Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad
The Shema is the central prayer of Judaism – Hear Israel, the Lord is God and the Lord is One.
The classical interpretation stresses monotheism – there is one God, not many – and highlights early Judaism’s struggles against polytheism. Yet this isn’t the only valid interpretation – as with most things in Judaism, there are multiple ways to approach the meaning of this prayer.
Another approach stresses the avoidance of idolatry. We worship God alone, and we are to examine our behavior to see what false gods we spend our time, money, and energy pursuing. The Shema in this instance is a call to banish idols and focus on the One, true, God. (We can discuss another day, who that might be.)
Yet, still, another approach stresses the unity of all being – Echad – the Hebrew word for one, also implies unity. Many Jews understand that they are also affirming the interconnectedness of all reality when they say this prayer. Individualism is a mirage, yes, we maintain an individual identity, but we exist completely entwined in a unified reality – a system of interconnectedness and interdependence.Once we move away from our illusions of isolation and separateness, we can begin to glimpse our interdependence – I breath what the trees and plants exhale, my health depends on the quality of the soil, water, and air, my thriving is interconnected with the well-being of those around – in particular, the least of my brothers and sisters.
Therefore, when I affirm the Oneness of God, I am also affirming the unity of the human family and the interdependence of everything on Earth and beyond.
Such insights play an essential role in any Judeo-Christian social thinking – our call to love our neighbor is one of inherent harmony, of necessity, and justice – serving the poor, tending to the needy, speaking out for those without a voice, inviting those on the margins in, and affirming the dignity of all is a matter of justice and not a luxury – it’s part of the inner logic of human flourishing.
Christians tend not to say the Shema – it’s not part of their liturgy or standard prayers. Still, some Christians recite the Creed weekly, and that Creed stresses the Oneness of God. And those Christians who aren’t Creedal can still reflect on the unity we share in the Eternal One.