Growing up in the Sixties, everyone seemed to be searching for answers. Peace and spiritual enlightenment were the rallying calls. It took me some time, but I finally found both.
Although my family has roots that go back to one of the first students of the Baal Shem Tov, I was raised traditional but not Hassidic. In 1973, I encountered the first Chassidic Jew with whom I was able to have meaningful philosophical discussions. I was impressed with his knowledge, sincerity, and passion for serving God.
My understanding and appreciation for Judaism’s spiritual dimension grew out of our talks, and the many books he shared with me. Before long, I experienced an epiphany about God’s existence and started experiencing moments of divine providence and realized that nothing happens by coincidence.
Eventually, I studied a verse this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23–7:11), which played a pivotal role in achieving a more profound understanding of God’s essence.
In Deuteronomy 4:35, we are taught that there is “nothing else besides God.” Together with the verse, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6), I understood why Judaism teaches that God transcend time and space, and in God’s essence there are no divisions or parts.
Only within God’s creation of a finite physical world do we experience separation and division due to the process of creation which conceals godliness. Interestingly, this process is alluded to in the root of Hebrew word for world, “olam” that can also mean “hidden and concealed” (Deuteronomy 22:1 and 3).
Think of it this way: If you conceal light, with dark sunglasses, it appears to be darker outside than it really is, because the concealment process produces the opposite effect. So too, when God conceals His unlimited, infinite godliness, we perceive the reverse in the form of a finite world. However, this perspective is not the absolute truth.
This biblical truth of God’s essence is the primary reason pagan and Christian beliefs in a multi-faceted and triune God are considered idolatrous for Jews.
The Shema passage, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD one-echad” (Deuteronomy 6:4), is a command to believe in God’s absolute oneness, which was given exclusively to the people of Israel.
Some missionaries argue that if the Shema wanted to teach the indivisible nature of God it would have said that God is “yachid- singular” rather than “echad-one.” This argument is incorrect because the use of the word “echad” teaches that God is One even within the plurality of creation, which is our perspective.
This idea would have been lost had the Shema used the word “yachid” which is only applicable to God as He transcends creation. Despite the illusion of a physical world, we are commanded to recognize and believe in the absolute truth of God’s true essence.
Our sages have gone to great lengths to explain these points, and they have not been intentionally ignored as some missionaries falsely claim.
I meditate daily on God’s absolute oneness, and this spiritual enlightenment brings me peace and balance in my life. May this Shabbat provide you the opportunity to meditate on the fundamental principle of Judaism and bring you peace.
Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz