Each morning and evening, we chant the following words:
“Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One!” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Maimonides writes in his “Book of Mitzvos” that these words contain the mitzvah “to believe in the Unity of Hashem; that is to say, to believe that the Creator of all things in existence and their First Cause is One” (Mitzvah 2).
This proclamation of the Divine Oneness and Unity is known as the Shema, as it opens with the Hebrew words, Shema Yisrael – Hear O Israel. Before we proclaim the message of the Divine Oneness and Unity to the world, we first call out to our own people, so that each of us can become an example of this message. After all, each of us is created in the image of the Unified One; thus, each of us has the potential to become one and unified. In Part One of this letter, we will discuss how we can begin to develop a unified self, and in Part Two of this letter, we will start to discuss how the unified self is to relate to all aspects of our life in Zion.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses the Shema in “Horeb,” his classical work on the mitzvos, and he writes:
“Everything comes from this One God both in heaven and on earth, and everything therefore conforms to one design, is part of one all-wise plan.
“But above all, the most vital lesson to lay to heart is that this One God is your God, and that you have acknowledged Him in order to live rightly. Just as the world with all its variety, history with all its change, has its origin in the One Source, is guided by One Hand, serves One Being and strives upward towards this One; so must you recognize and feel your life with all its changes to issue from One Source, to be guided by One Hand, to flow toward one goal. You must comprehend your life with all its diversity as proceeding from this One and you must direct it towards this One, in order that your life may be a unity just as your God is One.”
Rabbi Hirsch adds: “Everything is of equal significance, for in everything and with everything you have been summoned to the service of the One God. Strive to reach this One, and be one in heart as your God is One.” (Horeb Chapter 2)
The proclamation of the Divine Unity is to remind us that our own life is to be a unity through serving Hashem, the Compassionate and Life-Giving One, in everything and with everything. This is why the Torah – the Divine Teaching – calls on us to fulfill mitzvos which elevate every area of our existence. We must therefore avoid a schizophrenic existence where one part of our life is dedicated to ideas and activities which serve the Divine purpose revealed in the Torah, while another part of our life is dedicated to ideas and activities which negate this Divine purpose. Instead, we are to develop a unified self through living a unified life. In this spirit, I will review the following story which some of you may remember:
Over ten years ago, Aaron Feuerstein, a seventy-year old Torah-observant Jewish businessman, received international acclaim for preserving the jobs of his employees after a fire destroyed his textile factory, Malden Mills, in Lawrence, Massachusetts, United States. In an age of corporate downsizing, he not only preserved their jobs; he kept his employees on the payroll for several months until the factory reopened. In addition, he continued their health benefits. A number of years later, CBS News had a special report which reviewed his altruistic decision, and it stated:
He kept his promises. Workers
picked up their checks for
months. In all, he paid out $25
million and became known as the
Mensch of Malden Mills – a
businessman who seemed to care
more about his workers than
about his net worth.
The press loved him, and so did politicians. President Clinton invited him to the State of the Union Address as an honored guest. He also received 12 honorary degrees, including one from Boston University.
He became that rare duck - the
businessman as national hero.
“I got a lot of publicity. And I don’t think that speaks well for our times,” says Feuerstein. “At the time in America of the greatest prosperity, the god of money has taken over to an extreme.”
For guidance he turns to the Torah, the book of Jewish law.
”You are not permitted to oppress the working man, because he's poor and he’s needy, amongst your brethren and amongst the non-Jew in your community,” says Feuerstein, who spent $300 million of the insurance money and then borrowed $100 million more to build a new plant that is both environmentally friendly and worker friendly. And it's a union shop that never had a strike. (The Mensch of Malden Mills, CBS News, July 6, 2003)
In September, 1996, Columbia University honored Aaron Feuerstein with its 1996 Botwinick Prize in Business Ethics. Dr. Ismar Schorsch, who was then the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, attended the ceremony, and he gave the following report:
“A graduate of Yeshiva University, Mr. Feuerstein closed poignantly on a religious note. In business, he said, he merely carries out the dictates of his daily prayers. Each morning as he recites the opening line of the Shema (which he did on the spot), he affirms the singular unity of God: the God he worships in the synagogue is the same God who inhabits his home and who presides over his business. One God alone informs all that he does.”
Aaron Feuerstein demonstrated that he did not live a schizophrenic existence where one part of his life is guided by the principles of capitalism and another part of his life is guided by the principles of the Torah. He developed a unified self through allowing the principles of the Torah to guide “all” of his life.
Have a Unifying Shabbos,
Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen (See below)
Related Teachings and Comments:
1. The Mishnah cites the
following teaching in the name
of Rabbi Yose: “Let all your
deeds be for the sake of Heaven”
(Pirkei Avos 2:17).
With the right consciousness and intention, all our activities can become a unified service. In this spirit, Rabbi Hirsch writes: “The categories of enjoyment and work that are not prohibited are not only permitted and approved, but they come under the heading of “mitzvah” and assume the character of sacred, unselfish, God-serving acts.” He adds:
“Indeed the totality of the Jew’s existence is one of great service to God – in his place of work, in the circle of his family, in his social activities, in the most mundane and the pettiest details of his life. Even his dishes and cutlery, his pots and pans, are tools of his calling: ‘Every pot in Jerusalem and Judah must be dedicated to God of the hosts of creation’ (Zechariah 14:21).”
The above teaching can be found in, “Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch,” Volume 8, the essay on Jewish Joyfulness. The eight volumes of “Collected Writings of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch” are published by Feldheim: www.feldheim.com
2. In his classical work, “Horeb,” Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch discusses the ethical and spiritual lessons that can be learned by fulfilling the mitzvos of the Torah, including the mitzvos of the heart and the mind. It also discusses some of the “halachos” – the detailed requirements – of the mitzvos. Horeb is published by Judaica Press: www.judaicapress.com