Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. Ecclesiastes 4:9
In Ecclesiastes, King Solomon, the wisest of all men teaches: "Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor." But is that such a profound idea? Isn't it obvious that two people will accomplish more together than alone?
The truth is that, in practice, we tend to live quite differently. Society has long been based on the notion of competition that only one of us can succeed; only one of us can have what we all want. However, it's time to shift from competition to a paradigm of collaboration where we all can benefit by helping each other.
Let's take a look at some practical applications to our lives. Solomon mentions four in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. In verse 9, we learn that there is a better return for our labor, meaning we are more productive when part of a team. Whether it be in the workplace or at home, we are more creative and effective when we can bounce ideas off each other and institute our ideas together.
Next Solomon wrote in 4:10 that if one person falls, the other person can pick up the fallen individual. Again, on the surface, this seems more like common sense than great wisdom. But on a deeper and more spiritual level, this teaches us that when we have a companion or spiritual guide, we have someone to catch us if we fall out of line. We should cultivate such relationships and welcome constructive criticism. It's not always fun to hear, but when someone points out how we might be falling, they can literally save our spiritual lives.
Solomon continued in verse 11, explaining that when two lie down together, they can keep each other warm. Again, this is true on a physical level and instructive on a spiritual level. When going through dark and difficult times, we all need a friend to comfort us and encourage us.
Finally, Solomon taught in verse 12 that while one person could be easily overpowered, two could fight off attackers. This is true of spiritual assaults as well. In the same way we might find a running partner to help ward off laziness, we can also find a friend to help us beat the urge to gossip or keep us accountable to some other spiritual goal.
In so many ways, as Solomon taught, two are better than one. This principle is underscored in the Talmud in the following story about a Jewish sage who had been asleep for 70 years. When he finally awoke, he headed straight to the study hall only to discover that all his peers and study partners had already passed away. At that point, he expressed the famous line: "Give me companionship or give me death!" He recognized that he could not live effectively without at least one good companion.
Let's make sure we all find friends or partners for the different challenges in life. Indeed, two are better than one, and we are all better together.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President