by Gerard Sigal
In a unique ontological defining moment, God explains the meaning of His Name. In so doing, we get an insight into the ontological oneness of the Creator. He declares, “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE” (Exodus 3:14). God does not define Himself as “WE WILL BE.” He does not define Himself as being in some sort of multiplicity of personages in one essence. The Name of God encapsulates the essence of oneness expressed in the word “one” as used in the Shema. It is “My Name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations” (verse 15) declares the God of Israel. God does not say, “Our Name” but “My Name”; it is not shared with any other being. Yet, if there was ever a time for God to declare a plurality in the essence of His Being one would think that it would be done when defining the meaning of Y-H-V-H. Instead, God defines His name as an unequivocal Singularity.
The word for “one” in Hebrew, echad, synonymous with the word yachid, “the only one,” “alone.” Ecclesiastes 4:8 makes this abundantly clear. Two parallel modifying clauses are added to emphasize that “one” is used to speak of a human who is singularly alone within the family structure. In speaking of God, no such modifying clauses are called for, since the biblical record recognizes no divisions or persons in the ontological being of God. The Jewish Scriptures, with even greater refinement, implicitly teach that echad in Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” is used as a single, absolute, unqualified one. The Zohar (or Tiqqunei haZohar) provides an insight into the word “one” by reference to Isaiah 51:2:
“Look to Abraham your father… for when he was but one I called him.”
That the plural form of elohim does not at all imply the plurality of the divine essence is a fact that was known in ancient times. This is reflected in the Septuagint version of the Scriptures, which renders elohim with the singular title ho theos (“The God”).
A midrash finds a lesson in interpersonal relations in “Let us make man in our image.” It says:
Now if a great man comes to obtain permission [for a proposed action] from one that is less than he, he may say, ‘Why should I ask permission from my inferior!’ Then they will say to him, “Learn from the Creator, who created all that is above and below, yet when He came to create man He took counsel with the ministering angels” (Bereshit Rabbah 8:8).
According to this midrash, God addresses Himself to the angels and says to them, “Let us make man in our image.” It is not that He invites their help, but that it is the conventional manner of speech to express oneself in this way and not necessarily that God sought angelic help in the creation of man. Although God often acts without assistance, He makes His intentions known to His servants. Thus, we find,
“Shall I conceal from Abraham that which I am doing” (Genesis 18:17);
“He made known His ways to Moses, His doings to the children of Israel” (Psalms 103:7);
“For the Lord God will do nothing without revealing His counsel to His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).
As Isaiah relates:
“I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (Isaiah 6:8).
It is customary for one in authority to speak of himself as if he were a plurality. Hence, Absalom said to Ahithophel,
“Give your counsel what we shall do” (2 Samuel 16:20).
The context shows that he was seeking advice for himself’ yet he refers to himself as “we.” In the Book of Ezra we find that “Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to Artaxerxes the king” (Ezra 4:8). In the king’s answer, he says, “Peace, and now the letter which you sent to us has been plainly read before me” (Ezra 4:18). There we see that although the letter is sent specifically to the king, the king’s reply speaks of “the letter that you sent to us.”
The Cause above all causes God has no colleague of which He should take counsel, for He is the only One [yachid], prior to all, and has no partner. Therefore it says:
“See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no elohim [“divine powers”] with Me” Deuteronomy 32:39