D'varim/Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel: The L-rd our G-d, the L-rd is One!"
This is, perhaps, the most famous verse from the Hebrew Bible, the most frequently quoted or recited verse in the Jewish world and, possibly, the only verse whose Hebrew text has significant exposure in the Christian world. In spite of that, its precise meaning is still the subject of debate; its six short words, in stereotypically brief syntax, carry a range of possible meanings that, while overlapping, are neither identical nor universally agreed. The two larger letters, the ayin and the dalet at the end of the first and last word respectively, are among only a handful of letters throughout the Hebrew Bible that defy the normal rules that every letter must be a standard size and shape to match the letters surrounding it. Although a number of different reasons are proposed, one of the dominant suggestions is that together they form the word - witness - because this text forms a central witness to the unity and character of G-d and to the truth and existence of Judaism and the Jewish people.
Rashi, the quintessential mediæval commentator, pulls four major ideas into his comment for this verse:
1.HaShem is our G-d; that is to say, He is the G-d of Israel and not of the nations. Although those from the nations are called to acknowledge Him and to join with the people of Israel in worshipping and serving Him, He is not the proclaimed G-d of any other nation.
2. In the time to come, HaShem will be universally recognised as G-d for everyone: all peoples and all nations. Although He has revealed Himself uniquely to the Jewish people and also to those of the nations "to whom the Son reveals Him" (Matthew 11:27). As Rav Sha'ul writes: "every knee will bow in heaven, on earth and under the earth - and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is Adonai - to the glory of G-d the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11, CJB).
3. At that time, HaShem will cause everyone to speak the same language - Hebrew naturally! - so that everyone can call on Him and serve Him together: "For then I will change the peoples, so that they will have pure lips, to call on the name of Adonai, all of them, and serve Him with one accord" (Zephaniah 3:9, CJB). This will be a reversal of the confusion at Babel (cf. B'resheet 11:1-9); there HaShem confused the language of the people and scattered them because they were seeking to establish a name for themselves, in the time to come the people will be gathered and speak the same language as they serve G-d and acknowledge Him together.
4. In those days, there won't be any disagreement about who G-d is and what His name is. All those who worship Him will know Him and proclaim His name as the only name. This is described by the prophets: "And the L-rd will be King over all the earth; in that day the L-rd will be One and His name One" (Zechariah 14:9, NASB) and quoted three times each day during the synagogue liturgy in the Aleinu prayer:
"Therefore we place our hope in You, L-rd our G-d, that we may soon see the glory of Your power, when You will remove abominations from the earth, and idols will be utterly destroyed, when the world will be perfected under the sovereignty of the Almighty, when all humanity will call on Your name, and the earth's wicked will all turn to You. All the world's inhabitants will realise and know that to You every knee must bow and every tongue swear loyalty. Before You, L-rd our G-d, they will kneel and bow down and give honour to Your glorious name. They will all accept the yoke of Your kingdom, and You will reign over them soon and forever. For the kingdom is Yours, and to all eternity You will reign in glory, as it is written in Your Torah: 'the L-rd will reign for ever and ever.' And it is said, 'Then the L-rd shall be King over all the earth; on that day the L-rd shall be One and His name One.'" (Authorised Daily Prayer)
Friedman picks up the word and points out that this is not a number, but a concept of who G-d is: "A G-d who is outside nature, known through acts in history, a creator, unseeable, without a mate, who makes legal covenants with humans, who is one, is a revolution in religious conception." Tigay goes further and claims that the Sh'ma describes "a relationship with G-d, rather than His nature"; it "focuses on the way Israel is to apply the truth that YHVH alone is G-d." As a G-d who desires relationship with His creation, HaShem engaged with mankind to the extent that "The Word became a human being and lived with us, and we saw His Sh'kinah" (John 1:14, CJB), so that we could perceive and experience the presence and character of G-d with our senses.Hirsch identifies a problem here with Moshe's words: why does the text say - hear! - rather than - see! - which senses are engaged in this process? After all, our people saw the thunder and lightening at Sinai. He answers his own question by explaining that G-d only revealed Himself visibly to the particular generation that saw Him (at Sinai or Yeshua in the flesh) but that G-d intended the community to carry the tradition on from generation to generation in a multi-sense way of which 'hear' is a better summary. Our people saw the plagues in Egypt, they heard the voice at Sinai; we taste, touch and smell the food at Pesach, we wave the barley sheaves at Shavuot and the lulav at Sukkot, we build a sukkah and light the candles at Hanukkah.
It is G-d's purpose that all those who know Him - Jew and Gentile alike - should know who He is and be able to have relationship with Him and call on His name. "That means that there is no difference between Jew and Gentile - Adonai is the same for everyone, rich toward everyone who call on Him, since 'everyone who calls on the name of Adonai will be delivered' (Joel 3:5[2:32])" (Romans 10:12-13, CJB). We have relationship with the Father, through and because of the Son, by the power of the Spirit - our G-d is One!
Further Study: Zechariah 13:2; John 14:8-10
Application: What matters is calling upon and being in relationship with G-d. Names and theology are less important and often get in the way of our hearts when we feel that we haven't addressed G-d in the right way or in the correct form. He loves us much more than that! Press in and get to know Him better.
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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