Because of man’s “tzelem Elokim” (embodying within him an element which is a reflection of the Divine) animals can’t exert control over man, unless that element is missing. This “tzelem Elokim” is found in two people more intensely than in one, and among three the reflection is even greater. We find a similar concept in the ability of Torah to connect to man. Torah connects to two people more intensely than to one person, and to three people even more intensely. This is because Torah is a spiritual/intellectual reality, rather than a material, corporeal one. Two or three people who are connected represent a more transcendent reality (compared to any individual person, who is more limited by his physical reality).
(The concept “tzelem Elokim” is too often translated as “In the image of G-d.” I believe this is not an accurate translation of the words, and is not a Jewish translation on a conceptual level. The root of the word “tzelem” is “tzeil,” which means shadow. A shadow reveals the contours of an object in an indirect way, without one actually seeing the object itself. An idol is called a “tzelem” because it purports to reflect a certain reality, without actually being that reality. Man, as a “tzelem Elokim” embodies within him the potential to enable the contours of the Divine to be seen, if you will, without actually seeing G-d. Therefore, I have translated it as a reflection of the Divine. The idea of man being an “image of G-d” probably has its roots in another religion.)
Therefore, when two people are together, they are protected from the harm of a demon (due to the greater manifestation of the “tzelem Elokim” they reflect, compared to one person). And three people are completely insulated from the demon (due to the even more intense manifestation of the “tzelem Elokim’) leading to the demon’s inability to even appear to them.
So, a person walking alone on the roadway is diminishing his ability to be a reflection of the Divine (since he is detached from other people). There is a principle that the Satan brings charges against a person (highlighting defects making him worthy of punishment) during times of danger. Therefore, a man is held liable for tragedy that befalls him while walking alone on the road (since he is seen as exposing himself to a situation of danger without including the proper precautions).
The previous Mishna taught us that three people who ate together at one table, and at that meal said words of Torah, are viewed as having eaten from the table of the Almighty. When they didn’t say words of Torah they are viewed as having eaten from sacrifices of the dead. From this we learn that it is through the Torah that man creates a bonding with G-d, and when he separates himself from the Torah, he removes himself from any connection with Him, leaving the domain of the Divine. We follow this with the lesson teaching us that one who turns his heart to time-wasting is removing himself from the orderly system of how the world functions and from the natural protection afforded by that system. This departure makes him “liable for his life,” for any tragic consequences that befall him due to this behavior. The natural order provides for man to be under the protection of G-d, Who is constantly watching over the world (when its functioning is aligned with that natural order, and this person separated himself from that order).
(This offers a very penetrating insight into the common question “Does G-d cause tragedy, does man cause tragedy, or does it ‘just happen’?”. When man’s behavior is aligned with the natural order as created by G-d, the system provides natural, Divine protection. But man has the ability to depart from that system, at which point G-d turns man over to random forces that He created, often leading to tragic results. It should be pointed out that even then, G-d can, of course, intervene with special protection, which would be classified as a “miracle,” either overt or hidden. Judaism frowns upon man putting himself in these kind of situations precisely because it requires this special level of intervention on G-d’s part, which is not the way He intended the system to function.)
(This concludes Mishna 5 of Chapter 3. Next time we will study Mishna 6.)