22. Only One God
Idolatry is the beginning and the end of Torah. There is one G-d. According to the Rambam, Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, "For it is the principal object of the Law and the axis round which it turns, to blot out these opinions from man's heart and make the existence of idolatry impossible" (Rambam, p. 320).
This is not just a G-d of a particular people, Israel, but the G-d of all mankind.
In fact the goal of all should be the destruction of idolatry. Thus the Rambam says, "The actual abolition of idolatry is expressed in the following passage: 'Ye shall destroy their altars, and burn their groves in fire' (Deut. vii. 5), 'and ye shall destroy their name,' etc. (xii. 3). These two things are frequently repeated; they form the principal and first object of the whole Law, as our Sages distinctly told us in their traditional explanation of the words 'all that God commanded you by the hand of Moses' (Num. xv. 23); for they say, 'Hence we learn that those who follow idolatry deny as it were their adhesion to the whole Law, and those who reject idolatry follow as it were the whole Law.' (B.T. Kidd, 40a) Note it" (Rambam, 320).
Essentially the Hebrew Scriptures teach us that G-d is one. From this we must do two things. First, we must abstain from the active participation in idolatry. If we participate in idolatry then we have denied the Law, which makes it clear that G-d is one. Second, by actively participating in the service of the one G-d we will blot out the idea of idolatry. This activity is not restricted to the Jewish people, but is inclusive to the non-Jew that observes the Noachide laws. In this way we have come to the two sides of the prohibition against idolatry. The correct way to observe this law is to not participate in idolatry, and then to actively participate in the oneness of G-d.
G-d's unity is understood in three parts. First, G-d is alone. Second, G-d is non-corporeal. Finally, G-d has a unique identity. Each of these parts must be examined separately.
G-d is alone.
The Ramchal, Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzatto, explained in his "The Way of God" that "It is impossible that there exist more than one being whose existence is intrinsically imperative. Only one Being can possibley exist with this necessarily perfect essence, and therefore the only reason all other things have the possibility of existence is that God wills them to exist. All other things therefore depend on Him and do not have intrinsic existence" (Ramchal, 35). The Ramchal is speaking from arguments that were popularly used in the middle ages by both Christians and Jews. In his work the Ramchal is summing up these important arguments to give us a manageable framework within which we can understand certain things about G-d. These things are imperative in a quest for truth—specifically in religion. A quick examination of the argument for G-d's existence as: 'a necessary being that is alone' might help us understand certain Scriptural passages. It may also help us to avoid erroneous belief systems that claim a type of monotheism that is actually polytheism in disguise.
Anyone that claims that G-d exists and rules with something else, or shares his essence with something else, whether it is persons or manifestations, is in error. G-d's own proclamation through Scripture is ought to convince us that He is alone. It is through the Tanach that we learn that G-d is alone and that only the pure monotheistic ideal of Judaism embraces the full meaning of God being One. The following verses attest that G-d is alone. Examine each of these verses within their context. Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; I Samuel 2:2; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 44:24; 45:5-6; 45:21-22; 46:5; 46:9; 48:11; Malachi 2:10; and Nehemiah 9:6
G-d is non-corporeal.
In the history of monotheism, which began with Adam and continues to this day, error often began by attributing some type of physical existence to God. The Torah speaks in a way where it seems that God may have some kind of corporeal existence. We are told such things as G-d's sees, stands, or know. At times the teachers of Israel have had to correct these misunderstandings. The Rambam in "The Guide for the Perplexed" covers this issue in great detail. According to the Rambam: "We have stated, in one of the chapters of this treatise, that there is a great difference between bringing to view the existence of a thing and demonstrating its true essence (Rambam, 59)." The fact that G-d exists and his essence, what He is, are often confused with physical bodies since, "That God exists was therefore shown to ordinary men by means of similes taken from physical bodies; that He is living, by a simile taken from motion, because ordinary men consider only the body as fully, truly, and undoubtedly existing; that which is connected with a body but is itself not a body, although believed to exist, has a lower degree of existence on account of its dependence on the body for existence. That, however, which is neither itself a body, nor a force within a body, is not existent according to man's first notions, and is above all excluded from the range of imaginations." and he goes on to say, "...The perception by the senses, especially by hearing and seeing, is best known to us; we have no idea or notion of any other mode of communication between the soul of one person and that of another than by means of speaking, i.e., by the sound produced by lips, tongue, and the other organs of speech. When, therefore, we are to be informed that God has a knowledge of things, and that communication is made by Him to the Prophets who convey it to us, they represent Him to us as seeing and hearing, i.e., as perceiving and knowing those things which can be seen or heard. They represent Him to us as speaking, i.e., that communications from Him reach the Prophets; that is to be understood by the term "prophecy," as will be fully explained" (Rambam, 60). The Rambam's meaning is that human beings are limited by their knowledge of what it means to exist because they their senses is the only way they know how to "know" something as existing. Human beings often misunderstand these similes that are attributed to G-d. Therefore, when we say that G-d spoke to a prophet it is often understood by most people that G-d spoke to that prophet through the same organs of communication that we use to communicate with other humans. This is one of the origins of idolatry—wrongly attributing human activities as being identical to G-d's activities. That is why the term 'prophecy' will be explained, later in his book, to make clear what is meant by communication between G-d and a prophet.
The following verses attest that G-d is not a physical being. Numbers 23:19; Deuteronomy 4:11-12; 5:23 I Kings 8:27
G-d has a unique identity.
No other religion can make the claims of uniqueness that the G-d of Israel can. This unique identity is absolutely necessary when knowing the true G-d. Although there are religions that have claimed to be, in some way, servants of the same G-d as the one professed by the Jewish people, they cannot escape that G-d has established for Himself a unique identity. This identity is intrinsically connected with the Exodus and Sinai experiences. Not only that but G-d is the G-d of the children of Israel. Although He is the G-d of all humanity, G-d identifies Himself with Israel since it is to them that He gave His Torah. It is through this Torah, as said above, that all nations gain blessing and knowledge of G-d. Anyone that claims that their G-d is the same G-d but this god was not known to the Children of Israel at Sinai, or that this god has a different chosen people, or that there is nothing holy about the Torah or that the Torah today is not the same as the Torah of yesterday, or claims that it is not necessary to keep the Torah, this person does not serve the same G-d of the Jewish people, and have misunderstood something essential about G-d.
Examine the following verses concerning the unique identity of G-d.
The G-d of the Exodus and Sinai: Exodus 20:2-3; I Kings 8:60; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 40:18; Isaiah 44:6-8; 44:24; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Malachi 2:10; Nehemiah 9:6
The G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: Gen. 17:9; 26:3, 24; 28:13; 32:9; Exodus 3:6; 15-16; 4:5; 33:1 Lev. 26:42; Num. 32:11; Deut. 1:8; 6:10; 9:5, 27; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4; I Kings 18:36; 2 Kings 13:23; I Chr. 1:28; 16:16; 29:18; 2 Chr. 20:7; 30:6; Ps. 47:9; 81:4; 105:6, 9, 42; Is. 29:22, 41:8, 51:2
The G-d that gave the Torah: Deut. 4:5-8; 10:12-13; Ps. 81:4
The Holiness of the Torah: Psalm 19:8-9 (7-8); 119:44, 72, 97, 155, 163, 165
The eternal aspect of the Torah: Deut. 29:28 (29); Psalm 111:7-8; Ezekiel 11:19-20
G-d addresses Himself to the people on the issue of the other gods, those that the nations have created for themselves. G-d makes it clear that His unity is absolute. None of the gods of the nations can make any claim that G-d can. This continues to undermine the polytheistic belief system.
The following verses mark out the differences between G-d and the gods of the nations. Deuteronomy 6:14; I Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 40:18; 40:25; 40:25; 43:10-11; 44:6-8; 46:5; Malachi 2:10; Psalms 81:8-9; I Chronicles 17:20
The universal G-d.
It is a mistake to think that G-d is the G-d of only one particular people. That was the claim of the pagan societies. Every people and culture possessed their gods. The power of these gods were seen to rise and fall with that of their people. Typically the failure of a god to protect its people from the ill fortunes of war led to the people abandoning their god and serving that of their conqueror. If there is one G-d only, then He must be the G-d of not just one people; but of all people. G-d constantly reminds us throughout Scripture that the nations have not been forgotten. They are as much a part of His plan as Israel. The Rabbis teach that the universe was created for the Jews so that they could receive Torah, but the Jewish people were created so that they could minister to the world.
Review the following verses. I Kings 8:50; II Kings 19:19; Isaiah 45:21-22; Malachi 2:10