Parashah Va-ethchanan (I Pleaded) Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

This parashah continues the First Discourse of Moshe, which is the chronology of the travels of the Israelites and starts to go into the Second Discourse, the foundations of the covenant.

Moshe gives us in 6:4 – 9 the Shema and V’Ahavta, the watchword of Judaism: “Hear, oh Israel; the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.” The next statements tell us how to act everyday, to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and might, to talk of His laws when we rise, sleep, go out, come in, and to keep His commandments on our hearts and minds and doorposts of our houses.

These statements are repeated together at every Jewish Shabbat service. The most used interpretation of the word echad (one) at the end of the Shema is not what I think it should be, and that is because I agree with the interpretation of R. Rashbam, which is that ‘echad’ should be interpreted as “alone.”

To say that the Lord is one is not so different from the other paganistic religions of the day. I say that because we read in the bible that many pantheistic rulers agreed that the God of the Israelites was a powerful god and He was their god, indicating they believed that, geographically, Adonai was the god worshipped in Israel. If the Israelites say He is their god, and He is one, that simply means that Adonai is a singular god. He is one, not many.

But, if we interpret ‘echad’ as ‘alone’, then we have more than a statement of singular worship- we have a statement of monotheistic truth. The Lord is our God,  the Lord, alone. That meaning is, to me, much more clearly a statement that there isn’t any other God for us. It doesn’t insult or deny the religious beliefs of those nations surrounding Israel, but it does make the point that the jewish peoples do not recognize and will not worship any other gods. That is in keeping with the 2nd commandment about not worshipping any other gods.

The 2nd Commandment doesn’t really state that there aren’t other gods, for in fact, there were. Not that they existed in reality, but they existed in the culture and beliefs of the people surrounding the Jews. God didn’t tell us that He is the only god, He told us not to have any other gods before us. This may sound a little weird, almost as if I am acknowledging the existence of other gods, which I am NOT doing- I am saying that, as a form of tolerance for others, God did not deny their beliefs but simply told His people that they should worship Him, alone. Him, and only Him.

The history of Adonai’s blessing and power and miracles, when compared to the other, false gods of the nations, demonstrates that God, our God, is the only god.

So, I would prefer to use ‘alone’ at the end of the Shema. And, if I ever lead a congregation, I will.

Here’s something really interesting: first we need to know that in the Torah, the Ayin at the end of the word shema is written extra large, as is the Dalet at the end of echad. The Chumash I use (the Soncino Pentateuch and Haftorahs) notes this and says that this was to make sure the words were used correctly, i.e. ‘one’ for echad and ‘hear’ for shema (the difference between ‘hear’ and ‘perhaps’ is that the last letter for perhaps is an Aleph.)

The interesting thing is that when you put these two letters together, Ayin followed by Dalet, you get the word “ed”, which means ‘witness’. So, the last letter of the first word in the Shema and the last letter of the last word of the Shema, together form the word “witness”, which is exactly what the Shema is- a witness to the singularity and uniqueness of the Lord God, Almighty. And every time we repeat it we are all witnesses to the fact that Adonai is our God, and He is the only God.

One last thought for the day: God tells us to worship Him alone, and the Shema reminds us that He is the one, true God, Him alone. It doesn’t tell us we are to tell everyone else that their gods are false or that they are wrong. That won’t win anyone over. Today there aren’t that many pantheistic religions left, but there are monotheistic religions that are not teaching the truth about God. When trying to win people over to the truth about the salvation we have through Messiah Yeshua, we need to demonstrate it by being living examples of His love, mercy, compassion, power, and unique ability to change lives. We need to show what being Born Again did for us and not to tell others what they believe is wrong. Let them see in your life and how you live the truth of God’s salvation.

Comments welcomed (just be nice)