When R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev returned home from his first visit with the Maggid of Mezeritch, his father-in-law asked him what he had learned. “I learned that G‑d exists,” R. Levi Yitzchak answered.

“Is that all?!” replied his father-in-law. “Why even the servant girl knows that there is a G‑d.”

“She will say that she knows,” Rabbi Levi Yitzchok answered. “I actually know.”

Parshas Vaes’chanan

This week’s Torah reading contains the Shema, the fundamental prayer in Jewish liturgy. When a person recites the Shema, he is not merely declaring that there is only one G‑d. The intent of the Shema is that all existence is one with Him.

Judaism does not believe that the spiritual and the physical can be separated from each other. We do not believe in a G‑d who sits in the heavens and allows the world to function however it desires. Instead, the spiritual and the physical are both manifestations of a single unity.

This is what we mean when we say “G‑d is one” — that G‑d’s oneness embraces everything that we see, hear, or become aware of.

These concepts are hinted at by אחד, echad, the Hebrew word for one. That word is made up of three letters. The first letter, the א, alef, stands for the Ein Sof, G‑d’s infinity. The second, the ח, ches, is equivalent to the number eight, referring to the seven spiritual realms and our material earth. The last letter, the ד, dalet, equivalent to four, alludes to the four directions of this earth. What is inferred is that the alef, G‑d’s infinite transcendence, permeates the ches, all eight levels of existence, and more particularly, the dalet, the four directions of our world. Wherever we go, there is nothing apart from Him.

On this basis, we can understand why the Shema is the message associated with our people’s martyrs. When a martyr gives up his life for his faith, he is making a statement that he refuses to separate the physical from the spiritual. He will not live a life that does not reflect his inner G‑dly essence. If he is forced to sever the connection between the two and live in contradiction to what he believes and what he knows is right, then he would rather not live. For he cannot conceive of a life that runs contrary to his spiritual core. For him, the oneness of G‑d is an actual — not merely a theoretical — reality.

The Shema continues with the commandment to love G‑d. That command raises a question: How can the Torah command us to love? You either feel love or you don’t. No one can tell you to feel something that you don’t.

That’s why the commandment to love G‑d follows after the declaration of G‑d’s oneness. When a person understands the oneness of G‑d and appreciates how He is manifest in every element of existence, he will be spurred to feelings of love. For intellect gives birth to emotion and our awareness of G‑d prompts us to love Him.

Afterwards, the Shema mentions several mitzvos the commandments to study Torah, wear tefillin, and affix mezuzos on our doorposts. For it is through these deeds — and by extension, the totality of Jewish observance — that the oneness proclaimed in the Shema is made part and parcel of our everyday lives.

Looking to the Horizon

This Shabbos is given a special name, Shabbos Nachamu, the Shabbos of comfort. The name is taken from the Haftorah of this week which begins with Isaiah’s prophecy: “Take comfort, take comfort, My people.” After commemorating the tragedy of the Temple’s destruction on Tishah BeAv, our Sages instituted a series of seven prophetic readings that change our focus.

These readings promise that Israel will be comforted with the coming of the Redemption. Exile and destruction are just phases, the beginning of a process, not its end. In that vein, our Sages tell us that Mashiach was born on Tishah BeAv. Whatever the simple meaning of that statement, its intent is that every year, Tishah BeAv generates a renewed impetus for Redemption. Concealed beneath the destruction and exile is G‑d’s desire to bring Mashiach, and to elevate both Israel and the world to a state of ultimate fulfillment.

At no point in our national history has the redemptive aspect of Tishah BeAv been as relevant as it is today, for we are at the threshold of the Redemption and, indeed, in the process of crossing that threshold. May we merit the completion of this process and the coming of the era when we will no longer know sorrow, and instead share in the joy of Redemption with the coming of Mashiach.