Wednesday, August 26, 2020
Sixth Day of Elul 5780
The first Jewish prayer that most of us learn is the Shema. The six Hebrew words are Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, “Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.”
We often understand that final word, “One,” as a statement that there are no other gods. We hear it as a statement of monotheism and a rejection of the belief in many gods. But Jewish tradition gives an even deeper meaning to that word, “One.”
If you think about it, the Shema cannot possibly be only about there not being any other gods. If it were, it would have said, “Adonai is the only one,” instead of saying, “Adonai is One.” (In Hebrew, this would be rak Adonai instead of Adonai Echad.)
What the Shema really means when it says, “Adonai is One,” is that God is the unity par excellence, the perfect unity that makes everything that exists into One. This is the deep meaning of the Shema and one of the most essential teachings of Judaism. We and everything that exists are all a part of God.
What does that mean for making t’shuvah? If the deepest truth of your existence is that you are a part of God, then God cannot possibly reject you. Instead, God yearns for you. God knows this deep truth that you are an essential part of God and the universe as a whole. God wants you to have this awareness, too. God wants you to return to God, which is just another way of saying that God wants you to return to yourself. The process of returning, which we call t’shuvah, requires work and it requires judgment, but it is not about decreeing yourself to be guilty or innocent. Rather it is about finding your way back home to God, which is really the only place you have ever been.
Practice for this day:
Recite the Shema out loud and understand it as a statement about unity. Feel it as an affirmation of your unity with God. Repeat saying it as many times as you need to feel yourself to be a part of God.
Write down how this experience feels. What new insights does it give you about the task of forgiveness and personal change for the better?