What’s in a number? This week: One!

What’s in a number? This week: One!

Rabbi Jonny Roodyn looks into Jewish history through numbers, and this week reflects on one of the most significant ones...

Metallic orange neon font covered with rust.
Metallic orange neon font covered with rust.

 Who knows one? I know one? One is Hashem… in the Heavens and the Earth! 

Rather than being a light-hearted way to conclude the Seder, it actually contains a profound lesson about God and His world.

My dear friend Rabbi Osher Levene in his remarkable book, Jewish Wisdom in the Numbers, explains that the number one is by definition a singular entity that does not consist of anything other than itself.

As such, the number one is used to describe the unity of God. In truth, God is not numerically one, as He cannot be divided into smaller fractions. Rather, He is a philosophical unity who cannot be added to or subtracted from.

Furthermore this unity means that nothing really exists outside of Him. Rather, He is the context for all of existence.

These are some of the ideas that we are supposed to think about when we recite the Shema, the basic declaration of our faith, twice daily.

We teach this verse to our children, we write it on our doorposts and bind it to our bodies and, perhaps most poignantly, these are the last words we utter before passing on to the next world.

Jewish life therefore centres around the awe-inspiring realisation that God is the source of everything and that all of existence is contingent on Him willing it into being.

Indeed, as well as it being a mitzvah to believe in God, there is a separate mitzvah to believe, accept and appreciate His unity.

Put simply, while it may seem that we live in a world where there are multiple forces of good and evil at play, in reality these all stem from one perfect unity, the source of it all.

This profound realisation will only fully be appreciated at the end of days, on the day, when God will be one and His name will be one.

  • Rabbi Roodyn is educational director of Jewish Futures Trust

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