Thursday, 08 September 2016

Hashem is One

'אחת שאלתי מאת ה

There are many deep and esoteric levels of comprehension when it comes to the Mitzvos of Emunah – Faith, and the Mitzva of Yichud Hashem – the unification of Hashem. I would like to try and offer some original thoughts that can perhaps help bring these lofty concepts a little more down to earth, and explore how we can apply them in our struggles with the Yetzer Hara. Maybe if we have a better comprehension of these concepts, we can then work towards the right perspective to have when facing the battles of our Yetzer.

by Yaakov from GYE (See all authors)

Chazal say: בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת, צדיק באמונתו יחיה– The prophet Chavakuk came and founded all the Mitzvos of the Torah up on one Mitzva: that of EMUNAH, as the Pasuk (in Chavakuk) says “The righteous one lives in his faith.” This means that all the mitzvos of the Torah ultimately boil down to Emunah.

What does Emunah really mean? What are we supposed to believe or have faith in? That Hashem exists? That He is One? That He provides all our needs? That He is all powerful? Or maybe all of the above? In other words, what exactly does the Mitzva of Emunah entail, and why is it the most important Mitzva of all?

Before we attempt to answer this, let us first ask another important question. I am hopeful that with the answer to the second question, the answer to the first will also become apparent:

Why is the yichud (unification) of Hashem - the idea that Hashem is ONE - so central to Judaism? Why do we declare it with great fervor in Kriyas Shema twice a day? Any 5-year-old child knows that there is only one G-d, what’s the big deal? After all, there is also only one of ME and one of YOU! But there’s no Mitzva to believe that there’s only one of us or only ONE Mount Everest, or only ONE Western Wall in Jerusalem. What lies behind the great Mitzva of believing that Hashem is ONE?

So the simple meaning of the Mitzva is to believe that Hashem is the only force that exists, and no other will or force can do anything that He does not allow. It also means that ultimately, everything is really just an extension and manifestation of Him, in some way or another. Nothing exists separate from Him. But again, what difference does that really make to ME, on a personal level? Why is this Mitzva so important for us to declare and internalize deep in our hearts?

The chassidic sefarim explain that the Mitzva of unification of Hashem is really in our hearts, to strive that everything we do should ultimately be with ONE purpose: ONLY for Hashem’s sake and not for our own. When we exercise our own will in contrast to Hashem’s Will, it is, in some way, denying Hashem’s absolute unity, because we are declaring that OUR will also matters and can even CONFLICT with His Will. Our actions are declaring that there are really שני רשויות - two distinct dominions. On the other hand, completely negating our will to His is the ultimate form of unification and declaration of "Hashem ECHAD." And this is the goal of every Jew, to reach this complete unification, where our own will is ONE with Hashem’s.

But this is a very high level. How can a human being, who has such strong desires for so many things, be expected to negate his will completely before G-d?

So I’d like to suggest that the unity of Hashem is really twofold. The first aspect is what we discussed above, i.e. negating our will to His. However, the second aspect of ‘Divine Unity’ is like a flip side to the same coin of ONENESS. We have a Mitzva of Emunah - to believe that Hashem has absolutely no self-interest in anything He does. His will is also ONE, i.e. it is completely selfless and only for our good. Since He is G-d and needs nothing for Himself, then by definition everything He does is for US. As Chazal say: בשבילי נברא העולם– "the world was created for me." What this means is that we actually have a Mitzva to believe and have faith that anything that ever happened - or will happen - that affects us in any way, is ultimately for our good. There can never be any reason in the world that Hashem would not be doing everything possible for our very best interest at this very moment.

To elaborate a little more on this second aspect of divine Oneness, we need to believe that everything we have: our sustenance and possessions; every breath we take; all our strengths and weaknesses; and every atom and cell in our bodies all are EXACTLY what we need right now for our very best interest, and that we need absolutely NOTHING else. Because, if Hashem has no self-interest and only our best interest in Mind always, and if He is all powerful and all-wise, then by definition whatever we have and whatever our life circumstances are right now, must be the very best possible for us and EXACTLY what we need.

Now, if we truly believe this second aspect, then the FIRST aspect of Hashem’s unity (the negating of our will to His) becomes much easier. For, after all, why would we ever need to exercise our own will (in contrast to His) if He is providing all our needs with our very best interest in mind at ALL times? How could a person ever contemplate to go against Hashem’s Will, for example to steal someone else’s money or to desire someone else’s wife, or do anything against Hashem’s Will, if he truly internalizes that Hashem has only ONE thing in Mind – his own very best personal best interest – at all times?

Perhaps, we can understand this a bit better with a parable. Let’s imagine that a great and powerful king wants to reward one of his loyal subjects with everlasting riches and pleasures for the rest of his life. The king has a big mansion built for him, and gives him dozens of servants, a beautiful wife, all the finest foods, the best cooks, etc. all in an effort to ensure that his subject has everything that a human being could ever possibly want. But one day, this man slips out the backdoor and goes down to the town to eat, drink, and steal. Someone calls the police on him, and they find him in back alley with a prostitute. When he is brought before the royal court, the king is rightfully furious at him and yells, “Is all that I have done for you not enough, that you feel you need to take your own needs and desires into your own hands, and even go against my righteous laws?!"

In the same way, when we work on our Emunah – faith – that Hashem is ONE in His desires - having ONLY the desires of His creations in mind at all times, then the first part of the mitzvah of unity, which is negating our will to His, becomes an EASY task! How can we - and why would we ever need to assert our own will, if we can just give it all away to Hashem and trust completely that He has only our best interest in mind at all times? How could we even dream of going against His will?

So these two aspects of Divine Unity - Yichud Hashem, that (1) everything we do is for Him (2) everything He does is for us, are intrinsically tied together. As the pasuk says in Shir Hashirim: אני לדודי ודודי לי- I am for my beloved, and my beloved is for me. Because when we truly believe “my beloved is for me” then “I am for my beloved” logically ensues.

Perhaps, this is why when we unify Hashem twice a day in Kriyas Shema, we precede the declaration with the blessing: “Who has chosen his nation Yisrael with LOVE” (in Shacharis) and “Who loves his nation Yisrael” (in Maariv). Before we unify Hashem by negating our own will to His, we need to first internalize how much He loves US!

And this is the true meaning of the Mitzva that directly follows “Hashem Echad” in Kriyas Shema. As it says: “And you shall love Hashem your G-d with all your heart, all you soul, and all your means.” Now that we have internalized the unity of His love for us, we can be expected to love Him with everything we’ve got and completely negate our own desires for His. For what do we need our own will if we can just throw everything into His hands with complete trust and know that He will always be providing for us exactly what we need at all times?

Perhaps, this is also one of the hidden meanings in the pasuk in לדוד ה' אורי that we say in Elul: אם תקום אלי מלחמה בזאת אני בוטח , אחת שאלתי מאת ה'. “If a battle will come up against me, in this I put my trust: ONE (thing) I have asked from Hashem…” The greatest battle that we face in our lives is the battle with the Yetzer Hara. And the Yetzer Hara is really just a manifestation of our own “self will” as opposed to “Hashem’s Will”. Maybe, Dovid Hamelech is saying that when the battle of wills comes up, I can trust in the fact that I ask Hashem to help me UNIFY him: “In this I trust: ACHAS” - "I ask only to unify Hashem and believe that all He does is for me. And when I do this, I can win the strongest battles of the Yetzer Hara because I have no NEED any more to assert my own will. I can gratefully throw my will into His hands and negate all my own desires, knowing that He has got me completely covered."

At the end of the day, the whole Torah boils down to negating our will to Hashem’s Will. But as we explained before, this can only be done through EMUNAH in the other side of the coin, that Hashem is onlyטוב ומיטב and has only ONE will - our very best interest in mind at all times. Perhaps this is what Chazal meant when they said: בא חבקוק והעמידן על אחת , צדיק באמונתו יחיה. The ultimate expression of ACHAS is through the Emunah that Hashem has only our best interest in mind at all times. It is ultimately our Emunah in Hashem’s absolute goodness that allows us to achieve ACHAS – a true unification of Hashem and negation of our will to His. This is perhaps why all the mitzvos boil down to Emunah – complete faith in Hashem’s goodness. Because it is through this faith that we can then negate our will completely to His.


What really is Emunah?

The main aspect of Emunah, as stated before, is the belief that Hashem has only one desire, to be טוב ומיטיב. But Emunah also includes other aspects, such as:

- The belief that there is no other force in the universe but Him,

- Nothing and no one else provides for any of our needs besides for Him,

- He is infinitely great, having no beginning and no end, and He is capable of absolutely anything.

But believing in all these additional aspects of Emunah is not so difficult to do. Why should we mind to believe that Hashem is the only force, and that He is infinitely great? But the main work of Emunah is to believe that Hashem is only טוב ומיטיב. In a world where each of us experiences (and witnesses) so much pain and suffering, to really believe and internalize that Hashem is absolutely good to everyone at all times - takes a lot more work! As a matter of fact, almost noone ever achieves this level of Emunah perfectly, but we spend our entire lives working towards this and trying to grow in this aspect of Emunah.

In any case, I would like to conjecture that all these other aspects of Emunah are really all pointing to this one point: that Hashem is טוב ומיטיב. How so? Well, imagine – lehavdil – that you owned a dog and this dog’s only desire was to please you, its master. Would this make you want to serve the dog in return? No, because the dog is not very great in your eyes. Now, let’s look at something infinite and awesome, like the universe. Spanning 14 billion light years, with over a hundred billion galaxies – each containing about 100 billion stars, the universe’s awesomeness and infinite nature are absolutely overwhelming to our little minds. But do these facts make us want to serve the universe? Also not, because as long as we perceive the universe as cold and unfeeling, having no interest in our personal good, why should we want to serve it? So we see from these two examples that it is only the combination of the belief in both Hashem’s absolute goodness coupled with the belief in his infinite nature and power that brings us to want to negate our will to His.

A beautiful example of this combination can be found in a Pasuk in Tehilim: “Who heals the broken hearted and bandages their sadness, Who counts the stars and names each and every one of them.” This Pasuk is describing, on the one hand, how awesomely great Hashem is, that He counts and names every one of the trillions of stars, yet, on the other hand, how concerned He is with every single broken heart. Now that is truly a G-d that we should want to negate our will to!

To help us understand how His greatness helps us negate our will, imagine if the president of United States, who has a hand in helping millions of people, was visiting your city and asked you, a simple bystander, to hold his briefcase for him and accompany him down the road while everyone cheered him on. Would we consider this a bothersome chore, or would we do this with the greatest joy for the great honor he is giving us to be of service to him? Surely, we would be delighted to do it and not even feel the weight of the briefcase that we are holding! In the same way, the greater Hashem is in our eyes and the more He is “only good” in our eyes, the easier it becomes to negate our will to His. Perhaps this is why, after we say the Pasuk of Shema and unify Hashem (as discussed before, the unity of His will being that He has only one desire - to do good for His creations), we then add the Pasuk "Blessed is the name of His glorious Kingdom for ever and ever." This Pasuk strengthens our Emunah in G-d's awesomeness as well, so that with the combination of His absolute goodness AND his awesome greatness, we can then “love Him with all your hearts, all your soul and all your means,” as expressed in the Pasuk that follows.

There’s another aspect to Emunah as well, that Hashem is the ONLY force and the ONLY provider. How does this tie in to Hashem’s goodness? Well, let’s say we believed that Hashem is absolutely good and awesome, but we would also believe - chas veshalom - there are also other gods who provide for some of our needs (e.g. people believed once in rain gods, fertility gods, etc.), then would we ONLY want to serve Hashem? We would want to serve these other gods, as well. Therefore, the belief that there is only ONE GOD who is the absolute SOLE provider of all our needs, is an integral part of the Mitzva of Emunah that Hashem is טוב ומיטיב (and we therefore only want to serve Him).

So all these different aspects of Emunah (a) that He is infinitely great (b) that He is only good (c) that there is no other god or provider besides Him, are really all part of the single most important aspect of Emunah – that Hashem is טוב ומיטיב. And like we said before, that aspect of Emunah is where the real avodah (work) lies.


A Quick Review:

- There are two aspects of what the unification of Hashem should mean to US. One, for us to believe that Hashem only has one desire – to bestow good on His creations, and two, that we too should have only one desire - to do His will.

- All the Mitzvos of the Torah can be summed up with the Mitzva of Emunah. Why? Because the greater our Emunah is, the easier it becomes to nullify (and unify) our will to Hashem’s will, which is the entire purpose of the holy Torah.

- Emunah is mainly the belief and trust that Hashem is only טוב ומיטיב. Although Emunah also includes other aspects like the belief in Hashem’s absolute power and infinite greatness, the real work and main focus of Emunah is to believe and trust at all times that Hashem is טוב ומיטיב. And with this belief, we will find it much easier to nullify our own will to His.

- When we say Shema twice a day, we should have in mind the following sequence:

1. הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה - or (in Maariv) - אוהב עמו ישראל: “Hashem loves us immensely and unconditionally.”

2. שמע ישראל: Listen Yisrael – “Yisrael” in Hebrew can be broken down into the words “ישר-אל” – meaning “straight to G-d”. In other words, the real essence of Yisrael - of a Jew, is that all we do is for G-d).

3. ה' אלוקינו: Hashem is our G-d - our personal G-d. Not just a cold and uncaring force like the universe, but rather a personal G-d who cares only about our good.

4. ה' אחד: Hashem has only one desire, i.e. He ONLY wants our good and nothing else. Therefore, we too want to unify all our desires and will to doing ONLY His will.

5. ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו וכו': Hashem is awesomely great, and if this awesome King Who has only our good in mind wants us to serve Him, what a huge honor it is for us to do that!

6. ואהבת את ה' אלוקך בכל לבבך וכו': In light of all the above (He loves us like crazy, wants only our good, and is awesomely great), loving Hashem with all we’ve got is basically a GIVEN!


How to apply these ideas to Shmiras Einayim and Shmiras Habris:

When we are pulled to look at things we shouldn’t or towards forbidden desires, we must remember this Pasuk. אם תקום אלי מלחמה בזאת אני בוטח,אחת שאלתי מאת ה'. “If a battle comes upon me, I will trust in this: “ONE” I have asked from Hashem.” In other words, when we truly believe that Hashem has only ONE interest in mind at all times - that He is always providing us with all our needs, and that He is the ONE and ONLY provider, then how can we try to take pleasures outside of what He is providing for us? It is actually a form of blasphemy for us to seek to “take” - in whatever small way - pleasures that Hashem doesn’t deem fit to give us right now. Because when we do, what is really happening deep down in our hearts is that we are believing in other gods (or godessess?) who we think can provide our needs OTHER than Hashem.

The Zohar states that when Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai would pass by beautiful women with his students, he would urge them to avert their eyes and would recite the Pasuk “אל תפנו אל האלילים – do not turn to other gods.” When we look where we shouldn’t, in our subconscious minds we are denying that Hashem is the ONLY provider or our needs, and that He is taking care of us completely and has only our very best interest in mind at all times. Because right now we are attempting to take the care of ourselves into our OWN hands by seeking pleasures outside of what He has deemed fit to give us at this very moment. We are attempting to receive “good” from a “provider” that is OTHER than Hashem.

So the more we work on our Emunah that (a) Hashem is only טוב ומיטיב and only has our very best interest in mind at all times and (b) that He is the ONLY source of all good and there is no good outside of what He provides for us, then the easier we will find it to throw away any selfish desires that counter Hashem’s will, and put ourselves completely into His loving care instead.

These yesodos are actually the spiritual basis for the 12-Step program, as well. When we internalize that G-d truly cares for us and has only our very best interest in mind at all times, we can then let go of even the biggest battle of will of all time – that of ‘Addiction’ (which is really just the desperate need to care for ourselves) and throw it all into G-d’s hands instead with complete abandon. And wonder of wonders, when we do this, we find that He really does take care of us!

May Hashem help us always live this way, especially now in Elul which is Roshei Teivos אני לדודי ודודי לי, and also the time when we say every day the Pasukאחת שאלתי מאת ה'. And may we all be zoche to a כתיבה וחתימה טובה!

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