The One and Only: Vaethanan 2020

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: What sentences in Jewish prayers are most familiar to you? What makes them particularly memorable?

The last line of the prayer known as “Aleinu” is particularly well-known to Jewish worshipers, frequent or occasional, but it also is based on a pivotal quote in this week’s Torah portion:

The Pitch: “Know therefore this day and keep in mind that the Lord alone is God in heaven above and one earth below; there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:39

Swing #1: “It is not sufficient merely to ‘know’ it; this sublime knowledge must be taken into your very heart, so that your will and your virtues both should function in conformity with what you know. This task constitutes the entire ‘worship’ incumbent on the Jew.” – Rabbi Israel Salanter

Swing #2: “Considering that Jews took monotheism to the top of the charts, the Bible has so far been surprisingly weak on the concept. But now we get the full-throated endorsement of one and only god that we’ve been waiting for.” – David Plotz, Good Book

Swing #3: “One of the primary goals of [Deuteronomy] is to inculcate a sense of total loyalty to him. The emphasis on Yahweh’s uniqueness leads to the conclusion that he alone is able to bless the people and guarantee their security and prosperity.” – Peter T. Vogt, Deuteronomic Theology and the Significance of Torah: A Reapprisal

Late-Inning Questions: Does it surprise you that strict monotheism was not a vital concept in the earlier books of the Torah? Why would there be a shift in tone in Deuteronomy? Is it problematic for other religions to claim a different name and identity for their deity (or deities) and then to say that “we’re all praying to the same God”? If not, are we really strict monotheists after all?

On-Deck at Temple Beth Tzedek: I’m looking forward to starting Adult Education classes in a couple of weeks. Keep your eye out for information on how to take part!

The Big Inning at the End: Speaking of praying to one God, it’s amusing that many sports fans have “religious experiences” when praying that their favorite team succeeds. (Not that I’m speaking of personal experience …) But in all seriousness, it’s certainly reasonable to pray for the speedy recovery of ball players who tested positive for COVID-19 — and to hope that it doesn’t spread even more.

Shabbat Shalom!