by Dr. Avigdor Bonchek
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Parashas Va'eschanon(66)This sedra continues Moses' oration to the People. It contains two most famous passages: The Shema and the Ten Commandments.
Let us look at the familiar Shema.
Hear, O Israel, Hashem, our G-d , Hashem is one.
Hashem our G-d, Hashem is one: Rashi: Hashem who is our G-d presently but not the God of the gentiles, He is destined to be the one G-d. As it says (Zephaniah 3:9) "For then I will change the peoples [to speak] a pure language that they may all call upon the name of Hashem ." And it says (Zechariah 14:9) "On that day Hashem will be one and His name One."
WHAT HAS RASHI DONE?
Rashi has made some changes to this well-known verse. He inserted the words "who is" between the words "Hashem" and "our G-d." He also introduces the idea of the contrast between the present and the future.
An obvious question is: Why does he do this?
What's bothering Rashi?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI ?
An Answer: The Ramban relates to Rashi's comment and shows what lies behind his words. Let us take our cue from him. In order to better understand Rashi, he compares our verse with two other verses in Deuteronomy, both of which also begin with "Hear Israel" as our verse does.
. "Here O' Israel, you are passing this day…. And you shall know that Hashem your G-d, He passes before you….."
"Hear O' Israel, you are drawing near to battle…..because Hashem your G-d goes with you…."
The Ramban points out a difference between our verse and these two verses.
Do you see a difference?
An Answer: Only our verse has "Hashem, our G-d." The other two verses (and many similar ones in Deuteronomy) have " Hashem, your G-d ."
This, the Ramban implies, is what Rashi is reacting to. What would you say is the significance of the difference between the words "our G-d" and "your G-d"?
An Answer: In most of Moses' speeches to the nation he says "Hashem, your G-d" making the point that he is speaking to them . Here he says "Hashem, our G-d" implying that Moses stands together with the nation Israel. Now, if he stands together with them, who is this verse excluding? Right! The nations of the world. So that Rashi understood this verse as a declaration which placed Israel on one side and the other nations of the world on the other. Therefore he emphasized that today Israel, but not the other nations, recognize the one G-d.
How do you understand the simple message of the Shema declaration? Is Rashi's interpretation similar to your understanding of the Shema?
A DEEPER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: Ordinarily we understand the Shema to mean, "The Lord, our G-d, is one." This is considered a declaration of G-d's "oneness," or indivisibility.
But if that were its message, the Torah could simply have stated "Hear Israel, Hashem is one." Why the extra words "Hashem, our G-d" ?
The Mizrachi suggests that this too was bothering Rashi. Rashi sought a way to make sense of these extra words. So he divided the verse in two. The first part of the verse refers to the present situation when the Jews alone believe in Hashem. This is the meaning of the words "Hashem, our G-d" ( ours, but not your G-d!). Rashi emphasizes this by adding the words (in bold letters) "Hashem, who is our G-d now."
Then come the words "Hashem is one" this speaks of the future when all people will recognize Hashem.
On what basis do you think Rashi ascribed this phrase to a future time?
A CLOSER LOOK
An Answer: We see that Rashi quotes the prophet Zechariah. "And it will be on that day and Hashem will be one and His name will be one." Notice that this verse stresses the words . "ä' àçã" This semantic similarity is the basis for Rashi's associating the words in our verse with the verse in Zechariah which speaks of what will happen in the future, "on that day."
Why do think Rashi cites two verses? Isn't the one from Zechariah sufficient? If Rashi cites more than one verse to make his point, there is a reason he cites each verse.
WHY TWO VERSES?
An Answer: As we said, the verse from Zechariah makes the point that Hashem's unity will be recognized some time in the future ("on that day"). But the idea that this recognition will be shared by all the nations, is absent from this verse. The verse from
Zephaniah 3: makes this point as it says "I will change the peoples [to speak] a pure language that they may all call upon the name of Hashem ."
So with the combined effect of these two verses Rashi substantiates his interpretation of the Shema.
Let us look at another aspect of this fascinating verse.
HASHEM IS ONE
The meaning of the above phrase is by no means transparently clear.
These words, more specifically, the word "one" can have at least two different meanings.
What are they?
An Answer: "One" can mean "unity," an indivisible entity. That is, Hashem is indivisible, one, in the absolute sense. Or it can mean, The "only one." That is, Hashem is the one and only G-d, He, and He alone, is the Ruler of the Universe. He has no partners.
Which of these two interpretations would you say Rashi opts for?
RASHI'S VIEW OF "HASHEM IS ONE"
An Answer: Rashi is saying the verse means, Hashem is the only G-d. Granted that today He is recognized only by Israel, and not by other nations. But in the future Hashem will be the one and only G-d accepted by all. He alone will reign supreme without other gods being worshiped.
But Rashi's understanding of this verse is not the only one.
The Rambam offers a different interpretation.
The RAMBAM'S VIEW OF "HASHEM IS ONE"
An Answer: Miamonides, the Rambam, relies on this verse to teach us G-d's unity. (See his Code, Laws of Yesodie HaTorah Ch 1 #7):
"This G-d is one. He is not two or more than two. Rather He is one, whose oneness is not like any other oneness in the world…..Knowledge of this matter is a positive command. As it says "Hashem, our G-d, Hashem is One" (Deut. 6:4).
The Rambam quotes our verse as the basis for the Torah's command to believe in the unity of G-d. The message of this verse, according to the Rambam, is G-d's unity, His indivisibility, more so than that He is the only G-d. Of course, the Rambam understood that Hashem is the one and only true deity in the world. But he also sees this verse as the basis for the Jewish concept of a indivisible G-d.
IN SUMMARY: The Shema is a most versatile verse, which contains within it the two core concepts about the Divine Being. It is rightfully the verse which is pronounced daily by believing Jews and also his last words as he leaves this life on earth.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a production of "The Institute for the Study of Rashi." The 5 Volume set is available at all Jewish bookstores.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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