To experience life on this earth is to experience opposite extremes. There are moments of creativity, love, joy and meaning—and then moments of frustration, pain, sadness and confusion. As expressed so poetically by King Solomon in Ecclesiastes: “There is a time to give birth and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot . . . a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time of wailing and a time of dancing . . . a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.”1

Likewise, when we look into our hearts, we also findWhen we look into our hearts, we find opposing drives opposing drives: the selfish and the selfless, the animalistic and the G‑dly, the inclination for evil and the inclination for good. These extremes are a source of tension that, to one degree or another, each of us experiences.

What advice does Judaism offer on how to manage these tensions? What insight does the Torah provide to help us make it through the times of darkness and confusion? In this week’s portion, Moses speaks the phrase which, perhaps more than any other, captures Judaism's heart and soul, as well as relays its message on how to navigate the stormy sea we call life.

Moses tells us that despite the tension we feel every day, despite the world being divided and fractured, the true essence of our existence is oneness. As Moses states:

Hear, O Israel: The L‑rd is our G‑d; the L‑rd is one.2

This message is so radical, so counterintuitive, so life changing that we are commanded to recite these words, as well as teach them to our children, not once but twice each and every day—once in the morning and once at night.

When we recite the words of the Shema prayer, we are telling ourselves and our children that both the “morning,” the moments of life in which we feel the blessings of G‑d shining upon us, as well as the “night,” the moments of darkness and challenge, are expressions of the one G‑d.3 The Kabbalistic meaning of the phrase “the L‑rd (Hashem) is our G‑d (Elokeinu)” is that the Divine power of expression and revelation (Hashem), as well as his power to conceal and hide his presence (Elokim), are, in truth, one and the same. The difference between revelation and concealment, between good and evil, between day and night, is only from our perspective. The truth, however, is that both are expressions of G‑dliness. There are times when G‑d’s love, providence and protection is concealed, yet the central pillar of our faith is that G‑d’s presence, although it may be hidden, exists and pervades all of reality.

The same is true for the opposing drives within our own heart. Immediately after declaring that the core of all reality is oneness, Moses continues in the Shema: “And you shall love the L‑rd, your G‑d, with allG‑d is the one truth that pervades all existence your heart.” Rashi, quoting the Midrash and the Mishnah, explains that “with all your heart” means “love Him with your two inclinations [the good and the evil].” What is true for the macrocosm is also true for the microcosm within the heart of man. Although we feel the evil inclination and the good inclination pulling us in completely different directions, although it seems that the animal soul and the G‑dly soul do not share a common goal, the truth, however, is that at the core they are one. They were both created for the same purpose, and both are necessary in order for us to reach the purpose of our creation. The passion of the animal soul must be transformed to the love of G‑d, not by suppressing the passion but by channeling it. At its core, the animal soul wants what is good for itself, and once we teach it to develop a taste and an appreciation for spirituality, the passion and might of the animal soul will be reoriented. Then our love for all that is positive, constructive and holy will be far greater than the love that the G‑dly soul could produce on its own.

This, then, is Judaism's unique perspective: G‑d is the one truth that pervades all existence and we, in turn, must create that oneness within our hearts, channeling the animal soul’s immense passion toward the love of G‑d.4