VaEtchanan: Mitzvah 417-Concept 3 Essay
To Know That God Is A Unity
The Torah and its commandments are a reflection of God because they are the deepest expression of His revealed Will. As we study God’s Unity in its many layers we will see how these layers, and in fact all the commandments interact and how deeply connected they are with each other and to what we have already learned. The Unity of God is expressed in the unity and interconnectedness of the Torah and Mitzvot. There are many Jewish thinkers who say that each Mitzvah contains the same DNA as all the other commandments and therefore we can find all 613 in any individual Mitzvah. This is the key to one level of explanation of an often quoted and equally often misunderstood thought of Maimonides:
One of the fundamental principles of faith in the Torah is that if a person was to fulfill any one of the 613 commandments properly and appropriately without any additional intentions except for love of God will merit eternal life in the World to Come. This is why we have so many commandments; it is impossible that he will not perform at least one properly in his lifetime thus earning eternal life.
This does not mean that someone should choose one Mitzvah and “make it his own.” It is not possible to understand any Mitzvah as it contains infinite wisdom. Specializing in any commandment is limiting the possibilities of the other commandments. Maimonides is teaching that because all the commandments are interrelated it is possible for a person to touch them all by fulfilling one correctly during his lifetime. Hopefully, our study of this commandment, the Unity of God, will offer a glimpse of the interrelationship of all the commandments.
Part 1: Biblical Sources:
There are numerous verses which speak of the Unity of God. We will list many of them and will over the course of this concept demonstrate how each addresses a different aspect of Divine Unity.
“You have been shown in order to know that God,
“You shall know this day and take to your heart that God, He is the Lord,
“See, now, that I, I am He- and no god is with Me. I put to death and I bring life,
“You are My witnesses-the word of God-and My servant whom I have chosen,
So that you will know and believe in Me, and understand that I am He;
Before Me nothing was created by a god nor will there be after Me!
“Thus said God, King of Israel and its Redeemer, God, Master of Legions:
“For then I will change the nations to speak a pure language, so that they will
“God will be the King over all the land; on that day
Each of these verses addresses a different aspect of God’s Oneness; some teach what we must believe and others speak of the impact of God’s Unity. We will discuss the practical obligations of this commandment, its conceptual relationship with other Mitzvot, its impact on our development, different levels of God’s Uniqueness, Divine Attributes, the Sefirot, Divine Simplicity, the Messianic Era, a unified world, and God’s Essence.
Before we proceed we must review some of the concepts we have learned: God’s absolute independence, nothing can affect God, God has no needs, God’s absolute perfection, God is the First Being, God is beyond human comprehension, God is the Source of all existence, God is intrinsically imperative, God’s existence is the pillar of all wisdom, God’s Omniscience, God is Incorporeal, God is the Source of all Power, and Divine Will and Ability.
It is clear from all we have studied that God is Unique, an idea which is a fundamental aspect of this Mitzvah. It is also important to remember that God is not a spiritual being; the spiritual worlds are also creations and God was not created.
Part 2: Practical Obligations:
This is the third of the Six Constant Commandments. This too is an obligation of being; our being must reflect our awareness that God is One. However, in order to properly fulfill this Mitzvah we must first understand all aspects of His unity. The practical obligations will touch on most of them.
On the most basic level this means that we may serve only God and no one or anything else. The Midrash develops this theme based on the verse; “Thus said God, King of Israel and its Redeemer, God, Master of Legions: I am the first and I am the last, and aside from Me there is no god.” This may seem obvious, however, in practice it is not. It is quite simple in our society to fall into the trap of basing our decisions on success, be it financial or prestige. We all too often focus our energies on serving purposes other than God. Consider how hard we push our children to do well in school so that they can get into a good university so that they can get a good job and succeed and compare that to how hard we push them to be good people or to serve God. We may pay lip service to the latter two, however our emphasis is frequently on success and our children sense what is really important to us. When we say that we may serve only God we mean that we should not be distracted by the values of society to the point that we lose sight of serving God.
Serve Only Him:
There are those who say that the definition of awareness of God’s Unity means that we must serve Him. In fact, there are many people who recite a short meditation before most commandments; “For the sake of the Unification of the Holy One, Blessed is He and His Presence, in awe and love, to unify the Name YHVH in perfect unity, in the name of all Israel.” We perform all our service of God because He is One, with the awareness of His unity and to unify all the physical and spiritual worlds and His name.
Even the most observant families fall into the trap of forgetting the service of God. They stress the observance of the commandments, but that is not the essence of serving God. Moses separated service of God and observance; “Now, Israel, what does God, your Lord, ask of you? Only to fear God, your Lord, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve God, your Lord, with all your heart and with all your soul, to observe the commandments of God and His decrees, which I command you today, for your benefit.” Moses placed service of God separately and before the observance of His commandments. When we said that the concept of Divine Unity demands that we serve God it does not mean only the observance of His Mitzvot; we must have a relationship with God. We must be aware of Him as we observe the commandments. When we stress observance over service we are ignoring the words of Moses and losing the essence of this concept.
God is King Everywhere:
The next practical obligation is that we must prolong the word Echad, One, when reciting the Shema. “Whoever prolongs the word Echad has his days and years prolonged.” We must prolong the last letter of Echad sufficiently to meditate that the Creator of the world is King above and below, in heaven and on earth and its four corners, east and west, north and south, in the great abyss, and our own 248 organs. But if we cannot keep so much in mind, we should think: God who is now our Lord will one day be One for all the world.
God’s unity suffuses all of space so that, in the words of the Zohar, let atar panui mineih, “there is no place without Him.” There is no place without God. This has numerous implications in Jewish law: There are laws defining how much of our bodies we can reveal when relieving ourselves. These laws may not apply to modern bathrooms that are also used to shower and bathe, but the concept still applies. We must act with a constant awareness of God’s presence even when we go to the bathroom: “There is no place without Him.” We must act with an awareness of God’s presence even in the privacy of our homes. God is everywhere. This is included in the concept of Divine Unity.
The Ari Hakadosh, The Holy Lion of Jewish mysticism, said that because of this a person must always have an image of God’s name YHVH engraved on his mind. Our minds should never be completely clear of the awareness of God Who is everywhere.
God is Beyond Time:
Rav Kook says that when reciting the Chet of Echad we must keep in mind that God is beyond time. There is no time without Him. He exists for all eternity. The letter Chet represents the number 8: 7 equals the days of the week, a human cycle of time, and eight represents what is above time. Concentrating on God’s Unity allows us to step out of time. We are connecting to that which is beyond any human concept of time. This is essential to observance of the commandments: The purpose of the commandments is to help us earn eternal pleasure in the World to Come. It is impossible to conceive of the eternality of the World to Come in human terms. We are limited to our experiences when grasping new concepts. A mortal cannot envision immortality based on his experience of time. When we practice living with the idea of Divine Unity which demands the conception of something beyond our experience of time, we can better relate to the idea of eternal life in the World to Come.
When we say, “Hashem Echad,” we must keep in mind that God existed before the world, God is the Lord of this existence, God will exist after this world, and that God is One is all worlds that were and will be created.
Living with a constant awareness of God’s Unity as explained by Rabbi Kook also helps us maintain perspective on our lives; we can understand what is truly important and what is not. We can deal with frustration by remembering that this life is limited and that we can look forward to a life of eternal pleasure.
Accepting the Yoke of Heaven:
Our Mouths Must Express What is in Our Hearts:
Because the concept deals with unity it is more important here than any other place in prayer to be careful that the mouth is expressing what the heart believes. There must be unity between heart and mouth. Rabbi Noach Weinberg suggests that just as there is a law that “One who recites the Shema without his Tefillin it is as if he is giving false testimony,” it would be consistent to say that one who recites the Shema without truly believing in God’s Unity is giving false testimony. The person must be consistent with the idea of unity; he too should be unified. This means that the person must be fully engaged with the commandments that he is observing. There should be no separation between his practical observance and his soul. All too often, the commandments become habit and we don’t think about what we are doing. This is against the idea of Divine Unity. We must emulate our Creator as much as possible. We cannot practice the commandments without being united with them. We must understand and apply their concepts and integrate them into our lives. A person who observes without awareness is giving “false testimony!” Judaism is not a religion of rules; it is a system of living and growth. The Mitzvot are gifts to train us in developing our attributes and mastering ourselves. They are the keys to living a life of the highest pleasure in this world and the next.
The concept of Divine Unity is perhaps the most important key to using the Mitzvot as instructions for living. They cannot help us if we are not unified with them, or if we are not fully engaged their observance.
Loving Only Him:
The idea of God’s Unity is immediately followed in the Torah by the obligation to love God. Since God is One and Unique we must focus all our love on God. There are those who say that we can only fulfill this commandment through that of loving God; our love expresses our awareness of God’s Unity. Love Him because His, is the only true existence. This does not preclude love for other people. Love for other people does interfere with love of God; it enhances our experience of love.
One of the most important concepts that we will see repeatedly over the course of our study of the commandments is that all human relationships can teach us about and augment our relationship with God. A king guides us in our relationship with God as king. The laws regarding parents train us in relating to God as a parent. The rules of treating our teacher direct us in dealing with God as teacher. Love of a spouse is a very powerful example of a powerful connection to someone beyond us. We must learn to take all of our experiences of love and direct them toward our service of God.
There is a famous story about Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan, the Chofetz Chaim, perhaps the greatest Tzaddik of the twentieth century: One of his sons died and the Chofetz Chaim was standing at the grave. He raised his face toward the heavens and cried out, “I will take all the love that I had for my son and direct it towards You.” I witnessed a similar story. I watched a father at the grave of his son cry out to God with the same way words. These people had reached the unbelievable level of directing all their love towards the service of God.
Teaching all the Nations:
Rabbeinu Bachya introduces an aspect of being aware of God’s Unity that touches on a fundamental debate regarding the responsibilities of Jews toward other people: “It is a Mitzvah to reflect on the unity of God and moreover instruct the other nations in this idea. It is impossible that the other nations will acknowledge our wisdom and understanding without us bringing rational proof to the truth of our Torah and faith.” Rabbeinu Bachya felt that it matters what the Gentiles believe. We should and must instruct them in the Truth of our Torah. Part of the mitzvah of unity is the obligation to unite the world in awareness of God’s unity. Rabbi Nachman of Breslov taught that the reason the law is that the Shema can be recited in any language is to teach us that we must know how to articulately express the ideas of the Shema to all the nations of the world in their language; in a way that they can understand.
Sanctifying God’s Name:
There is an additional dimension to the practical obligations of the commandment to “Know that God is a Unity: In both a milchemet mitzvah and a milchemet reshuta priest is appointed to address the nation before the battle. He is called the Meshuach Milchamah, the Priest anointed for battle. In his speech before battle he urges the people; “The soldier should relay on the Hope of Israel and its Savior in the time of need. He should realize that he is fighting for the sake of the Oneness of God’s Name…he must go with the sole intention of sanctifying God’s name.” We can learn from this law that the commandment to Unify God’s Name is intertwined with the Mitzvah to sanctify His Name. Whenever we act for the sake of the Unity of God we are also sanctifying His Name. Each time that we recite the Shema with proper concentration we are also fulfilling the Mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem.
Higher and Lower Unification:
The Zohar characterizes the first verse of the Shema as yichuda ila’ah, Higher Unification, and the second verse, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto le’olam va-ed,” as yichuda tta’ah, Lower Unification. We differentiate between our conception of God’s Unity, which is limited, Lower Unification, and God as He truly is, beyond our comprehension, Higher Unification.
As we recite the Shema we must be aware of both levels of Unification.
Part 3: Related Laws in Practice and Concept:
We have already explained how many of the commandments are directly related to this Mitzvah to Know That God is a Unity: Awareness, There is no other Power, Love of God, Sanctifying the Name of God and Serving God. All commandments must, by definition, relate to this Mitzvah because we observe the commandments given by this Unique and Unified God. However, there are Mitzvot which are related to this commandment in practice which can help us derive some important practical concepts from the Unity of God.
Tefillin and Mezuzah:
They are perfect tools to helps us integrate this one of the Six Constant Commandments. The Mezuzah reminds us that God suffuses all space. God is everywhere. The Tefillin, which used to be worn all day, serve as a constant reminder of God’s Unity. Both are physical tools to help remind us of God’s presence and unity. They only work if we use them. We have to concentrate when putting a Mezuzah up that we are acknowledging God’s presence in our home as He is everywhere. When we pass the Mezuzah we should stop and think of its message. It does not help to simply stick out a hand to kiss the Mezuzah. There was must be an awareness of its significance. “A person must be aware of the Mezuzah because it is a constant obligation on everyone. Each time one enters or leaves, he must touch the Unity of God’s Name and remember His love and wake up from his sleep and his involvement in the nonsense of the times. He should realize that nothing lasts eternally other than awareness of the Rock of the World and he will immediately come back to his senses and walk in the path of the righteous.”
“The sanctity of the Tefillin is very powerful. When one has Tefillin on his head and arm he will be humble, he will fear God and will not be drawn into joking or wasteful conversations. He will not allow evil thoughts to enter his mind. He will only search for truth and righteousness. Therefore, one must strive to wear his Tefillin the entire day, for that is the real Mitzvah. They said of Rav, the student of Rabbeinu HaKadosh, that no one ever saw him walk four steps without Torah, Tzitzit or Tefillin.” The Tefillin, as the Mezuzah demand constant awareness and they enhance our consciousness of God’s Unity.
“There are three who attest to the uniqueness of each other; Israel, the Shabbat, and the Holy One, Blessed is He. Israel and the Holy One, Blessed is He, testify about the Shabbat that it is a day of rest. Israel and the Shabbat testify that the Holy One, Blessed is He, is unique, and the Holy One and the Shabbat testify that Israel is unique among the nations.” When we observe the Shabbat we are joining with it to bear witness that God, the Creator, is Unique. God, in turn, joins with the Shabbat to say that we, Israel, are unique among the nations.
When we are willing to cease all work, stop using the telephone or any electric appliances we are confirming that we believe that God created the world and rested on the seventh day. We are demonstrating our conviction in the Creator. The obvious implication is that God is Unique.
The Letters of the Torah:
Torah scrolls, Tefillin and Mezuzot prepared by careful and expert scribes contain a vertical line above the horizontal bar of the letter. This indicates that “He lives in the exalted heights of the world.” He lives above the world. He is timeless, eternal. He is above all existence; He is Unique.
Prayer and Charity:
The Ari HaKadosh said that he was taught by his rebbi that one must have specific intention when praying or giving charity to unify the Name of God. We have already explained why prayer, service of God, is a fundamental aspect of the commandment to Unify the Name of God. The Ari included charity in the same vein. Giving charity is actually uniting Jews; it is an act of one Jew caring for another. God’s name cannot be unified if the Jews are not united.
Loving all Jews:
When Jacob was dying he summoned his children in order to reveal to them the secrets of the end of time; when they would be redeemed from Egypt. Jacob lost his Divine Inspiration and awareness at the moment they gathered. He was concerned that one of his children was a non-believer and had caused Jacob’s loss of spiritual vision. The brothers said to Jacob, “Hear Israel, God is our Lord, God is One.” We are all believers! Jacob was relieved and inspired so he responded, “Blessed is the Name of His rule forever.” The brothers could only declare their belief that God is a Unity if they were united. God is not united if we are broken into factions.
In fact, when Jacob and Joseph first met after a twenty two year absence Joseph hugged his father, yet, Jacob did not hug Joseph in return. Jacob was reciting the Shema and could not hug his son. Jacob had to recite the Shema with God’s Unity at the moment that he saw that all his sons were alive; “Now God is truly united!”
We see over and over that Jacob considered the unity of his children to be fundamental to declaring the Unity of God’s name. All the souls of the Jews were carved out from underneath the throne of God. We must love all other Jews and all of us must be united without jealousy, anger, resentment or hatred in order for us to declare the Unity of God.
Then a person declares in the Shema; “Hear Israel!” he is awakening and stirring a heavenly flow of holiness and faith to all Jews. In order to accomplish this he must be united with all Jews, through love, charity, and the absence of any hatred or jealousy.
Part 4: God as Unifier:
When we recite the Shema we should keep in mind that God, Who is Unique, Echad, chose a unique nation to be their Lord. We must remember that it is not that God is simply demanding that we be united, God, in His role of One, unites us and all of creation. We act this out in the observance of certain commandments:
Yichud And Achdut:
When a man and woman marry they learn how to become a unity. This is a lesson in he concept of unity and can be used to enhance our understanding of the unity of God. If we can experience two human beings being able to merge into one, then we have a taste of how the different parts of the world can merge in the Unity of God.
“Why is the word Yichud and not Achdut? The Talmud, discussing the laws concerning the key word Mekudeshet in the conventional marriage formula, harei at mekudeshet li, “You are hereby betrothed (mekudeshet) to me,” asks which synonym of this word are valid and which are invalid for use in betrothal? One of the terms considered is meyuchedet, a transitive verbal form of Yichud. Since meyuchedet, like mekudeshet denotes setting aside or designating for a special purpose it a legally proper term for effecting marriage?
Although the Talmud fails to resolve is question conclusively, it is significant that the term meyuchedet is proposed as the equivalent of mekudeshet. Now, since the husband designates his wife as meyuchedet (set aside for him) he thereby becomes her yachid, her only beloved. So too, yichud Hashem means not only that we God for us, but that we submit to being set aside by Him, that we participate existentially in the acknowledgement His achdut, His exclusive claim on us. Thus, yichud Hashem is the human component of achdut Hashem.”
Etrog and Tefillin:
Many of the commandments are fulfilled only through physical objects such as the Etrog or Tefillin. When we observe the Mitzvah of Etrog we are taking a simple fruit and making it holy; we are using it to fulfill God’s will. When we wrap Tefillin we are using the skin of an animal that was used to make the boxes and straps, as parchment to write the four paragraphs, and we use the animal’s veins to tie the boxes. We are taking the most basic physical objects and making them holy. We are attaching the Etrog fruit with the Lulav, Hadassim and Aravot back to their Creator by using for a Mitzvah. We are unifying them with God. We are saying that “All of reality is a result of the Will of the Creator, so that the Creator encompasses reality and there is none beside Him.” This is exactly what we are doing each time we recite a blessing over food; we are uniting the food with its Creator.
God gave us the means through the commandments to unite the world with Him. We can fulfill the commandment to Unify God each time we perform a Mitzvah; if we are aware of what we are doing as we carry out the commandment. The Mitzvah of Unity demands a very high level of awareness, which is why it is one of the Six Constant Mitzvot.
Part 5: Internal Unity:
We discussed in part 2 of this chapter the importance of consistency between heart and mouth; “The mouth must say what is in the heart.” We described the importance of being engaged in the fulfillment of the commandment, and the need for heightened awareness of God’s Unity when performing other Mitzvot as well. Our awareness of God’s Unity must be expressed in internal unity.
One of our source verses in Part 1 makes it clear that internal unity is actually part of the process of achieving awareness of God’s Unity: “You shall know this day and take to your heart that God, He is the Lord, in heaven above and on the earth below-there is none other.” The Ramchal reads this verse as; “You shall know this day and answer your questions about God…” It is impossible to learn about God, to regularly observe His commandments, to live an observant life and not have numerous questions about God. He is beyond our comprehension, He is Infinite and not definable in human terms. He demands a great deal of us, and offers even more. Everything we do requires awareness and understanding. We will not have internal unity until we answer all our questions and resolve all our issues. This verse is teaching us that we are fulfilling the Mitzvah the Unity of God by searching for answers.
We are losing too many children who have questions that are being dismissed as inappropriate. We are losing the children who don’t know to ask. We are producing the “Son who doesn’t know how to ask,” of the Haggadah, which is referring to the son who doesn’t know that he must ask. The Mitzvah to know that God is a Unity demands that we encourage our children to ask about everything so that they can have the internal unity necessary to understand that God is a Unity.
The Ziditchover points to the two different directions that each of the two opening verses of the Shema implies. The biblical verse, he says, points upward, “from below to above”; the traditional verse, “Baruch shem kevod malchuto leolam va-ed,” points to the reverse direction, “from above to below.” Of course, “direction” must not be taken literally. In Kabbalistic usage, “above” indicates the cause and “below” the effect. So, en we recite the Shema and proclaim the “Higher Unification,” we proceed from below to above, elevating our thoughts from the realm of multiplicity and fragmentation to the pure Unity of the First Cause. We ascend mentally from world to world, toward greater oneness, purity, and holiness, from effect to cause, until we attain the highest of the empyrean worlds.
According to the Ziditchover, when we recite the Shema, we acknowledge that our lives, normally so fragmented and atomized, so disconnected and chaotic-can become integrated along with all the rest of the created world, only in the unity of the Creator Himself. Thus, in reciting Barush shem kevod, we pray that the shefa, the divine fullness of relationship, an effluence of sanctity and blessing, flows down from God in His perfect unity, until it unites with us in this World of Fragmentation, the alma de’peruda.
Part 6: Hashem:
The most common appellation for God is Hashem, which translates literally as The Name. The basic explanation is that we cannot articulate God’s name when not in study or prayer, so we refer to Him as Hashem. There is far more to this designation of Hashem as the name we use to refer to God: A name is someone’s or something’s identity, their essence. “Now God, the Lord, had formed out of the ground every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call each one; and whatever the man called each living creature, that remained its name.” Adam didn’t arbitrarily choose names for the animals, he sensed their essence and defined them by the name he assigned; name is a reflection of the fundamental nature of each thing. How can we choose a name for God? He is infinite and beyond description. We can identify certain characteristics to the point that we can understand them, but even they are limited and in fact, insulting. The most appropriate way to refer to God is Hashem, the Name, the One Who Cannot be Limited by a Name.
Each of us has experienced God in different ways. We perceive God differently based on our life experiences and environments. Each spiritual life is unique. We would all have different names for God. If I am angry with someone, and helpless to strike back, I may call on God to take care of things. But this means that I expect God to act with justice to my tormentor by kindness to me. We confuse our different perceptions of God. The only proper appellation is Hashem.
It is this very idea of God’s Name that is associated with different verses; “For then I will change the nations to speak a pure language, so that they will all proclaim the Name of God, to worship Him with a united resolve.” “God will be the King over all the land; on that day God will be One and His Name will be One.” Both verses associate the oneness of God’s name with His Unity. As long as we have different names for God, meaning that we perceive Him in a multiplicity of ways, He cannot be unified. The ultimate Unity of God will be when His name is One; when we see how all the correct different perceptions of God are consistent and fit together.
The Talmud asks, “How can we say that God will be One, isn’t He One now? In our world there are two separate blessings for good things and bad things; when something wonderful happens a person says, ‘Hatov V’hameitiv’ ‘The Good One Who does good.’ When something terrible happens, we say, ‘Baruch Dayan Ha-emet, ‘Blessed be the True Judge.’ This is because in our world we perceive God differently when something good happens and when tragedy strikes. In the World to Come, God will be One because we will always say, ‘Hatov v’hameitiv’ because we will have clarity that everything is good.”
Our different perceptions of God’s attributes may mislead us into believing in “Shutfot,” that God works in partnership with other powers. We have already explained in chapter two that we may not believe that there is any power other than God. But, our experiences may easily give the wrong impression about God’s power. We perceive God as kind, especially when He works fantastic miracles, or we may experience God as a strict judge, when something terrible happens. In our experience, a person is usually one or the other. Our experience with other people affects our understanding of God
“A non-believer once said to Rabbi Gamliel, ‘The Divine Presence rests on a group of ten. How many Divine Presences are there?’ Rabbi Gamliel replied, “how many suns are there?’ ‘One’ of course,’ said the troublemaker. ‘If one sun can shine on millions of people, then its creator can rest on many, many more!” It is difficult for us to understand how one God can deal individually with billions of people and with the almost infinite number of creations. It is impossible for a human being to comprehend one being dealing with so many individual creations. We are tempted into believing that there is more than one power. “You have been shown in order to know that God, He is the Lord! There is none beside Him!” “See, now, that I, I am He- and no god is with Me. I put to death and I bring life, I struck down and I will heal, and there is no rescuer from My hand.”
The commandment to know that God is a Unity demands that we are fully aware that God is alone, there are no other powers who could limit God’s will.
Belief in God’s Oneness includes the belief that God’s plan was to create an imperfect world with an element of evil so that man could, in turn, be created to make it his life’s work to correct whatever imperfections he could in the world. When those imperfections are corrected, humanity will see that in the end it was all really good, for in spite of the evil he experienced, humanity will say, “Thank you God, for what You have wrought.” In the final analysis, even what at first may have appeared to be evil will be seen both generally and specifically to have been for the best.
Part 7: Divine Simplicity:
It is necessary to know that God’s essence is absolutely simple without any composition or faceted qualities whatsoever. Every perfection exists in Him, but in an absolutely simple manner.
The human mind has many different faculties, each with its own area of activity. Thus, for example, memory is one domain, drive another, and imagination still another, and none of them impinge on the other. When we speak of God, however, these are not different faculties. The true nature of His essence is a Oneness that intrinsically contains and encompasses everything that can be considered perfection.
A person opens the refrigerator and sees a delicious piece of cake. But he is already full, and he knows that if he overeats that he will not sleep well, that he will put on extra weight and his sugar count will skyrocket. Part of him wants the cake, and another part of him, knows not to eat it, so he is torn. He does not want the cake with his entire being. Whatever God wants, He wants with His entire being. He is never torn over something. He is totally committed to everything He does, and, in fact, it is consistent with absolutely everything else that He desires and does. God does not have different faculties that pull Him in different directions. God is simple; He is perfectly consistent and totally committed in everything He does.
We were created in God’s likeness in order to emulate Him. An integral part of the commandment to know that God is a Unity is to emulate His oneness and His simplicity. This means that we must be totally committed to everything we do. Our Free Choicerequires that when we choose we do so with our entire being, without distraction or doubt. Our convictions must be so complete and consistent that we focus all of our being on our goals and objectives. We must strive to be consistent in everything we do. Everything must reflect our awareness of God and dedication to unify His world.
Time and Knowledge
Divine Simplicity also means that for God all time is one, a unity. All of God’s knowledge is a unity. “God does not know with a knowledge that is external from Him as do men, whose knowledge are two different entities. Rather, He, Blessed is His Name, and His knowledge are one. Human knowledge cannot comprehend this concept in its entirety for just as it is beyond the potential of man to comprehend and conceive the essential nature of the Creator, as it states; ‘No man will perceive Me and live,’ so, too, it is beyond man’s potential to comprehend and conceive the Creator’s knowledge. S was the intent of the prophet’s statements; ‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor your ways, My ways.’”
God does not have a past, present and future. Time was a gift that He gave to man as part of creation. For God, all, past, present and future are one. They all fit together in a unity. We live in a world of time so we cannot begin to understand God’s concept of time, except in the abstract. However, this knowledge is part of the commandment to know that God is a Unity.
We experienced that awareness when God revealed Himself at Sinai. Is why the Midrash says that we died and came back to life. We died because what we were able to comprehend was beyond the capacity of a physical human being. We experienced God’s unity at Sinai, which means that it is part of our tradition and our very souls. “Hear, Israel;” Jews must pay attention every second to a voice that comes out of Sinai each minute and each second that God, our Lord, is One.
Part 8: Only God Exists:
“You shall know this day and take to your heart at God, He is the Lord, in heaven above on the earth below there is none other.” This verse must be taken literally; there is none other. There is nothing but God. We do not truly exist as our existence is entirely dependent on God willing us to exist, and we can cease to exist at any second. God wills us to exist, each second of our existence; we have no existence of our own. The only way to acquire true existence is to attach to God.
For the physical world too, which appears to the eye as utterly substantial, is literally nothing and naught compared to the Holy One. You may say that no created object and no world exist; rather, all is filled with the simple essence of His oneness.
Rabbeinu Yonah; Sefer Hayirah page 20. See The Shema, Rabbi Dr. Norman Lamm, JPS, Philadelphia 1998 page 188, footnote 3 for note on authorship of Sefer Hayirah. I am grateful to Dr. Lamm’s book for numerous sources and direct quotes.
This commandment touches immediately on other Mitzvot such as Knowledge of God, Love of God and Awe of God. It is almost impossible to separate them conceptually. See introduction to this Mitzvah/Concept. We are simply studying the concepts that we derive from each Mitzvah.