We didn't really love to watch TV when we were growing up in the 70s and 80s (strange, right?), but we became acquainted with Schoolhouse Rock's "Three is a Magic Number" at a Gathering of the Vibes outdoor music festival some time in the late 90s or early 2000's. Its writer, composer, and original performer, Bob Dorough, was there in Bridgeport, Connecticut on a side stage performing some of Gen X's most iconic memories from Saturday morning cartoons. While the main stage mainly occupied jam bands such as the Radiators (we linked you to their Zeke's copyrwritten "Fish Head Manifesto," a deep piece of prose in its own right), Rat Dog, Deep Banana Blackout and moe, we were drawn to the side stage. We remember getting really down with this song in particular. And we mean reallllllllllllllllly digging it, grooving to it, and thinking of its meaning other than simple math.
Wait, isn't that what Schoolhouse Rock intended to do?
Get its listeners to rock out?
First, a posthumous thank you to its brilliant creator, ad exec and Yalie David McCall. and industry exec Michael Eisner (whose Wikipedia entry attributes much of his success to canoe camp in Vermont as a boy...good stuff!), for bringing it to the American people. Wow, that is pretty early in Eisner's career.
A little bit of background with regard to the number 3 in Judaism:
1. The 3rd day of creation (Tuesday, duh) the only day during the creation of the world when the infamous line "and it was good" is mentioned twice. There is a custom among certain Jews to get married on this day because it offers good luck.
2. There were 3 patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob)
3. (Question: are you thinking, well, there is also the Holy Trinity in Christianity, so it's not just Jews who hold this number is high regard? Indeed, you are correct! Dorough himself said it is an "ancient magic trinity." There is something there, we agree, but this is a site leaning more Jewish but we'll give you that. There is something there. Indeed, when a person can be named after their father and grandfather and given the suffix "III" and then from there get the nickname "Trey" that, too, is significant.) Ok, so there's your answer for number 3. Meaningful and unifying all the same.
4. Three is strength, in Hebrew "chazakah." When something occurs once in the world, this is normal, this is usual. Two times, now we're talking. Three times? Now that is a miracle. And that miracle is strength. Check out Askmoses for more on that. The holiest of holies the Lubavitcher Stango, a concealed great of our time, said as much the eve of his wedding just moments before the start of Chanuka in the year of segula b'yisrael. For further reference, check the video Makin' it Halachic which is currently unavailable online. Hoping to upload it one of this many moons (if you read thus far, you should know that we aren't too terribly off on a tangent, but it's not like this is available to put out there for the masses. Yet).
Ok, we lost you there, let's get back to earth.
A quick check on the covers of this song include a sample by De La Soul, a cover by Blind Melon, and a modern version by Jack Johnson with regard to the environment.
Here is Blind Melon's cover, a nice sound.
Jack Johnson went to Hawaii to discover the meaning of aloha. (We are big believers in being here, now. Not sure if Johnson is acquainted with the Ram Dass, nee Richard Alpert.).
He gets to the number 18 (3 times 3 times 3) the 18th letter of the alphabet is R. He takes Bob Dorough's iconic song and uses it to talk about the environment.
We are only guessing that Mr. Johnson, who is singing the environmental message about reduce, reuse and recycle (very different 3 R's that existed in the mid-century rubric of reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic) didn't realize at the time that 18 is the numeric equivalent in Judaism to life. and one very important to Judaism and Torah values (indeed, we are approaching Jewish Arbor Day called Tu B'Shvat, the birthday of the trees) ).
Or maybe he did.
If so, he wasn't overt.
In any event, thank you to the Annenberg Foundation for funding this very wise re-writing of this iconic song for us Gen X'ers.
Back to the number 18. Or was it the 3 Rs?
We actually never fully watched Fiddler from beginning to end, but you do remember this scene, we hope:
L'Chayim, that famous word to so many even bagels and lox Jews, is equal in gematria, or Jewish numerology, 18. To life, as it were, is a combination of the Hebrew letters "chet" and "yud." You know, "Chai"? How many Jews have you known to wear a gold chai around their neck (ugh, a bit gauche for us, but maybe that's just a hangup of ours). A nice, big hairy chest with a nice thick gold chai nestled somewhere in there. Reminds us of Grandpa Al, whom we loved so much, especially when he was all leathery tan after a winter in West Palm. Remember the trips to Boca and Delray, and how can we pass up Worth Avenue. End the day with an early bird special (dinner at 4pm, we are so glad we had grandparents in Florida) and pick up some groceries at Publix, and we're golden.
So essentially, we have been thinking a lot lately about how 3 is a magic number. It is currently a Tuesday as we write this, and we woke up in the middle of the night thinking about this tune. We didn't know that Jack Johnson made it into an environmental message. Our friends' connection to the Jewish concept of Teva, or nature, would appreciate that. (yes, there is also the Teva sandal company and Israeli-based Teva pharmaceutical company, both worthy ventures in their own rights...we aren't sure if the sandal company's founder, Mark Thatcher, is Jewish, but he spent time in Israel from which he borrowed the Hebrew word for nature).
And it's getting very close, about 2 weeks to go, to the Jewish Arbor Day, aka
In summing up, the moral seems a little bit obscure (it often comes back to Phish, doesn't it? Check out this video of their song Cavern where they perform the "in summing up" phrase towards the end of the song):
Go hug a tree!
Julia Butterfly Hill , though not Jewish, surely did this in the 90s.
Our tradition has been loving trees for centuries. Click on the Eitz Chayim/Tree of Life link here for a beautiful expression of this idea by Oy Baby.