Sources:
Tanya , ch. 20; Torah Or, p. 55b;
Derech Mitzvosecha, pp. 23, 120;
the maamar entitled VeYadaata 5657;
the series of maamarim entitled Yom Tov Shel Rosh HaShanah 5666, p. 242;
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XI, p. 11ff.,
Vol. VXIII, pp. 225-226

R. Benyamin Kletsker was a successful timber merchant in Russia and a chassid who would spend hours in deep meditation and prayer. Once, after preparing his annual balance sheet and calculating the hefty profit he had earned, he wrote as the bottom line: Ein od milvado, “There is nothing else aside from Him.”

His partner chided him for his ostentatious display of his chassidic beliefs. To which R. Benyamin answered that he had not written the statement consciously; it was as if the words had written themselves. “Just as we occasionally think of business in the midst of prayer,” he explained, “it is possible to think of prayer in the midst of business.”1

Who Knows One?

The Shema praises G‑d as being “one.” The Shulchan Aruch2 explains that the Hebrew word “one,” אחד (echad), implies that G‑d is one in the heavens and the earth. The א stands for G‑d who is “the L-rd3 of the world.” The ח stands for the seven heavens and this material earth, and the ד stands for the four directions of this material world. G‑d’s oneness permeates the heavens and every corner of our material existence.

Chassidus4 notes that echad implies a sequence; one is followed by two. This does not apply with regard to G‑d. Instead, His oneness is all-encompassing and absolute to the extent that there is no other existence at all. Why then, Chassidus continues, does the Torah use the word echad? It would have been preferable to use the term yachid, which implies singular oneness, perfect integrity that leaves no place for even the conception of any other entity.5

In resolution, it is explained that this is precisely the intent. G‑d’s singular oneness is taken for granted. Were this not to be true were He a composite of different entities He could not be G‑d.6 What is unique in the description of Him as one is that this material world that appears to exist in its own right, as a separate and distinct entity, is one with Him.

A Different Type of Being

This is a fundamental element of our faith. We do not believe that there are many different entities and of them, G‑d is the most perfect and the most powerful. Instead, the intent is that all existence is one with Him.

Why must we say that? Because once we postulate that an entity has an independent existence, even if it is a lesser entity than G‑d, it would exist in the same set as He. Were that to be true, there would be nothing unique about G‑d. What is special about Him is not that He surpasses the qualities possessed by other entities, but that He alone is true existence.7 Were we to say that any other entity exists in this manner, that entity would be another god. Instead, He alone exists independent of time. All other beings are creations, brought into being by Him from absolute nothingness.

An Imperfect Analogy

Our Sages8 compare the relationship of G‑d to the world to that of the soul to the body: just as the soul gives life to the body, G‑d gives life to the world.9 The analogy is, however, incomplete, for the body exists independently of the soul.10 It was conceived separately and continues to exist after the soul leaves it.11 The world, by contrast, does not exist on its own. Were G‑d not to bring it into being, its existence would cease utterly.

The oneness of G‑d and the creation does not only imply that G‑d shares a connection to the world and maintains it. Instead, His oneness is such that even the physical dimensions of the world’s existence are one with Him.

The logic predicating this conclusion is an extension of the above concepts. Were we to say that the physical matter of the world exists independently of Him, then that physical matter would be a god, equivalent in some way to Him Himself.

Why There Is No Contradiction

But how can we say that entities that appear separate and distinct are in fact one with Him? Every entity in the world feels its own existence, and, in doing so, seemingly, exists in opposition to His oneness.

There are two explanations to the above: The first12 is based on the premise that the world, as it exists, is essentially nothingness. For that reason, when describing creation, the Torah uses the analogy of speech. How does speech differ from all of a person’s other powers? Our other powers, intellect and emotion, reflect our personalities, what type of people we are. Speech, by contrast, does not show who the speaker is. What a person says and who he is may be as different as night and day. Speech reflects how we relate to others, not who we are.

By saying that G‑d created the world through speech, the Torah is implying that the creation does not change Him. When a mortal makes something new, he takes a substance that existed previously and changes its form. Alternatively, he imparts measurable quantities of force that alter an entity’s state. This implies that the person bringing about the new development changes. He is not the same as before, because he has invested something either substance or energy to bring about this change.

G‑d, by contrast, is the same before creation as afterwards, for He did not involve Himself in creation at all. For as explained above, speech is an external quality that does not predicate change. As we see in mortal terms, a person may speak forever without changing.13

To cite another example: The Rabbis of the Chakirah approach to Jewish philosophy would speak of shefa Eloki, Divine influence. The Kabbalists , by contrast, speak of or Eloki, Divine light.14 The difference between the concepts is that the term influence implies a flow of substance: something is transferred from the source of influence to the recipient. Light, by contrast, is only a ray, radiant energy that has no substance and therefore does not bring about a change in the source of light.

Thus the point of the analogies of speech and light is to illustrate that G‑d does not invest Himself in creation. Creation is a non-entity that does not require input. Hence creation does not effect a change within Him and He is “[the same] before the world was created and after the world was created.”15

A Logical Conclusion

The outgrowth this conception of G‑d’s oneness may produce within our Divine service is one of withdrawal. Why is He one? Because material existence is not substantial. And since it is not substantial, it does not deserve our attention. What is real? G‑dliness, and that is where our energies should be directed.

A More Complete Conception of Unity

There is, however, something lacking in this approach. It allows for the conclusion that from the perspective of the created beings, G‑d is not one with the world. It’s true, the perspective of the created beings is a mistaken one they do not perceive the true reality. But according to their perception, there are separate entities and G‑d is not one with existence.

A deeper conception of G‑d’s oneness is that the created beings, as they exist within their own framework, are expressions of G‑dliness. Although they appear to be independent entities, that appearance is also an expression of His truth. Just as He provides the energy that brings into being and maintains all existence, He hides and conceals that energy so that the world can exist in its present form. The world’s existence including its perception of its own selfhood is thus the result of the interplay of His creative powers. There is nothing else but Him.

A Process of Education

To explain by analogy: A teacher may conceive of a very difficult concept that is beyond the capacity of his students to comprehend. Were he to communicate it as he understands it, they would become confused and not appreciate anything. He therefore changes the form with which he presents the idea, conveying it through analogies and metaphors. Now these analogies and metaphors are foreign concepts; they share no direct connection to the idea the teacher wishes to convey. Indeed, at first, a student might wonder why they are being employed and what connection they share to the issue at hand. Nevertheless, a) the teacher is always aware of the analogue that he is trying to communicate; indeed, he sees every aspect of the analogy as an expression of that analogue; and

b) ultimately, the student also understands. After laboring over the analogy and through abstraction, appreciating its fine points, he can comprehend the concept that the teacher originally sought to convey to him. Moreover, not only is it possible for him to grasp a general conception of the idea, he is able to comprehend its fine points. Just as the teacher understands the intent of each of the particular dimensions of the analogy; so, too, a student can reach such perception.

In the analogue, G‑d is the teacher and His creative energy, the concept He wishes to convey. The analogies and metaphors are the interplay of mystic forces, the oros and the keilim , that produce various different states of existence. He, the Teacher, sees these different states of existence for what they truly are expressions of His creative energy. We, the students, may at first perceive them as separate and independent entities, as the particulars of an analogy may at the outset appear unconnected to the analogue. Ultimately, however, there is the potential for us to comprehend that all the particulars of the analogy i.e., all existence are expressions of His power.

Embracing, Not Rejecting Worldly Involvement

This conception of G‑d’s oneness reorients our Divine service. Instead of seeking to avoid involvement with a world whose existence is of no genuine consequence, we savor the opportunity to relate to G‑dliness in all of its different manifestations, as the verse states:16 “Know Him in all your ways.”

In these endeavors, a person benefits and takes pleasure in the material entities, but his pleasure is not ordinary physical satisfaction. Instead, he senses the G‑dliness of the entities that he appreciates, as it is written:17 “A righteous man eats for the satisfaction of his soul.”

Eyes on the Horizon

This more comprehensive appreciation of G‑d’s oneness is not readily apparent in the present age. To refer back to the analogy of a teacher and his students, although the teacher (G‑d) sees the intent of all the fine points of the analogy, initially, the students do not. On the contrary, they must labor diligently to appreciate them.

Our Divine service in the present era is the counterpart of this diligent labor. From the perspective of faith, we are certain that the analogy is accurate i.e., that every element of existence is an expression of His creative energy but this truth is not even intellectually and certainly, not palpably apparent. To make this truth manifest, we painstakingly confront all the different experiences and settings we encounter in an attempt to reveal the G‑dly sparks they contain.

These endeavors will come to fruition in era of the Redemption when, “He will be one and His name one.”18 Not only will we intellectually appreciate His oneness, the perception of it will permeate all existence. “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the ocean bed.”19