During a recent Sunday-morning discussion, someone asked me a question: I often speak of the Torah as a unifying document with an all-encompassing and harmonizing perspective on reality; yet, this gentleman noted, the Torah also seems to have a disunity theme. He gave me four examples of a 'separateness doctrine', and wondered about reconciling unity with this theme of separateness.

Here are his four examples:

1. 'Holiness' and 'separateness' are basically synonymous in Torah language. This obviously places a positive spin on 'separateness'.

2. There is the well-known legislation against intermarriage, which can't help but create separation between peoples.

3. There is the Torah prohibition of mixing meat and milk. The Torah gives no reason for this prohibition, but we can at least deduce a lesson of separateness of various species.

4. Similar to the above, there is a prohibition of 'Shatnes' (we all gave him due credit for knowing this one), where the Torah prohibits us from mixing wool and linen. While no reason is given, it is apparent that the Torah wants to send us a message about the need to maintain clear lines of division within creation and nature. My response was the Talmudically-typical "you're 100% right, now I'll show you where you're wrong".

I augmented his question by adding another few examples of this 'separateness doctrine".

A. The Torah prohibits men from wearing distinctly female clothing, and women from donning distinctly male garments. This seems to send a message about maintaining nature's male/female distinctions.

B. The Torah forbids us from harnessing together, or cross-breeding, two species of animal.

C. The Torah tells us not to plant two different types of species together. The same differentiation theme emerges.

So the question begs an answer: Does the Torah indeed advocate separateness as a value? Translating that socially, does the Torah advocate ghetto-ization or perhaps separate-but-equal?

To get a better grip on this, let’s look at the Torah ideal of unity and oneness.

The phrase “Shema Yisrael.....Echad” - Hear O’ Israel....G‑d is One - may be the Torah’s most famous verse. It is a small child’s bedtime prayer, and recited twice daily by Jews throughout the world. As a child, I heard many stories of martyrs going to their deaths in autos-da-fe and gas chambers with the Shema on their lips.

What’s so special about this Shema statement? The educated Jew will probably say that this verse articulates the belief in monotheism - G‑d is One. The Shema represents the theology which Abraham so valiantly pioneered in the pagan world of his time.

But what does monotheism mean? Is it simply that we believe in one G‑d, as opposed to many gods? What if a group of people believed that one specific statue was G‑d, and they believed in no other statue but this one; would they be monotheists? The obvious answer is no. But why?

We need to understand that monotheism isn’t about a simple numbers game. It’s not that Judaism repudiated a belief in fifty gods, but ten gods was getting closer to acceptable. Abraham didn’t just whittle membership in the god pantheon down to one. If that were the case, we could make a case for monotheism existing in pre- Abrahamic cults.

Monotheism means much more than one god as opposed to two; it’s not just a statement that there is no other G‑d outside of G‑d. It’s a statement that there is no other reality outside of G‑d. Nothing at all exists outside the Divine. But if so, why do we use the Hebrew word Echad - meaning ‘One’ - to describe G‑d’s Oneness? A better word would be Yachid, which means ‘Only’. ‘One’ can be a single reality, made of components coming together as one. ‘Only’ underscores the absolute lack of another reality. Why call G‑d ‘One’ when we can call Him ‘Only’?

Shema’s message articulates the beauty of having a disparate world, one which seems disconnected from itself, let alone from the Divine, being brought into harmony with the Divine plan.

G‑d created a world of differences. That’s the way it’s supposed to be. If there were only one element to the Divine Will in creation, then G‑d could have created a single being and less complexity in nature.

G‑d created a world with men and women, Jew and gentile, trees and flowers, etc so that we might each - in our own vein - contribute to the Divine goal of making this world into a G‑dly place.

G‑d created a symphony, with many different instruments contributing to the Divine harmony. We just need to find the peculiar talent and contribution of each instrument Obliterating the differences defeats the point. We have to learn from differences and use them the way G‑d intended them. Each of G‑d’s creations - with their differences - has a unique role in our march toward meaning.

So, yes, the Torah has a separateness doctrine. The same Torah which celebrates the profound unity between husband and wife, warns us not to forget who we each are. Blurring the lines between man and woman leads to ‘sameness’ not ‘oneness’.

The Jewish goal is ‘G‑d is One’. Recognizing the world which G‑d created, with all its parameters and differences, and recognizing the beauty in those nuances of this wonderful world in which we live.