Copy Right 2022
Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner
The Meaning of Oneness
Know your CREATOR, know yourself, and know the Difference
One of the most basic dicta of our faith is that
not only G-d exists, but that He is One.
After all, our faith is MONOTHEISTIC.
But what exactly is the meaning of G-d’s Oneness?
In general, MONOTHEISM means –
- ONE G-d
- G-d is ONE
The first cry is NUMERICAL – one G-d and no others.
The second cry is MENTAL – understanding that G-d is Complete, one entity,
Let’s discuss those cries of faith
- The Numerical Concept of Oneness
We have One G-d
The simplest explanation of Oneness is NUMERICAL,
that Hashem is one, neither two nor three or more.
As we recall, the option of IDOLATRY was born
when ELHM said in plural voice:
“Let Us Make an Adam in Our Form and Our Image.”
Speaking in plural, ELHM opened the door for idolaters to think,
that there are more than One CREATOR.
Since the same verse that announces the making of Adam
is the verse that allows IDOLATRY to exists, it comes out that
IDOLATRY is not just another Commandment among many.
It implies that ADAM WAS MADE SPECIFICALLY TO WITHSTAND
THE CHALLENGE OF IDOLATRY.
Who might be the idols?
They might be G-d’s putative family members
such as a father, a son, a wife, etc. – a very common believes in ancient time.
Thus, by speaking in plural, ELHM left an impression that He has
PARTNERS in Making Adam. Those PARTNERS might be
whoever ELHM consulted with at Adam creation.
As we’ll soon learn, there is a long list of those entities,
With whom He consulted with, all are mentioned in Chapter One
2 The philosophical meaning of Oneness
G-d is One Entity
Besides the numerical aspect, there are deeper meanings of G-d’s Oneness.
They are summed up by Moses, in Deuteronomy, in the Shema section:
- Hear (Shema) Oh Israel,
- YHVH (Hashem) our ELHM,
- YHVH (Hashem) is ONE!
The Shema, as you know, is the ‘battle cry’ of Judaism, and Monotheism.
It presents the essence of our faith. We recite it twice daily, as commanded by Moses.
People recite it on their deathbed, as Jacob did at the end of Genesis.
People went to the Nazi’s gas chambers with the Shema on their lips.
Let’s discuss the Shema Line by line.
In line 1, Moses says: Shema! Translated as “hear!”
Indeed, we recite it loudly enough so that we’d HEAR what our mouth is saying.
But ‘Shema’ can mean “Understand! Think about it!”
Whose words are the Shema! Not G-d, since it says in line 2: our ELHM.
Hence those worlds are Moses’ words, advising us as our ‘Rabbi,’ Moshe Rabeinu,
or as our ‘king’, which indeed was Moses’ status in Israel’s eyes.
And there is a difference here-
Speaking as a King, the Shema is a ‘command,’ to be followed immediately,
without much pondering. Whereas speaks as our Rabbi, the Shema
is an advise – learn it, spend time to comprehend it, because it is essential,
and because it is difficult to grasp!
The Halacha follows both interpretations.
We need to hear it ward by ward, dressed us cleanly and in dignity
as you’d honor your king’s LETTER.
We are also required to concentrate on every word,
place our hand over our eyes to block any detraction,
try to comprehend Moses’ message, no matter how long
this would take,
The question is –
what is so difficult in Oneness to comprehend?
Why are we required to concentrate and block any detraction?
To answer that, let’s review several explanations of the Shema.
The Historical Meaning of the Shema
According to Rashi, the Shema presents an historical perspective.
Line 2 means: YHVH is currently our G-d, the God of Israel,
Line 3 means: In the future, YHVH will be accepted by all nations,
becoming ONE, UNITRED HUMANITY.
The subject here is YHVH. Now ‘She’ is the G-d of Israel (line 2)
but soon – we hope -YHVH will be recognized by all Mankind
as ‘One Humanity.’
Well, what is it here so difficult to comprehend?
Why does Moses tell us to concentrate on it so much?
The Heavenly Court Perspective of the Shema
Another interpretation is to see the Shema as describing
the historical progress of the Heavenly Court.
Line 2 presents the Heavenly Court of YHVH our ELHM under which we currently live,
Line 3 presents the future, the Sabbath, when ELHM abstains and only YHVH reigns.
This notion fits well the text in Genesis Chapter One.
At the end of the chapter, YHVH is seen as an acronym,
Penetrating the Sixth Day of CREATION, our world, from the Sabbath.
Her half name – YH – lies in the Sixth Day, the other part – VH part – lies
still in the Sabbath.
Hence YHVH, the Attribute of MERCY, is joining ELHM, the Attribute of JUSTICE,
to form a new Heavenly Court of YHVH ELHM, under whom we live.
This explains line 2.
Line 3 then announces that in the future, when the Eternal Sabbath
will enter our world, ELHM will abstain from all His work
and only YHVH will reign, alone.
Again, what is so difficult here to comprehend,
that we need to cover our eyes and concentrate?
Line 2 of the Shema : YHVH and ELHM are One
But there is a deeper meaning of the Shema.
Rabeinu Bahye – among others – see in the Shema
two concepts of Oneness
Line 2 declares that YHVH and ELHM are ONE,
Line 3 declares that YHVH is ONE!
Is it contradictory?
Let’s see why is this notion so difficult to comprehend.
YHVH and ELHM are ONE!
To understand the difficulty here, we have to go to Genesis Chapter One.
As we’ve learned, the two Attributes – YHVH and ELHM – are so different
from each other, that in all previous Universes, the Attributes YHVH and ELHM
had never consulted or intermingled with each other.
YHVH ruled alone in Her Domain, ELHM in His Domain,
never ruling the same Universe together.
Even in our Universe, during the Six Days,
ELHM created the Six Days awesomely alone according to His features,
while the Attribute of MERCY, YHVH, was ‘absent.’
Indeed, there is no MERCY found in any creature before Adam.
It was only before making Adam. that ELHM invited YHVH, so to speak
to ‘come over’ and share with Him the Heavenly court and in making Adam
Why are the Attributes so different from each other
So that they can’t be seen as One?
As we recall, ELHM stands for cold, Absolute JUSTICE.
His retributions are according to the rule of ‘measure for measure.’
Under Him, creatures eat and are eten, cause pains and suffer pains,
In everlasting cycle of ‘sin’ and retributions.
ELHM is constantly active, never resting from work or from judging,
forever building and destroying, all week long.
YHVH stands for the exact opposite. In Her Domain, the Eternal Sabbath,
She RESTS, never creates nor judges. Her mere presence radiates holiness, joy, love.
So, when She entered our world from the Eternal Sabbath into our Sixth Day,
the first time ever, She did that hesitantly, modestly, half of her name – YH- is
here, the other half – VH – is still in the Sabbath. Unlike ELHM who is seen everywhere,
She is seen as a hidden acronym, detected only be learned eyes, so modest
LIKE A MODEST BRIDE ENTERING HER GROOM’S HOME FOR THE FIRST TIME.
She hesitates, since in ELHM’s world there is no Place for Her to REST Her Wing.
No creature here that could offer its heart for Her as a Place to REST.
And all She seeks is not to build or judge, not to rule over anyone,
but to REST like in Her Domain, to spread Her light and Joy and Holiness,
But once She has joined the Heavenly Court, which rules over our world,
She has accommodated Herself to ELHM,
ASSESSING US FROM HER POINT OF VIEW, by HER VALUES.
While in Her Sabbath She does neither judge nor assess, ,
here in the Heavenly Court, She ‘agreed’ to assesses us
by Her criteria, rather then by ELHM’s criteria.
In the Heavenly Court, the two Attributes accommodate each other.
ELHM accommodates Himself to Her, by descending from His Pedestal
as a sole Dictator Tyrant, speaking in plural as a KING Who Consults
And YHVH too accommodates Herself to Him, assessing Adam from Her aspects.
This mutual accommodation of the Attribute to each other,
is one meaning of Oneness. Had they not done so, our world would not exist
Teaching us the value of a dialogue.
YHVH, then, would enter our world IN FULL NAME, pending on Adam.
Adam should DRAW Her into our world by offering Her a Place to REST,
either in Moses’ Tabernacle under the Golden Cherubs,
or better- a Place in his heart, where She wishes to DWELL,
or a Place to REST in our Sabbath, which is a TEMPLE IN TIME.
Is Her advent beneficial to Adam?
Of course! For Her advent in the Heavenly Court would protect Adam
from a harsh verdict of ELHM. She tends to act as our defense, against our prosecutors
She would do that, as long WE FIND FACE IN HER EYES,
Like Noah on whom it is said that he “found face in YHVH’s eyes.”
Yet, on the other hands, Her presence may INCREAE OUUR LIABILITY,
In case we enrage Her by our evilness.
Her presence in our heart, in our world, is also important for us
since She radiates holiness, joy and love that we would otherwise
never have a chance to feel.
When YHVH is drawn into our world in full name,
when She is no longer YH and VH, but YHVH,
Her name changes to the Shechinah, the Dweller.
Why changing Her name?
For the name YHVH designates a full Attribute of the CREATOR,
so awesome and great, that it can’t be confined to a Tabernacle
or into our human heart or to our Sabbath.
It can only be perceived here as a Dweller.
Hence that aspect of YHVH which DWELLS or RESTS in our world,
be that in the Temple, in our heart r our Sabbath day,
is named “The Shechinah.”
The task of drawing YHVH into ELHM’s world,
and keeping Her here, to our advantage,
is incumbent on all Children of Adam.
Since in Moses’ time, only Israel was ready for such a task,
it was given to Israel as a ‘Nation of Priest,’
who serves Hashem for the benefit of all Mankind.
Hence, in Line 2 of the Shema, Moses tells Israel
something they need to accept by his command as our king,
and learn hard to understand, by our Rabbi’s advice,
that YHVH which fills our heart and RESTS there,
and ELHM who rules the outside world as an active JUDGE,
are two Attributes of One, nameless CREATOR.
AND THAT IS A DIFFICULT TASK, INDEED.
Why is It so Difficult?
For It is hard to live in ELHM’s world
while you wear the spectacles of YHVH on your eyes
and in your heart.
For instance – It is difficult to sit by the Sabbath’ table
enjoying fine wine and good food, chanting Sabbath songs,
while knowing that at that very moment people die in the nearby hospitals,
or suffer hunger and sorrow from natural calamities or wars.
It means, that enjoying the Sabbath peace in ELHM’s world
give the impression that you’re indifferent to suffering,
that you ignore the troubles of ELHM’s world.
Combining YHVH’s holiness and peace with ELHM’s reality
Is really almost inhuman task!
It is difficult, even paradoxical, to pray to YHVH for healing,
while, at the same time, seeking the help of a human physician.
It seems as if you’re lying, pretending to believe in YHVH power,
Yet you seek the help of nature and medicine, created by ELHM!
It is so paradoxical,
that many pious people refuse to seek medicine’s help
for it seems as acting against G-d who is the Healer.
They fail to know that it is our task to combine the belief in YHVH
with the wisdom of science that ELHM has given us.
So, here comes Moses our teacher and says to us:
Hear Oh Israel, I’m going to teach you an idea so paradoxical
that it is extremely difficult to grasp and practice –
that despite their enormous difference,
the Attributes YHVH and ELHM are features of the same CREATOR
and they rule over us AT THE SAME TIME.
Oneness as a Command
To unite the Attributes in forming the Halacha!
The practical aspect of line 2, that YHVH and ELHM are one,
is uniting them together in forming the halacha.
It is difficult to accomplish,
since each Attribute has its own aspect, its own contribution
to the halacha.
It was the Finger of ELHM, as the verse says (Ex. 32:15)
who wrote “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.” (Ex. 21: 22-27)
This dictum presents the cold, just law of ELHM demanding Absoluter justice.
The only way the perpetrator would feel the agony he has caused his victim,
Is to gauge out his own eye, or remove his own tooth.
YHVH – in Absolute MERCY – would object treating cruelty with another cruelty.
YHVH would opt for re-training, for compassion, for tolerance.
How then would the human court reconcile those two
extremely different, directly opposing verdict?
The answer is given by the Oral Torah, the Talmud:
The court should opt for monetary compensation only,
Thereby implementing Oneness.
Another example of implementing Oneness is
the Bounding of Isaac.
It was ELHM – the harsh Judge – who told Abraham to offer his son.
So don’t ask, as people do, how could the ‘Good G-d ask’
ask him something so awful?
Yet it was not the “good god,” but rather the Merciless Judge ELHM
who told that to Abraham.
And ELHM, as we know, creates things for a trial, for judgment.
Some commentaries try to ‘defend’ G-d, saying that
He did not really wish Abraham to slaughter his son,
only to ‘put him on the altar.’ But those commentaries miss the point.
As Rabbi Kook, z”l, the late chief Rabbi of Israel, insisted that
ELHM’s demand from Abraham was sincere, in full harshness.
Because only this way we understand the awesome clash that ensues,
For as Abraham lifted his knife ready to fulfill ELHM’s order,
the angel of YHVH appeared to him saying: Do not touch the boy!
Hence, Abraham withstood a direct confrontation between the Attributes,
never seen before or after in the text, in such a stark fashion.
To whom, then, should Abraham listen?
Who among the opposing Attributes prevails?
Could he unite their order? It was IMPOSSIBLE.
How could he implement ONENESS?
To emphasize their equal power,
The text show ELHM’s words in a Wing containing ELHM’s name 4 times
Followed by YHVH’s wing carrying Her Name 4 times,
where Abraham name appears in each Wing 9 times,
In a perfect symmetry.
Abraham then saw a ram entangled in the bush,
and he offered it instead of Isaac,
thereby complying with both Attributes.
That ram represents the Torah’s way
of uniting YHVH’s orders with ELHM’s orders,
implementing the Halachic perspective of YHVH ELHM’s Oneness.
The Deepest meaning of the Shema
Line 3: YHVH is One
If it is so difficult to abide by line 2 of the Shema,
saying that YHVH and ELHM are One,
it is much more mentally demanding to comprehend
line 3 of the Shema, saying that YHVH is One.
What does this announcement mean?
The answer is that here Moses declares that
EVERYTING IN THE WORLD AND BEYOND IS YHVH!
It is one step deeper in meaning of Oneness, compared to line 2.
It says that everything we see or feel or even imagine,
is rooted in YHVH.
In Genesis Chapter One, YHVH appears modestly,
only at the end of the story, as a shy acronym,
seen only by an educated eye.
She enters our world hesitantly, shyly, modestly.
Yet in fact, YHVH is greater than the world,
even greater than ELHM,
and Her sphere surrounds all other spheres.
In simple words, it means that behind JUSTICE, stands MERCY.
That JUSTICE itself is an expression of MERCY.
When Hitler committed suicide,
or when Mussolini’s body was hung upside down
In the same plaza where he had cursed G-d in public,
these events were not only a manifestation of ELHM’s JUSTICE,
but an expression of MERCY to the world.
IT IS MERCY TO THE WORTLD SEEING THAT EVIL PEOPLE ARE PUNISHED!
IT HEALS THE VICTIMES’ HEARTS AND ALLEVIATE THEIR AGONY.
A serial rapist who had violated at least eight women,
was sentenced to eight years in prison, one year per a woman.
The victims were appalled by the light punishment.
“The man has destroyed the life of each one of us!”
so they cried out to the press,
“Why did he not receive the justice he deserves?”
Indeed, the women were right.
The Torah compares a rapist to a murderer.
While he went on doing business as usual,
each of his victims was severely damaged for life.
Had he received a full justice,
this would not only have sent a warning signal to others,
but would have helped to REPAIR and HEAL
the wounded souls of his victims.
Hence JUSTICE, is an expression of MERCY
in the harsh world of ELHM.
Hence line 2, saying that YHVH and ELHM are One,
Is only an approximation of the truth.
We continue to climb up in the Shema
from Oneness as Uniting YHVH with ELHM
to line 3 where we declare the ultimate truth
that YHVH is One and Only,
Adam was created, we’ve said, specifically to withstand the IDOLATRY challenge.
When ELHM said in plural “Let Us make an Adam…” He not only announced the
Plan to make Adam, but also opened the door for idolaters to think there are
many CREATORS – thereby BREACHING ONENESS.
Hence BREACHING ONENESS is more than a mere error in theology.
Adam was built specifically to withstand its challenge,
to split the Attributes, to prefer one over the other,
to worship one and forget the other.
Moreover, unlike other types of IDOLATRY,
BREACHING ONENESS are here to stay,
as Mankind exists.
On that we’ll learn next time
When we examine Noah’s generation and the Great Flood.