Israel: The Experience of Divine Mercy
According to the sages, the ineffable four-letter Name of God, Havayah (which we here translate as “God,” –italicized), signifies God’s attribute of mercy, whereas the name Elokim (which we here translate as “God,” –not italicized) signifies His attribute of judgment. Accordingly, this commandment can be interpreted: “Hear, O’ Israel:God [the all-merciful] is our God [who appears to us in nature through His attribute of judgment, yet] God is One [and know that all is but an aspect of His absolute mercy].”
This ability to see all the seemingly divergent phenomena of life as manifestations of one, absolutely merciful source, is unique to the Jewish people. True, others may be able to understand this ideal, but only the Jew can–through proper contemplation and meditation–make this way of living part and parcel of his very self.
For this reason, in the verse “Hear, O’ Israel…,” the name Israel stands out. As opposed to “Jacob,” the other generic name of the Jewish people (both names correspond to the sefirah of tiferet, the east or front, as explained above), “Israel” signifies the experience of the Jewish soul in its absolute, pure state, as “an actual part of God above.”
This is also why this verse–the first verse of keriat Shema (the daily reading of Shema)—is the central statement of Judaism. Not only does our faith in God’s absolute unity come here to the fore, but the essence of our own soul-root–Israel–comes to the fore as well.
Israel is symbolized in the Torah as a tree. Every Jewish soul corresponds to a letter of the Torah, “the Tree of Life.” Life in general appears for the first time on the third day of creation, the day that corresponds to the sefirahof tiferet and the direction of front. Tiferet means “beauty.” In the Torah, the root of tiferet, pe’er, is used to describe the beautiful foliage of a tree, the apex of the creation of the third day. Furthermore, the Messiah himself, the greatest of all souls of Israel, is called a “plant” by the prophets.
In performing the commandment “Hear, O’ Israel, God is our God, God is one,” we partake of the Tree of Life and rectify the primordial sin of eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. “Hear, O’ Israel…” is the understanding and knowledge that the ultimate origin of what appears to us to be good or what appears to us to be bad is all Divine goodness and mercy. This knowledge we place in the front of our consciousness always.
To Emulate the Creator
Since through this commandment the Jew becomes uniquely aware of his Divine inner nature, it inspires him to live up to it, i.e., emulate his Creator. And because mercy (rachamim) is God’s most essential attribute,meditation on the unity of God produces feelings of mercy within the Jew. These are directed firstly to the Godly spark within each Jew (including himself), to redeem it from its “exile,” and then to all of reality at large, to redeem it from the shackles of its “exile” by spreading the awareness/consciousness of God.