Often in life, one feels some slight dissonance or discomfort, as if you are a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. There is your true self and then there is what you have to do to get through the day and they don’t always match up exactly. The world has expectations, institutions have ways of doing things and you are an individual making your way.
There is one place where a person never feels this discomfort – before God. In relation to God, we are always whole and always wholly ourselves. I think this is part of what we mean when we say in the Shma (in this week’s parsha) that one loves God with all of one’s heart and soul – before God, there is a capacity to be whole and whole-hearted in a way one cannot be anywhere else.
This feeling of wholeness is connected to the word ehad, one, which we say about God in the Shma. God is one and we are one with God somehow – or rather, we feel the oneness of the world and ourselves and a sense of completeness with God that we cannot feel elsewhere. There is a yearning quality to this feeling, as if we are longing for an earlier time or a later time when we indeed were/will be one with God, and, strangely, this sense of yearning makes us feel whole, complete, one.
Thinking this over clarified for me what idolatry is. Idolatry is the opposite of God because of its multiplicity. To worship multiple gods makes us feel divided – that sense of dissonance again. We are not sure whom to serve , whether the demands of work are the true god or our families or accomplishments. We feel divided by the demands of many gods because there is indeed still a tinge of idolatry in this world at all times. And it is precisely in the face of this dividedness, this sense of being pulled in a thousand directions, that we need to assert every day, not once but multiple times – Shma Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Ehad. Listen up – there is only one God. Go about your life, fulfill expectations, do your work, take care of your family, but somehow remember that it is all in service of God, not in service of other humans and their ideas of what you should do and not in service of your own ego with all its ambitious goals. Just God. Even as you go about your day, keep a piece of yourself pure and whole-hearted, connected to God and that sense of oneness.