “three men” שלשה אנשים is 1036, which is also equal to the product of 28 and 37. It is also the numerical value of the words: “And Israel sent emissaries”5 (וישלח ישראל מלאכים ) to the king of Edom on their way to conquer the Land of Israel. In Hebrew, the word for “emissaries” is the same as the word for “angels.” Thus, these emissaries were in their essence a manifestation of the three angels that came to Abraham.
By Abraham the “three men” were actual angels. By Joshua and Saul they were actual flesh and blood human beings. But, by Joshua they were clothed in the garb of human beings, i.e., normal human consciousness as their mission was to survey the land. While by Saul they were “ascending to God,” and therefore free of normal consciousness of self. These are three different states of “three men.”
37 is an important number in the Torah in general and in creation in particular. We have already seen some of its important appearances in the past. First and foremost it is the numerical value of “the singular one,” יחידה , the highest of the five parts of the soul. It is also the value of Adam’s son, Abel, הבל . In our case, it is the numerical value of the names of the three angels מיכאל גבריאל רפאל , when computed using reduced value gematria. When we add the two multiplicands 37 and 28, instead of multiplying them we get 65, which is the value of God’s Name, Adni, אדנ־י with which He revealed Himself to Abraham just before the appearance of the angels. 28 itself is a triangular number, meaning that it too is related to the number 3, as 28 = 7.
Let us revisit Joshua’s sending three men from each tribe. At the time, there were only seven tribes who had not yet conquered their portion of the Land of Israel. Therefore, altogether, 7 · 3 = 21 messengers were sent to survey the land. If we add these to Saul’s three men and to Abraham’s three “men,” we get 27 “men” or 9 = 32 triplets of men, or, altogether 27 = 33!
Finally, let us look at the way that each set of “three men” is described in the verses. By Abraham it says that “they were standing upon him” נצבים עליו ; by Joshua it says that they will “rise and survey the land” ויקמו ויתהלכו בארץ ; by Saul it says that they will be “ascending to God” עלים אל הא־להים . Adding all three phrases together, we get: נצבים עליו ויקמו ויתהלכו בארץ עלים אל הא־להים = 1512, which is the product of 27 (= 33) and the diamond of 7! Even more astounding is that 1512 = 3 · 504, where 504 is the numerical value of just the three verbs “standing, will rise, ascending” נצבים ויקמו עלים !
What is the practical meaning of these three verbs: stand, rise, and ascend? Using Kabbalistic and Chassidic terminology these three verbs correspond to a progression from an experience of the nullification (the inner essence of the sefirah of wisdom) that is in “stand” to an experience of will (the inner essence of the lower part of the sefirah of crown) that is found in “rise” to finally an experience of pleasure and faith (the inner essence of the higher part of crown) that is found in ascending to God! This is a beautiful spiritual and devotional progression to meditate on Friday night.
1. Joshua 18:4.
2. 1 Samuel 10:3.
3. Likewise, later in the Torah, we find that Jacob was healed by Repha’el, the angel that corresponds to Jacob’s own special attribute, beauty (tiferet).
4. In his instructions to Saul, Samuel continues to describe that the three men, “They will greet you and offer you two loaves of bread, which you will accept from them.” The two loaves of bread alludes to the bottom two-thirds of beauty which remain revealed and hence conscious to the one experiencing. The top third is the secret of the Tree of Life where there is no experience of self as separate from the Almighty—the essence of the World of Emanation. The bottom two thirds are the secret of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, where there is a feeling of separate being, separate from the Almighty, the essence of the feeling of one’s body, of one’s sefirah of beauty.
5. Numbers 21:21.