Parsha Mitzvot-Vaetchanan-God Is A Unity
Transcribed and unedited:This Mitzvah – Concept is to Know that God is One, so on the one hand it includes the fact, says the Rambam, that God does not possess a body. Because, if God possesses a body, that would mean that God would be here, and not there. So if I wanted to do something wrong, I could simply hide in my closet and do something wrong and God wouldn’t know about it. The minute God has any physical existence, then God is not everywhere; the minute God is not everywhere, then you’ll figure out a way to circumvent God.
By the way, God is not only not a physical being, God is not a spiritual being. Spirituality was also created at the time that physicality was created. God is above physicality and above spirituality, but you have to come to the Derech Hashem class to find out what that means.
So, this mitzvah, Knowing that God is One, is that God is Complete, does not possess a body, and it also happens to be one of the principles of faith.
It also means as follows: It refers to the idea of Divine Simplicity, which means like this: I open up the fridge, and I see a piece of cake there, with vanilla icing. Looks tremendous, looks great. But I’m full, and I know if I eat it, I’m not going to sleep well, and I’m going to have to brush my teeth again, and I’ll put on extra weight which I don’t really need, and they’ll be a heavy feeling all next day, and I’m going to have to put up with my wife, because she’s going to say, “Who ate it?” and then I’m going to have to lie, and blame it on my kids, and get the kids in trouble, and everyone will be in a bad mood, and then I’m torn in a million directions, and then I’ll eat the piece of cake. But, you’re torn, and it’s a simple thing, but you don’t say, “I have to have that cake with my whole being.” God doesn’t have that. Whatever God wants, God wants with God’s entire being.
Now, how many of us really want something with our entire being? It’s an incredible idea. It means that you dedicate literally every ounce of energy, without doubt, without hesitation, without constantly questioning yourself, to accomplishing one thing. And we see it in evil people all the time, for example, Hitler ysv”z. You see it in evil people. Stalin was a shoemaker’s son, and [in Russia I read this in a book, I don’t know if it’s true or not, but] David Schipler said that in Russia one of the ways to insult someone is to say “you’re a shoemaker’s son.” Here it’s something else, here it’s a shoemaker’s son, that’s what Stalin was, and he obviously wanted one thing more than any other and would not allow anything to stop him. He was fully committed to his being, and maybe there were moments of hesitation here and there as we see with other wicked people.
How many good people have we met that have been completely driven and dedicated to one idea and never let anything set them back? It’s rare, and there are few and far between who are equally committed to good. But even then, they have doubts, hesitations. Whatever God wants, God wants with God’s entire being. That’s what one explanation of what the l’Yachado means.
A – Free choice is not, “should I have chicken tonight or meatloaf,” because your choices don’t really make a difference. Free choice is when your choices are going to begin to define you, and when you make a choice that will define you, then you defined yourself, you’re committed to following that path, and you stick to it. Such as, Eve, ate of the tree, she could have stopped, and not given any to Adam, but she was committed to that choice, and she followed through, and she offered it to Adam as well. She was committed to what she wanted, and what she needed, and what she felt was best. This isn’t a silly woman who somehow was tricked by a snake. That’s in Bible school, not in reality.
So, the l’Yachado includes when you say “Shemac Yisrael, Hashem Elokainu, Hashem Echad,” meaning belief that whatever God wants, God wants with God’s entire being.
How does that speak to us? It speaks to us in a way that part of emulating God, is to know that certain choices that we make, we have to be committed to. That’s all. Real tough decision.
How many people get married and then start saying, “well, you know, maybe right person, wrong person…” when people get engaged, then “you know, I don’t know, I can’t make the decision, well, today, I saw her without makeup…” you know, all the major issues that come up in a relationship. So, there are those hesitations. The l‘Yachado reminds us that true perfection comes about only by being totally committed to one idea.
The l’Yachado, according to Rav Chaim Velozhin, who was the father of the Yeshiva movement, and also to the Ba’al HaTanya, who was obviously the founder of the Chabad movement, the l’Yachado means to believe that the Only Being that truly exists is God. Since any one of us draws his existence only from another, the only One who truly exists is the One who exists Independently, which is God. And therefore, when we say “Shemac”, we say “Shemac Yisrael, Hashem Elokainu, Hashem Echad,” but when we do, we cover our eyes, as if to close off our existence. We don’t really exist, God does.
Then you say the second verse, “Baruch Shem Kevod Malchuto leOclam Vaecd.” Shem means name, meaning therefore, we have to deal with God in the way we perceive God.
A Jew cannot function without understanding and recognizing that when we speak of God, we’re speaking of our perceptions of God, not God as God is. And that’s why the nickname that we have for God is HaShem, the Name, meaning names we use to relate, Appellations we have given God, but not what God or Who God truly is. That’s what it means.
So, the l’Yachado, this mitzvah of being aware that God is one, is, a. to appreciate the Unity of He Who is the only Source of Power, b. that God’s Oneness is absolute and unique and it knows no parallel.
Now the problem is, we already kind of talked about this with the first mitzvah.We spoke about God as an Absolute existence, so then why do we need a separate mitzvah? Why do you need a separate mitzvah, if it’s already part of the first mitzvah that God is the only Being that truly exists, is the Primal Existence in creation of the world and everything else, then why do you need a separate mitzvah of l’Yachado? To be aware that God is One.
So, just very simply. Let’s say you have a problem one day, someone’s giving you a hard time, and they’re really being a mamzer about it. They’re being a bastard about it and they’re driving you crazy, they’re wicked people, a wicked person, and you just, there’s nothing you can do because you’re powerless. So, what do you do, you call on God, you say, “Listen, do me a favor, zap him, will you?”
Now, which attribute of God are you calling on? Din. Next day, you find out “well, maybe, really this person is right, and you really do owe him five, ten thousand dollars, but you just don’t have it. So, what do you do, you call on God and say “Listen God, can you help me out?” Which attribute are you calling on? Rachamim. That’s why you need a separate mitzvah to say, to be aware that God is One.
We try and use parts of God or our perceptions of God against each other. It is incredible. You know, you remember when there was the Soviet Union? So, many countries never had to do anything to support themselves. All they did was play the United States off of the USSR, or vice-versa, and their economy was taken care of. They became a third-rate power or a second rate power in the world. The United States would arm them, Russia would arm them, but they always had someone taking care of them so that the other wouldn’t do it.
We do that with God all the time! We say, “That guy, zap him, but take care of me.” We do it naturally. And in fact, the one in the Bible who did this the most is…I’ll give you a hint…flood? Noah! Because, what does it say, that Noah only went into the Tevah the last moment when it started to pour. Why? This man spent a hundred twenty years of his life building the Ark. Everyone was ridiculing him. He was a pariah. Wait a hundred and twenty years, and now you’re saying well, he wasn’t sure, he thought there wouldn’t be a flood. Why? Because he said, “the flood is an expression of God’s attribute of justice, and I know that God is merciful.” He was convinced that God’s mercy would prevent the flood. But how was he dealing with God, as one being or two? Two! And that’s what this mitzvah is about. It’s unbelievable.
I’ve been in a situation where I had a din Torah with somebody. I was arguing with someone else in a bet din. I lent him my van and he had fallen asleep at the wheel and he destroyed the van. And he was supposed to have taken out insurance on it, because it was California, six thousand dollars a year. I couldn’t afford insurance for it, so he was supposed to take out insurance and he forgot. So, he didn’t want to pay, and I had to take him to a din Torah. So, I realized I was davening to God that God should have mercy on me because there was no way I could continue making the payments on this van that I didn’t even own anymore. I was going crazy. But I realized that actually, what I was praying for was that God should have mercy on me and zap this guy who had destroyed my van. It’s unbelievable; if I want mercy for myself, or do I want the truth? So I said, “oh, you know what, I’m going to daven that whatever is right should happen.” I couldn’t do it. I wanted my money! So, it’s very hard. It sounds silly, but think about the way we daven. “You know, one day, God’s going to get you for that.” Ever hear that? Ever think that? Or “God is going to come through for me, I know it. God is going to come through for me. I don’t care what it takes! It’s going to happen.”
You know who else did it? Sarah. What did she say to Avraham? “That’s it! God’s going to judge between me and you. You’re going to see!” And that’s why she died early. Because the minute you say, “that’s it, God’s going to judge,” then God judges. It’s not that you can call on one part of God and not another. We do it naturally. And what happens is, we’re playing a game. And we’re not treating God as a reality. And that’s what this mitzvah is. This mitzvah is, treat God as a whole being, not as a bifurcated being that you can call on one part to go against the other.
A – When I introduced the second mitzvah, if you remember, I said that before you get to the negative, which is not to think that there is any power other than God, I said that there is a positive that precedes that, and that positive is to understand that the purpose of mitzvoth, of Judaism, is that you become aware of the potential of being a human being.
Unless you are first attuned to how the mitzvoth are there to teach you about the incredible potential of being a human being, then you’re really not going to get anything from the mitzvoth. So, that’s really the starting point.
When you talk about needing to start with feelings, very often we have feelings that are hints of a higher existence that we just haven’t been able to translate into action yet. So may people have a messianic complex. So, to some degree or another has to have a messianic complex. Anyone who would take over the rabbi of a shul, to one degree or another you feel that you’re going to have an affect on a large segment of people, or a large segment of the population, and you’re going to be able to make a difference.
So now, what are you talking about? Who are you, to be able to make a difference, then? You’re beginning to experience the power of being a human being and that’s even more important than what you actually do.
You have a child, so this child I’m going to give absolutely everything, vision and morals and values and strength and warmth, right? How are you going to do that? So, you begin to experience with your child. The point is, we are attuned to something, and just we don’t always pay attention to the messages that’s being sent out. The more attention you pay to it, then the more you’ll be able to translate those feelings into the mitzvoth you observe. That’s what I do in a spiritual.
A – Is there a difference between calling on one attribute of God for me and knowing that what I need now is mercy, and the situation where I say to God, “Listen, mercy for me, but for Joe over there, wipe him out.” Is there a difference? Yes, here, you’re playing part of God against God. Is it okay?
What eventually you’ll find is that you go beyond. And that’s really part of the challenge. That’s why there are four gates in the Nefesh Hachaim, the Living Soul, by Rav Chaim Velozhin, and in the first gate of the Nefesh Hahaim he speaks about human perception. By the time you get to the fourth gate in the Nefesh Hahaim, it’s an entire different view of God.
There are four levels of prayer. The highest level of prayer is an entirely different experience, so they say, about how you respond to God. It is possible, but you first have to work through your human perceptions. I’m not saying not to deal with your human perceptions, just to be sure what your goal ultimately is.
What about praying for the destruction of evil people? That was part of the debate between B’ruriah and Rabbi Meir. Rabbi Meir held that you should pray for the destruction of evil people, and B’ruriah, his wife, said, no, that you should pray only for the destruction of their evil, not of them. So, Rav Meir listened to his wife B’ruriah and it succeeded.
That was part of the original problem of the prayer, “VelaMalshinim.” The theory was as follows: if I’m in a court case with somebody else and I say, “Him, justice; me, I‘m a good guy, give me mercy,” then I’m playing one against the other.
Here, the attack of the Malshinim was against Torah and against Judaism, so it’s considered one and the same. That which is Din for all of us, because the only way we can continue to preserve the integrity of Judaism is by the destruction of these people.
But you know that it wasn’t really there as a prayer. It was there as a litmus test, right? That bracha, “Velamalshinim,” is simply put there to pay attention if the person said it or not. If the person refused to recite the prayer, the you assumed he was a Christian. It was really there as a litmus test, and then it became a part of the Shimone Ecsrei.