Declaring the Unity of God and Accepting His Kingdom, Part 2

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

 

 

 

            In our previous shiur we learned that the Rambam explains that the concept of God’s unity means that God is singular in a sense that can only be properly comprehended in its negation – that He is indivisible and cannot be conceived as being of more than one.

 

            The Rambam writes elsewhere (Moreh Nevukhim 1:35) that these ideas must be taught even to those who are limited in their ability to comprehend abstract concepts. Just as one must teach such people that God is one and that one must not worship any other god, so one must teach them that God has no body, and that He may not be compared to any of His creatures.

 

            The Gemara (Berakhot 20b) states that women are exempt from the mitzva of Shema, because it is a time-bound positive commandment. Surely it is impossible that women should be exempt from the mitzva regarding God's unity which was given to us in the verse, "Hear O Israel." Therefore, the Rambam maintains that this verse contains two separate mitzvot: the mitzva regarding God's unity, that is to say, believing in God's unity, which is a mitzva obligating all, including women; and the mitzva of reciting the Shema in the evening and in the morning, which is a time-bound positive commandment, from which women are exempt.

 

            Returning to the Semag’s position that the assertion of God’s unity, in the sense that there is no other God, is part of the mitzva of Shema, one can ask how this verse differs from other verses that transmit this same notion, e.g., "To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God, there is no other beside him" (Devarim 4:35), and "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord is God in heaven above and upon the earth below; there is no other" (ibid. 39). It would seem that the answer is that these other verses are informational but are not formulated as, or considered to be, a mitzva. It is only the assertion of belief in God's unity that is included in the verse "Shema Yisrael" that gives this knowledge the status of a mitzva.

 

            It should also be noted that although the Rambam sees the term "one" as a negative attribute, it is obvious that it also includes the belief that God is one, and that there is no other god, as is explained in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-torah (1:7). This concept also implies the notion that “His sovereignty extends over everything” (Tehillim 103:19). Based on this one can explain what the Rambam means when he writes in Hilkhot Shofar (3:9), regarding the appropriateness of different verses for inclusion in the Malkhuyot prayer on Rosh Ha-shana:

 

All the following verses: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one"; "To you it was shown that you might know…;" and "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart…," express the concept of God's sovereignty (malkhut). Even though these verses do not explicitly mention His kingship, they are equivalent to: "God will rule forever and ever" (Shemot 15:18); and: "When He became King in Yeshurun" (Devarim 33:5).

 

In fact, this issue is the subject of a Tannaitic dispute in Rosh Ha-shana (32b):

 

"Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one" - this is a malkhut (kingship) verse; these are the words of Rabbi Yosei. Rabbi Yehuda says: It is not a malkhut verse. "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord, He is God [in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath;] there is no other" is a malkhut verse; these are the words of Rabbi Yosei. Rabbi Yehuda says: It is not a malkhut verse. "To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord He is God; there is none else beside Him" is a malkhut verse; these are the words of Rabbi Yosei. Rabbi Yehuda says: It is not a malkhut verse.

 

The Rambam rules in accordance with Rabbi Yosei. Rabbi Yosei's position that these verses indicate malkhut, kingship, can be understood in light of what the Ramban writes regarding the verse, "I am the Lord your God" (Shemot 20:2), that "[absolute] power is indicative of [God’s] unity." It stands to reason that the converse is also true, namely that God’s unity testifies to His power, and His power is indicative of His sovereignty, namely, absolute rule with no interference. The Sages demanded that this be emphasized in Shema, that is to say, not only does the acceptance of the yoke of the kingdom of heaven finds expression, according to the Rambam, in the very belief in, and declaration of, God's unity, but one must also proclaim God's kingship in heaven and on earth. This is what the Rambam means when he writes (Hilkhot Keri'at Shema 2:9) based on the Gemara: "One should sufficiently elongate the dalet in 'echad' in order to proclaim God's sovereignty over heaven and earth, and all four directions."

 

            This notion is explained by Rashi in Berakhot (13b, s.v. be-dalet) as follows: "But one should sufficiently elongate the dalet to accept, in one’s heart, His sovereignty, in heaven, on earth and in all four directions." Rashi gives a similar explanation later on the same page (s.v. de-amlikhteih): "[It is sufficient that] you extended [the recitation] long enough that you could think in your heart that God is one in heaven, on earth and in all four directions." This formulation of Rashi, referring to God’s sovereignty in various locales, is puzzling. How can one assign location to God; surely God is “the place of the world, but the world is not His place” (Sefer Yetzira; cited by Rashi, Shemot 33:21, on the verse: "There is a place by Me, and you shall stand upon a rock").

 

It may be suggested that Rashi is not speaking about God's being or essence as being “one in heaven and on earth,” but rather refers to the range of His kingship, so to speak, as asserted by the Semak. In mitzva no. 1, the Semak writes: "To know that He who created heaven and earth, He alone rules above and below and in all four directions, as it is written: 'I am the Lord your God.'" In the mitzva of Shema (no. 2), he writes: "To declare His unity. Rav Sa'adya Gaon explains that just as we must believe that He is the Lord, master of all, so must we believe that there is no master other than Him."

 

Nonetheless, the simple meaning of Rashi’s words remains difficult. Though the verse cited above does state: "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other," the simple meaning of this verse is the negation of any other god, in heaven or on earth. This is what is meant by "there is no other." But in a positive sense, that God is to be accepted in these various realms, remains puzzling to me.

 

            On further examination it seems to me that a different understanding can be suggested to explain Rashi. First, it should be noted that the notion that the verse "Know therefore this day…" comes to negate the existence of any other god in heaven or on earth is not universally accepted. That is not to say that this explanation is without basis. The Rashba, in the responsum cited in the previous shiur (V, no. 55), understands indeed explains the verse in this manner, as he writes:

 

[The Torah itself] has already explained all that we have said with the words: "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other" (Devarim 4:39). "Know therefore this day" – this includes learning and understanding; "and consider it in your heart" – through [intellectual] investigation; "that the Lord, He is God" – including belief and tradition. For investigation leads to the knowledge there is none other beside Him, master in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other.

 

However, the Ramban apparently understood otherwise. In paraphrase of the verses (Devarim 4:39-40) cited above: "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart, that the Lord, He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other. You shall keep therefore His statues, and His commandments, which I command you this day, that it may go well with you, and with your children after you, and that you may prolong your days upon the earth, which the Lord your God gives you, for ever" – the Ramban writes (at the end of his commentary to v. 32):

 

And since the great God is God in heaven above and upon the earth beneath, and there is no other - You shall therefore keep His statues, and His commandments, that it may go well with you in heaven above, and that you may prolong your days upon the earth beneath.

 

The Ramban adds a connective vav before the words "ein od""and there is no other," and this requires explanation.

 

            In order to explain this Ramban, let us turn back to the Rambam in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-torah (1:8):

 

Behold, it is explicitly stated in the Torah and [the works of] the prophets that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not [confined to] a body or physical form, as is it stated: "Because the Lord, your God, is the God in the heavens above and the earth beneath," and a body cannot exist in two places [simultaneously]. It is also stated (Devarim 4:15): "For you did not see any image," and it is stated (Yeshayahu 40:25): "To whom can you liken Me, with whom I will be equal." Were He [confined to] a body, He would resemble other bodies.

 

It should be noted that while the Rambam writes that this notion "is explicitly stated in the Torah," the verse that he cites is not found in the Torah, but in the book of Yehoshua (2:11). The Torah has a different verse which provides the proof that he is seeking, namely, the verse we have cited above, "that the Lord, He is God in heaven above, and upon the earth beneath; there is no other" (Devarim 4:39). It is indeed puzzling that the Rambam brought the verse in Yehoshua, the words of Rachav to the spies, rather than the verse in Devarim.[1] Indeed, some editions of the Rambam put the words "the Lord, your God" in brackets, for those words appear only in Yehoshua, and the printers were in doubt whether the Rambam intended to cite the verse in Devarim or the verse in Yehoshua. The vocalized edition of the Mishneh Torah published by Mossad Harav Kook omits those words altogether, and notes the source of the verse in Devarim. But this does not appear to be correct, for in the facsimile edition of the copy of Sefer Madda, the text was the Rambam himself vouched for in his own handwriting, the verse is cited the way that it appears in the standard printed editions, i.e., "Because the Lord, your God, is the God in the heavens above and the earth beneath," the verse in Yehoshua.[2]

 

            It seems that the Rambam wished to prove from the verse that indeed God is in the heaven and the earth, and therefore perforce He cannot have a body, for "a body cannot exist in two places simultaneously." One could suggest that the Rambam understood the verse, "Know therefore this day, and consider it in your heart…" (Devarim 4:39), along the lines that the Rashba did, that there is no other god in heaven or on earth, as if the verse said: "There is no other god in heaven above, or upon the earth beneath." According to this explanation, this verse does not prove that God is found both in heaven and on earth, and thus it provides no proof to the fact that God cannot have a body. Therefore the Rambam cites the verse from Yehoshua, which does not include the words, "there is no other," and perforce it teaches that God is found in heaven and on earth.

 

Returning to the Ramban, he apparently understands the verse in Devarim, "Know therefore this day…" similar to the way the Rambam explains the verse in Yehoshua, that it asserts God’s existence in heaven and on earth. Therefore, the Ramban says that the phrase "there is no other" teaches two things: 1) God is found in the heaven and on earth, 2) there is no other god. Given this understanding of the verse we can now understand what the Ramban means when he writes: "Since the great God is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath, and there is no other, you shall therefore keep his commandments and His statutes, that it may go well with you in heaven above, and that you may prolong your days upon the earth beneath." That is to say: Since He is found in heaven above and on the earth beneath, therefore it may go well with you in heaven above, and you may prolong your days upon the earth beneath.

 

If we then apply this understanding of the Ramban and the Rambam back to Rashi, we can now explain what Rashi means when he says that one should sufficiently elongate the dalet in order to think in one’s heart that God is one in heaven and on earth. The assertion that God is in heaven and on earth can be taken as an assertion that God has no body, and therefore He can be in heaven and on earth simultaneously.

 

            In conclusion, let us mention the Rashbam's creative explanation (Devarim 6:4) which avoids the aforementioned difficulties that arise from attributing numerical unity to God. According to his explanation, this verse does not assert that God's essence is one, but rather it relates to the relationship of the Jewish people with God:

 

The Lord is our God, the Lord is one – only the Lord is our God, and we have no other god alongside Him. And similarly in Divrei Ha-yamim (II 13:10): "But as for us, the Lord is our God, and we have not forsaken Him." That is to say: The Lord is our God, and not the calves to which you [Yaravam and his followers] prostrate yourselves. The Lord is one, only Him shall we worship, and we shall not add another god to worship along with Him….

 

(Translated by David Strauss)


[1] See the commentator on Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-torah (ad loc.).

[2] It should be noted that while in the facsimile edition we find the words "Because the Lord, your God, is the God," i.e., the verse in Yehoshua, above the words, "your God," there are dots, the well-known indication of erasure used in earlier times. It is therefore noted in the variant readings section in the Shabbetai Frankel edition of the Rambam, regarding the reading that omits the words, "your God:" "And so it was emended in the manuscript signed by our master." According to this, the verse cited by the Rambam is the verse in the book of Devarim. But since we are not dealing with an addition, but with a sign of erasure, it is not clear whether the erasure was made by the Rambam, or added later. Hence, the matter remains in doubt. It stands to reason that if the Rambam originally wrote the verse in Devarim, the copyist would not have emended the text with the verse in Yehoshua. Even if we say that it was not an intentional emendation on the part of the copyist, but rather an error, it would still mean that the copyist added a word that was not found before him.