One God

(Just to clear, these thoughts came to me spontaneously while davening. I doubt if you’ll find any rabbinic sources–I haven’t looked because I’m not proposing the premise to be the case. I’m speaking rhetorically and, to emphasize, I do not in any way suggest, propose or believe that God is anything but One.)

The Unity of God, Whole, Single and Unique (Echad, Yachid U’M’yuchad) is not only a fundamental principle of Torah, it is, perhaps, the most revolutionary innovation of Judaism. Ethical Monotheism is often said to be Israel’s greatest contribution to civilization. We emphatically proclaim it at least twice daily and it’s often defined as “the cornerstone of our faith”.

While davening over Shabbat, the question struck me, “What if God isn’t One?” Would it make a difference in our actions? Theoretically speaking, if the 613 mitzvot are good actions, filled with virtues and beneficial for mankind, would it make a difference if they were the words of a single being or the consensus of a million? One question, perhaps, might be whether the value of the mitzvot is their source in The Creator or in their own content. Of course, from a mystical rather than a purely ethical/moral viewpoint it makes all the difference in the world since, mystically, the ultimate purpose of each mitzva is to mold ourselves as well as the larger world, to meld perfectly into the One. But vast amounts of Jews, even among that minority of us who are committed to fulfilling the mitzvot, have little awareness and no interest in our mystical insights. (Ironically, it is these very same mystical insights which reveal the many seemingly distinct facets of God, easily misunderstood and misinterpreted (often misused as well) to mistakenly deny God’s Oneness!)

If it might seem that God’s Oneness, or our belief in His Oneness, has little direct effect on our daily actions and values, does the assumption of God’s Unity teach us anything? Apologizing for the overly-rhetorical methodology, I want to propose that the purpose of our insistence on God’s Oneness, Unity and Uniqueness, along with the other qualities we know about Him such as His Perfection/Independence, His Eternality, His Absolute Simplicity, and His Necessity, is to constantly remind ourselves that no created being, including ourselves, manifests completely even one of these qualities.

In other words, when we recite the Shema, “Listen Israel, HaShem is God, HaShem is One”, we’re also declaring that we are none of those. While, of course, we each are comprised of a Neshama, that holy extension of God Himself which, of course, does manifest those special qualities, in our material, “everyday” existence we are not unique, complete, perfect, omniscient, omnipotent nor, except in our freely-made decisions and actions, not much different, certainly neither superior nor inferior, to anyone else.

Of course, to be a human, and within humanity, a Jew, is a great honor and privilege. One which comes with responsibilities, to be sure, but more important than that, also with the uniquely human capacity of Bechira, free will. But we’re not inherently, but rather only by our decisions and actions, very important in the interplay of the universe.

A recurring theme, especially in Chassidut (but based in the TalmudMishna Berachot 5:1 and TB 31a) is whether we should approach God (i.e. mentally prepare for Tefilla, Prayer) focusing on the humble state of mankind or the greatness of God. Only when we’re able to set aside that major obstacle, our arrogant self-opinion, by experiencing the vast gap between ourselves and the Uniqueness, Perfection, Simplicity, Omniscience, Omnipotence, etc. of God, can we begin to recognize where to aim ourselves. Similarly, when we contemplate the transcendent Perfection of The Creator, our own limitations become obvious.

The first, essential, step to forming a relationship with God is the realization that we are not Him.

And that is why we regularly proclaim God’s Oneness. So each of us will hear our own voice and be reminded, once again, who we really are.


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6 Responses to One God

  1. Ted says:

    It’s fascinating, Rabbi, how we agree on the statement and totally diverge on the drash. For me, Oneness is absolutely inclusive. Ain od milvado–there is nothing else–but God. How else could the One be One? God is Eternally Present and Eternal Presence. We are either open or closed to that awareness, or, most usually, sometimes open and sometimes closed. But like Silence, which is One, God is always here, now; then, there; and,
    From our rather limited time-frame, always about to be.

    Blessings to you, Harry!

    • I’m speculating in the very narrow sense of Olam HaZeh. The delusion that, in terms of power and authority, in arrogance of always thinking we’re 100% right, we’re God, which, in my experience is the way most people define “God”, leads to all sorts of narcissisticly-driven disasters.
      Of course, in ultimate terms of ein od Milvado, we all, together with all of Creation, are part of The One. But on an ego level, which is what I’m addressing, we’re, each of us, so limited in understanding and perspective.
      This is one of the great paradoxes of life, certainly of our tradition as well.
      “Always about to be” necessitates “not yet”.
      Be well, my friend.

    • One other thought is that I assume that the Torah has 70 faces. So, I don’t consider this particular explanation to be exclusively correct. Nonetheless, I think it an important lesson for all of us that at least at this point in our individual and collective developments, we’re far from reaching God.

  2. Peter Margolis says:

    And yet…
    What are we to make of the utter simplicity that One means…One! That is, the Ultimate Unity that generates infinite multiplicity – including me and my infinite component parts, with their infinite relational blending into the limitless surrounding universe. (Reminds me a bit of that Jewish fellow who recognized that he – and everyone else – is simultaneously 100% God and 100% human, and was murdered for saying it in public.) Perhaps the essence of consciousness is precisely that Unity, from which I am exiled by my ego-driven (and this-worldly imperative) insistence on the duality of me/not-me?

    • It’s that inexplicable paradox of being a limited being within the Infinite Field, as it were.
      I was just thinking that if/when one can, perhaps, achieve Unity with The One, he’s no longer be subject to the ego-driven insistence of “me”. It’s the “me” that isn’t at the consciousness level of “God”.
      At the center of all seems to be, inescapably, the contradiction of an ego both needing to and fiercely resisting transcending itself.
      Also, look at my reply to Ted’s comment below.
      Thanks for being part of the conversation.

  3. Mr. Cohen says:

    Please read my most recent guest post on the Shiloh Musings blog:

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