Shema: The Holy One and Only One
There is a Biblical injunction to recite the passages of Shema (Deuteronomy
6:4-9, ibid 11:13-21 & Numbers 15:37-41) twice daily, every day (after
awakening) and night (before retiring). The opening statement "Hear O
Yisrael Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is [the Only] One" is among the first
verses an infant recites and typically, it is the Jew's parting words as
the soul departs this world.
Gathering his twelve sons around his deathbed, Yaakov wanted to disclose
what would occur at the End of the Days (Genesis 49:1-2). However his
efforts were frustrated as the Divine Presence left him, preventing Yaakov
from making this revelation. Suspecting that this was because one of his
sons was unrighteous, the Tribes pacified him by stating the verse
of "Shema Yisrael". They said "Hear our father Yisrael. Just as your heart
is one [with G-d], so too, our hearts are one [with G-d]. We are united in
the service of G-d". Appeased, Yaakov recited "Blessed in the Name of his
glorious kingdom for all eternity" (Pesachim 56a).
What was the undercurrent to this episode? And what has the End of Days got
to do with the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the recitation of Shema?
Shema is integral to Jewish belief because this is the basis for Kabbalas
oyl Malchus Shomayaim, Acceptance of G-d's Absolute Sovereignty that forms
the foundation for all divine service by the Children of Israel.
The universe was fashioned solely for kavod Hashem, the glorification of
G-d (Avos 6:11). The regular recitation of the Shema both day and night,
explains the Sefer HaChinuch, combats man's susceptibility to sin. It acts
as a perpetual reminder for the Jew to constantly signpost G-d in all his
endeavors. The Children of Israel is dedicated to spreading the Name of G-d
in the world - even at pain of death such as Rabbi Akiva's heroic Shema
just before the Romans murdered him (See Talmud, Brochos 61b).
Belief in G-d means belief is a G-d who is Unique; a G-d Who is Absolutely
One. Despite the plurality of our universe, the Shema stresses that all the
forces in nature (denoted by the name Eloykim or Eloykeinu) emanate from a
single, Source (Hashem) - "Hashem Eloykeinu Hashem echad". He is the
Indivisible One. And accordingly, the Jewish people seek to become one with
Sadly, there are plenty of people that lead lives without any reference to
the Creator and Master of the Universe. This world typically masks the
omnipresence of G-d. The Jewish nation's efforts at proclaiming G-d and His
Glory are stifled as they are dispersed, persecuted and despised. Only at
the End of Days, will the former glory of the Jewish people be restored.
Only then, will the Glory of G-d finally be revealed to one and all.
The basic declaration of faith, not surprising, Shema became the Jewish
national credo. No wonder this is so central to Judaism - especially on
Yaakov's deathbed as he handed the baton of the Jewish national mission
over to his children.
Yaakov who closed the circle on the three Patriarchs internalized within
himself the message of G-d's Oneness. His heart and life were one with G-d.
Indeed, Yaakov's image was engraved on G-d's Throne of Glory. But when the
Divine Presence left him, he thought that not all of his children were up
to the task of glorifying the Name of G-d in the universe.
The Tribes answered that this was not so. Assembled and joined together
with their saintly father Yaakov, the twelve sons had a unified commitment
to achieve this same state of unity with G-d. Appropriately, they declared
Shema Yisrael with the pronouncement "Hashem Echad, G-d is One". Our hearts
are also one with G-d.
Yaakov, by himself, was able to harmonize all of his powers to embrace the
yoke of the Heavenly Kingdom. However it would require the synthesis of all
twelve sons of Yaakov, with their very different energies, blessings and
personalities, to form a cohesive and united whole, together with their
father's legacy, to arrive at the same destination. Yaakov together with
his twelve sons comprised of thirteen people - the numerical value of the
word "echad, one". The Maharal explains that that this division is
precisely reflected in the three letters: aleph=1, cheis=8 and dalet=4
corresponding respectively to Yaakov himself, the eight sons of the
Mothers (Rachel and Leah) and to the four sons of the Maidservants (Bilhah
Hearing their proclamation of the Shema Yisrael and their affirmation of
religious commitment, Yaakov recited "Blessed in the Name of his glorious
kingdom for all eternity". He was satisfied that his children would indeed
live their lives in the acceptance G-d's Sovereignty; that they would
promulgate His Holy Name in the World.
Only at the final End of Days, would the task be complete: "Then Hashem
will be King over all the world, on that day Hashem will be One and His
Name will be One" (Zechariah 14:9). We await that day with great
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Osher Chaim Levene and Torah.org.