Hey Rabbi:

It seems to me that monotheism is a solution to nothing. Before monotheism, we had barbarians. After monotheism, we had barbarians. Monotheistic barbarians.

Before monotheism, we had wars in the name of a whole pantheon of gods. After monotheism, we had wars in the name of a supreme god.

It’s one thing when you go to war with “Our god is bigger than your god.” Those wars, bad as they were, were local. It’s another when you declare “Ours is the only god!” Those are the wars that can destroy the world.

Or is that the entire goal of monotheism—to wipe all disbelievers off the face of the earth?

—Kinda Angry

Hey Kinda:

You’re right. Monotheism is a dangerous belief. You’re right. Monotheism is a dangerous belief.Perhaps one of the most dangerous beliefs there is. Because it leaves no room for anything else. You could destroy the world with this belief.

There’s another dangerous belief. That’s belief in the human being. One who worships human intellect as the measure of all things has also proven himself capable of destroying the world with his beliefs. Because a human’s mind cannot help but be bribed by his own ego.

For either of these beliefs—the belief in human beings and the belief in One G‑d—to safely enter our world, the two concepts had to be married together.

For monotheism to work, a crucial fact about this One G‑d must be accepted: That He is in love with this world He has made, and especially with the people He has placed upon it.

For human intellect to function safely, we must first accept that there is something beyond intellect, something eternally and immovably good and life-affirming Who determines what is true and what is not, what is right and what is wrong.

Look through the annals of history and you will see it: When this sort of belief has guided men and women, whatever religion they followed, those people brought peace, wisdom and progress into the world.

Today, we desperately need this marriage of beliefs. With it, we can heal our world.

Two Themes of Beginning

Take a look at the opening of Genesis and you will see these two themes.

There are actually two narratives of creation there: The first is centered on the theme of G‑d as creator, the second focused on the theme of Adam, the first human being, created “in the divine image.”

Take one narrative without the other, and you’ve lost everything. If G‑d leaves no room for man, or man leaves no room for G‑d, you’ve got one lousy story ahead of you.If G‑d leaves no room for man, or man leaves no room for G‑d, you’ve got one lousy story ahead of you.

Even in the first narrative alone, take a closer look: G‑d creates and then He declares each thing He makes to be good. When it’s all done, it’s declared “very good.”

That’s an essential part of the narrative: The Creator appreciates His creation. It has purpose and meaning to Him.

No, this world was not created for some apocalyptic finale, neither was its magnificence formed only to dissipate into ionized gas. It was created, as Isaiah says, “not for desolation, but to be lived upon.” And to find divine meaning in that life.

G‑d loves life. Life is G‑dly. The two, of necessity, go hand in hand.

The Alefbet of Creation

An ancient Midrash says the same in the language of a parable. 1

It says that the G‑d chose to create the world beginning with the second letter of the alphabet, rather than the first. Why? Because if the world began with the first letter, it would be a world that allowed for only one singularity. Nothing else would have meaning. It would be a meaningless, dark world.

So instead He created it beginning with the second letter—the letter beit of Breishit. Only later, when He gave the Torah, did He begin with the first letter—the letter א alef of אנכי Anochi.

That way, there would first be a something, a world, and then we would discover the meaning of that world.

What is that meaning?

That even when there is a world, there is truly only One; there is nothing else but Him. This world is the ultimate mystery of the divine, and it is up to us to unveil that mystery—by cherishing life.Because this world is the ultimate mystery of the divine, and it is up to us to unveil that mystery—by cherishing life, nurturing life, and doing all the best things we can with life. By cherishing His world.

Two Kinds of One

That’s the real meaning of “G‑d is One.”2

Some people think that’s a statement of belief in a supreme deity—one who is so big, he has exclusive rights over everything. Which means that nothing has real value.

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the rabbi who, in discussion with a self-professed atheist, said, “The god that you don’t believe in, I also don’t believe in.”

Because these people haven’t really escaped the paradigm of polytheism. They are still orbiting within its gravitational pull. They see the world around them as something entirely separate from the G‑d that created it.

That’s not the meaning of “G‑d is One.”

“G‑d is one” is a statement about the essential fabric of our reality.“G‑d is one” is a statement about the essential fabric of our reality. It’s a statement that “in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is nothing else but Him.” And that can only be so if this world He has created has divine meaning.3

“G‑d is one” tells you: Look at this amazing creation you inhabit. Listen to the majestic harmony of a billion trillion parts. Peer upon the infinite wisdom that lies within each of its details. Discover G‑d here. Because in all the things that He has made, there is a wondrous paradox—that within the endless diversity of all opposites breathes a perfect oneness.

Blind Faith Vs. Solid Faith

How do people come to these bizarre conclusions about G‑d and what He wants from them? How could you have a god who created a world and wants to see its destruction?

Because their beliefs are based on their own need for power.

When the god you worship is based on your need for power, or even on your sense of reason, that god can never be bigger than you.When the god you worship is based on your need for power, or even on your sense of reason, that god can never be bigger than you. You are, after all, its foundation. So the bigger this god becomes, you will always be bigger than it.

This kind of belief is in the same category as “blind faith.” Blind faith is an instinct to just follow, to allow your ego to be swallowed into a much greater whole—and thereby become an even greater ego.

And that leaves the whole world at your disposal.

The way out is to begin from the opposite end. Begin with a sense that this reality is not predicated on your existence, but upon a singularity that transcends all things and is found within all of them.

When you really get that, it’s only natural to ask, “If so, what am I doing here? What is this world doing here? What is this all about? What is the meaning?” And you search for meaningful answers.

If you think about these questions with a clear mind, looking at this amazing world about you, you’ll certainly realize that the Creator of this world desires diversity.

And that’s what Jews believe—that in the messianic era there will still be many nations. “No nation shall raise a sword against another. They will learn war no more.”4 They won’t all become Jews.5 They will be good people, keeping the basic laws of civil human behavior—known as the “laws of Noah.”6

And in those times, as Maimonides writes, “the entire occupation of the world will be to know G‑d.”7 All these nations will see the oneness of the divine in each thing, each from their unique perspective.

Faith, Love & G‑d

That sense, that capacity to start with a point beyond yourself, is called emunah. Some translate that as “belief,” but they miss the point.

Emunah is an intuitive knowledge of a reality that is much greater than you. It is a knowledge that is beyond our sense of reason, because it is capable of escaping the ego.

So that if you have true emunah you feel truly small. You feel that your entire existence is not to “just be,” but for a purpose.

With faith predicated on ego and power, there is no room for others. With emunah, there is space for everyone. There is a sense of mission, a commitment to life, and to finding meaning in all things.

That’s something accessible to all people. If you truly love G‑d, you love that which G‑d loves.Whatever trappings your monotheism may take on, if you truly believe in G‑d’s oneness, that oneness will include a love for life, for living beings, and especially for your fellow human beings. Because if you truly love G‑d, you love that which G‑d loves.8