The Shema is the central prayer in Judaism. Interesting, because it doesn’t really say much. While Christians (of certain stripes) have the ____ Creed, a point-by-point theological statement, us Jewish folks don’t seem to have as much to work with.
Or do we?
The Shema, I think, works on at least three different levels:
Non-Duality. I don’t need to quote massive amounts of text from Jay Michaelson’s recent book to explain this, so I’ll paraphrase: if the great, central teaching of Judaism is that there is one G-d (as opposed to a legion of demiurges), then the Shema should more appropriately read, “Listen Israel, there is one G-d” instead of “our G-d is one.” G-d, in this way, is Oneness. G-d is everything, and yet nothing.
The Politics of Monotheism. We can’t forget that the Torah came at a certain time and at a certain place. The Shemat, as read to Hebrew Canaanites every seven years, would have been a not-too-subtle reminder to smash those Molech idols that many families had in their homes. While some wish to believe that the ancient Israelites were better Jews than us, archeology has dug up (pun intended) plenty of settlements filled with clay idols. Adonai Echad, in this way, is like the guilt trip of times past.
G-d’s Greatness. Again, language is funny. “The Lord” is an obvious statement of power. And while “lord” is often used as a substitute for G-d in the vernacular, it need be said that if the Shema were simply an affirmation of monotheism, the Shema would be better to read, “Hear Israel, G-d is one”. It also speaks to G-d’s providence. Remember that “G-d” is not G-d’s name. G-d’s name is a riddle of “I am what I am”. G-d’s hugeness transcends even the ability to name G-d.
Anything else y’all can think of?