Vaetchanan–Unity, future tense

There is an active aspect to the Shema that is perhaps the greatest mystery of all.   When we perform this and other mitzvahs, we are said to “unify the name” or “unify [God].”  Perhaps this idea derives from the prophecy in Zechariah, “And the LORD will become king over all the earth; on that day the LORD will be one and his name shall be one” (14:9).  This suggests that in some sense God and God’s name are not “one” yet, but that something needs to happen to make it so.   Just as in language a word is not fully “one” unless everyone agrees on its meaning, so God’s unity needs to be acknowledged in order to be effectual.

Reciting the Shema is an act of bearing witness. This is underscored visually in the traditional way that the verse is printed: the last letter of the first word (shema, “hear, listen”) and the last letter of the final word (echad, “one”) are printed bolder and larger than the others, and these two letters together form the word ed, “witness”).    In the book of Isaiah, YHWH admonishes Israel “You are my witnesses, and I am God” (43:12).  An ancient interpretation sees these roles as radically dependent on one another:  “When you are my witnesses, then I am God, but when you are not my witnesses, then I am, as it were, not God.”  Bearing witness to God’s unity actually enables the reality it describes.

Like the Shema,  Zechariah 14:9 is featured prominently in traditional Jewish worship.   Where the Shema is recited towards the beginning, Zech 14:9  is proclaimed towards the end in a prayer called the Aleinu, a word which can be translated, “it’s up to us.”

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