Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat VaEtchanan 5760/2000

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat VaEtchanan 5760/12 August 2000

"Hear, O Israel" -- Faith and History

Hayyim Hoffenberg

Kibbutz Sheluhot

The verse, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord our G-d, the Lord is one" (Deut. 6:4; alternative translation: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord alone") is deeply rooted in the history of the Jewish people, in the halakhah, and in Jewish consciousness. But what does it mean?

Sefer ha-Hinukh defines it as "the commandment of G-d's one-ness, [1] by which we are enjoined to believe that the Lord is the prime mover of all existence, Lord of all, alone and without any others." In other words, this is the fundamental proclamation of monotheism, the belief in one G-d.

Maimonides, in Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah, [2] sees this verse as philsophical proof that G-d is not corporeal: "Since He is not corporeal, the corporeal events such that He be divided or separated from another do not apply to Him; hence it is impossible for Him to be other than one." If so, then in addition to proclaiming our faith in a single G-d, we are also making a statement here about the essence of that G-d.

In view of these points, which today are well-known and accepted, Rashi's interpretation of the verse is quite surprising: "The Lord, who is now our G-d and not the G-d of other nations ... will be the sole Lord." [3] Where in this verse do we find any indication that He is "not the G-d of other nations" or that He "will be"?

To help us understand Rashi's commentary, let us look at the remarks of three other exegetes:

Ibn Ezra asks why the word "Lord" (Hashem, the Tetragrammaton) appears twice in the verse when one could have said "the Lord our G-d is one." "What reason, therefore, was there for repeating it a second time?" His answer is that the first use of the Existential Name of the Lord is nominative, as the proper name of G-d, and its second occurrence in the verse is adjectival (perhaps indicating that He was, is and shall be).

Nahmanides points out that Moses generally used the turn of phrase "the Lord your G-d," but that in this context "he specifically mentioned the Lord our G-d" because he did not want to exclude himself from the generality. [4]

Rashbam interprets thus: "The Lord alone is our G-d and we have no other G-d alongside of Him." [5] Rabbi David Tzvi Hoffman brings proof of this interpretation by citing from I Chronicles 29:1: "King David said to the entire assemblage, 'G-d has chosen my son Solomon alone [Heb. ehad, "one"], an untried lad," where the word ehad can mean nothing else than "alone."

Now let us return to Rashi's remark: "The Lord, who is now our G-d and not the G-d of other nations." Since the possessive our G-d (Heb. Elo-henu) is exceptional, as Nahmanides points out, the precise nuance conveyed by this word would indicate "and not the G-d of other nations."

The words "will be" in Rashi's commentary are his interpretation of the second occurrence of the Tetragrammaton, G-d's Existential Name, which has the meaning here of Yihyeh, "will be," [6] as Ibn Ezra notes. "The Lord is one" means alone, as Rashbam notes; that is, all will acknowledge that He alone is the Lord. As proof, Rashi cites Zephaniah 3:9: "For then I will make the peoples pure of speech, so that they all invoke the Lord by name," as well as Zechariah 14:9: "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name." In other words, all people will accept Him as G-d, and then He alone shall be king. [7]

In this connection we must point out the essential difference between the views of Maimonides and Rashi. Maimonides, in his typical fashion, sees the Shema as a philosophic encapsulation of the Lord, as He should be perceived by the individual person everywhere and at all times. Rashi, on the other hand, sees the Shema as expressing national historical destiny: the spreading of monotheism by the people of Israel, raising the status of the Lord among all mankind, until the ultimate goal is achieved at the End of Days.

Perhaps they would each interpret the introduction, "Hear, O Israel," differently, each explaining it according to his own general approach. Rashi might say that these words are addressed to the people of Israel: Hear, people of Israel, consider and understand: [8] The Lord our G-d will be one, and it is your duty to see to it. Maimonides would surely prefer the midrash that appears in Targum Jonathan about the sons of Jacob/Israel, who say the following to him as he is about to die: Hear [sing.] Israel [as a personal name] our father, our hearts have not deviated from this important principle that the Lord our G-d is one.

In its two sections the concluding prayer of every service Aleinu le-shabeah alludes to both of these interpretations. The first section concerns the definition of the Lord to the Jewish people as "Lord of all," "King of Kings," "there is none beside Him," and cites the verse: "The Lord alone is G-d in heaven above and on earth below, there is no other." [9] The second part, Al Ken Nekaveh, speaks about spreading the faith, "perfecting the world," and everyone accepting the yoke of the Lord's kingship. This part also cites the same verse as Rashi cited from Zechariah: "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth; in that day there shall be one Lord with one name."

[1] Commandment 417. Although Sefer ha-Hinukh generally follows Maimonides, his definition here appears to be somewhat different.

[2] 1.7. By virtue of his halakhic authority, also his philosophical assertions, which were subject to controversy, gained acceptance.

[3] Perhaps this comes from Sifre (Deut., end of ch. 31): "Another interpretation of 'The Lord our G-d, the Lord is one' -- over all living flesh: 'The Lord' is our G-d' in this world; 'the Lord is one' in the world to come. 'The Lord shall be King, etc.'"

[4] Indeed, also in chapter 5, verse 2, before the Ten Commandments, Moses says: "The Lord our G-d made a covenant with us at Horeb."

[5] Also Ibn Ezra's other commentary says, "'One' means alone." It must be understood that according to Maimonides and Sefer ha-Hinukh an objective declaration is being made here as to the nature of G-d, while according to Rashbam the declaration is subjective: "We have no other G-d."

[6] Thus Moses was told to present the Lord to the Israelites: "Ehyeh ["I will be"] sent me to you" (Ex. 3:14).

[7] One could say that here the text from the prophet is intended to explain the verse from the Pentateuch, as elsewhere in the prophets we find statements that allude to phrases in the Pentateuch and serve to interpret them.

[8] Sforno, loc. sit.

[9] Deut. 4:39. Hilkhot Yesodei Torah makes a deduction from the next phrase, "there is none beside Him," about the essence of the Lord, that "there exists no truth like Him other than Him.

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