Back to this week's parsha

The Weekly Internet
P A R A S H A - P A G E
by Mordecai Kornfeld
of Har Nof, Jerusalem
Founder of the Dafyomi Advancement Forum

Previous issues

This week's Parasha-Page has been dedicated by Rabbi Dr. Eli Turkel and family to the memory of his father, my grandfather, Israel (Reb Yisrael Shimon) Turkel, of blessed memory.

*** To dedicate a Parasha-Page, please send mail to Spread Torah through the farthest reaching medium in all of history! ***




"Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad"

"Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d; the Lord is One"

The words of this fateful verse and their expression of the deepest religious sentiment of the Jewish soul strike a familiar note in the hearts of all but the most distanced of Jews. We wake up to them, go to sleep to them, and return our souls to the Creator with them. Their message is clear. We acknowledge that the world that we exist in, our own selves included, is more than simply a random collection of matter, existing unto itself. Rather, it is -- and we are -- a manifestation of the will of Hashem, the Creator. It is His will that allows for the world's continued existence. In this context, Hashem is One not only because He is single and unique, but because He is the *only* one entity that truly exists unto itself, in all of creation.

A verse as basic to Judaism as this verse is can undoubtedly be appraised at more than just its face value. It certainly alludes, both overtly and covertly, to the goals of mankind and the purpose man serves in Creation. It holds many levels of understanding. I would like to present here an insight, based primarily on the works of Harav Yitzchak Hutner (d. 1981, Pachad Yitzchak on Yom Kippur Ch. 5; Pesach Ch. 60; Shavuot 25:9, -- see also jottings on Pesach 5:2), which reveals a tiny portion of the beauty concealed under the surface of this verse. May Hashem forgive me if I err in its transmission.


The names that we use to refer to Hashem are far from simple nomens. Rather, each name is a title with a literal meaning reflecting a manner in which we can perceive Hashem.

The tetragrammatton is different from all the other Holy names in a number of ways; one is that it is pronounced entirely unlike its written form would suggest. Thus, it actually comprises two distinct names: the written name and the pronounced name. The letters of the name's written form convey that Hashem (a) "eternally exists," and (b) "gives existence" to everything that is. The name's pronounced version conveys the idea that He is a "master" to the universe. Everyone and everything is responsible to Him.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 5) tells us that when uttering the tetragrammatton in prayer, both meanings should be borne in mind. But the Vilna Gaon (ad loc.) dissents. Based on numerous sources, he contends that it is only necessary to bear in mind the meaning of the Name as it is pronounced, "Master of the universe." The Gaon adds, however, that the verse "Shema Yisrael" is an exception to the general rule. When one utters the Holy Name in Shema Yisrael, he should bear in mind *both* meanings of the Name. What is it that makes this verse different from all others? Harav Yitzchak Hutner offers an insightful explanation based on the words of Rashi.


Rashi, based on the Sifri, adds another level of meaning to the "Oneness' of Hashem in the verse "Shema Yisrael."

"The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One"- The Lord,who *presently* is our G-d, and not that of the other, idolatrous nations, will *eventually* be a Lord that is One, as it says, "At that time I shall cause all of the nations to call out in the name of Hashem" (Tzefanya 3:9). Likewise, it states, "On that day Hashem will be One, and His name will be One" (Zecharya 14:9). (Rashi Devarim 6:4)

The Gemara in Pesachim tells us of two more differences between the world as it is now and as it will be.

"On that day, Hashem will be One and His name will be One" -- [it may be asked,] is He not One even in this world?

[This verse means to say the following:] The World to Come is unlike this world. In this world, we praise Hashem in different ways when we hear good tidings and when we hear bad tiding. In the World to Come, we will only praise Hashem for good tidings (i.e., there will be no bad tidings -- Rashi).

"And His name will be One" -- is His name not One even on this world? [This verse means to say the following:] The world to come is unlike this world. In this world, [the Holy Name] is written one way, yet it is pronounced another way, but in the World to Come, the Name will be pronounced the way that it is written." (Pesachim 50a)

In truth, these three differences between this world and the World to Come are clearly related. It is because we perceive certain things as "wrong" and "bad" (e.g., success is granted to evildoers and hardships are the lot of the righteous) in this world, that Hashem's presence is clouded over, and not clearly recognized by all. If we would always see Hashem's good and perfection, it would be clear to all that Hashem is One. In the World to Come, since all will be good, the nations of the world will inevitably proclaim Hashem's Oneness along with us.

This is also what is meant by the difference between the spelling and the pronunciation of the tetragrammatton. The pronunciation that we use today suggests a Creator that is partially hidden from the world. He is as a master, who lets his slave work and supervises from his distant corner. In the World to Come, we will pronounce the tetragrammatton as it is written, suggesting that He is inseparable from all of existence, and that His presence is evident to all (see Ramban, beginning of Parashat Va'era, and Meshech Chochma, beginning of Parashat Bechukotai).

Thus, all three "Onenesses" stem from one root; the clarity of Hashem's presence in the World to Come. (The Gemara at the end of Ta'anit goes so far as to say that in the World to Come, the righteous will be able to "point" to their Creator and proclaim, "This is the Hashem that we've been longing to see....")


Actually, even in this world it is possible, to a certain extent, to disperse the clouds, and feel the omnipresence of the Divine Will. After all, no true "bad" or "injustice" is ever done in this world. Everything that transpires is of divine design, and is ultimately meant to be for our own good (see Berachot 60b). Although that end is often hidden from our perception, it is there nonetheless. We can strive to recognize it and accept it, thereby getting a "glimpse" of our Creator.

There is no time when it is more imperative for us to feel that lucid presence of Hashem than when reciting the verse "Shema Yisrael" and proclaiming the Oneness of Hashem. As Rashi says, we are longing, with this excalamation, for the world in which Hashem's presence will be fully revealed and He will "truly" be One. When reciting this verse, we are groping for a handhold on His Oneness even in this world of inclarity. We do that by trying to find that hidden good that exists in everything in this world. In doing so, we are trying to uncover the Oneness of the Holy Name, to "see" more clearly the Hashem who grants our very existence.

If so, it is certainly appropriate that in this verse we should preserve the meaning of the tetragrammatton as it is written, and not just as it is pronounced. If not with our mouths, at least in our minds we can catch a small view in this world of Hashem's eternal Oneness.

To receive the fax edition (Israel only), fax me at (02) 652-2633.
To receive the Parsha-page via Email click here

Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel