“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Generally, we tend to focus on the last point of the passage: the oneness of God. I want to call attention to the second phrase in this verse: “the Lord is our God”. What do we mean when we say that He is OUR God? In what way is do we possess Him? Is He not the God of all creation?
When God sent Moses to take us out of Egypt, He told Moses that the purpose of the exodus was that He will take us unto Himself for a nation and He should be to us for a God (Exodus 6:7). This theme is repeated often throughout the Scriptures (Leviticus 11:45, Numbers 15:41, Deuteronomy 26:17, Jeremiah 32:38 – to mention a few). How are we to Him for a nation? And how is He “to us for a God”?
The Hebrew word E-l-o-h-i-m which we translate as “God” actually means “power” or “strength”. This name of God is often translated as “Almighty”. This same word is also used for entities other than God such as for human judges in Exodus 21:6. With this understanding in mind, the second phrase in the Shema reads; “the Lord is our power”, which makes things a bit more perplexing.
Every step in our life is taken with the assumption that power exists. If I plan to walk from here to there, I must first assume that my legs have the power to carry me, that the path that I will be walking upon has the power to hold me, and that I have the power to navigate that path successfully. Every thought and every action is taken with the understanding that certain powers are there. It would not occur to me to move my finger across this keyboard unless I already understand that my fingers have the ability to do so and that the keyboard will produce the appropriate effect.
Because everything depends on power, we direct our lives accordingly. As far as I see that my body is a power in my life, I will feed it and take care of it. As far as I see that my employer is a power in my life, I will seek to align my life in a way that the positive power that I need from my employer should continue to flow towards me. This may mean working in a manner that pleases him or her, flattering my employer or attending the events my employer asks me to attend.
God took us out of Egypt so that we can live with the understanding that no power exists independent of God. All power and strength that exists is God’s strength. God taught us through the exodus and through the Sinai revelation that all of existence is His and that there is no other power (Deuteronomy 4:35).when we see gravity at work, we are to understand, that it is but an expression of God’s will. When we see a person walking down the road, we are to recognize that every step is a kindness from God. There is no power independent from God.
The Jewish people are called upon to live with this truth planted firmly into their psyche. The only power that can harm us is God’s wrath and the only power that could bring us blessing is His mercy. It is completely futile to attempt to appease another power at the expense of our obedience to God because no other power can harm us against God’s will. It is foolish to think that we may lose something by obeying God, because nothing has the power to give us anything unless God so decrees.
As God’s people, we are called upon to live our lives in light of this fundamental truth. To the degree that we allow this truth to permeate our lives, to that same degree do we fulfill our mission as a nation that is holy to God.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal