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Drawing by Numbers
“Hear O Yisrael…” (6:4)
The first verse of the “Shema” is like “Drawing by Numbers”.
At one time, we must have all followed the numbers on a seemingly inscrutable page of dots, and watched as a perfect picture slowly emerged.
There are really three elements to drawing by numbers: The numbers themselves, the connection of the numbers one-by-one by lines, and the final emergence of the picture from the lines.
In the first verse of the Shema there are three Names:
“Hashem” – the Tetragrammaton – the ineffable four-letter Name of G-d.
“Elokeinu” — literally, “Our G-d.”
And then the Name “Hashem” again. However, this second mention of the Name is different to the first, as it is connected to the last word of the verse, “Echad” — One.
The Arizal explains that the three Names represent chochma, bina, and da’at — three distinct concepts that are variously translated into English by the catch-all (and not very illuminating) word: “Wisdom.”
Ethereal and Kabbalistic as chochma, bina, and da’at normally sound, they all originate in a verse in Proverbs: “Hashem, with chochma founded the Earth, established the Heavens with tevuna(synonymous with bina); with His da’at the deep was made permanent.” (Proverbs 3:19-20)
Let us explain.
Chochma is like the numbers in “Drawing by Numbers”. Chochma is the understanding of what exists. Two plus two is four. That’s called chochma. To understand that a chair is for sitting and a pen is for writing is chochma — knowledge of what is. These concepts are not extrapolations or implications. They are the knowledge of the way existence is and no more. Chochma is like single points on a page.
Bina moves beyond the literal to the implied, to the inferred. Bina takes chochma and comes to conclusions that move beyond the evidence at hand. Bina is the lines that emerge from those points, the development and the extrapolation.
And da’at is what is called Ruach Hakodesh – literally the “Holy Spirit.” (Rashi, Shemot 31:3).
A person can have knowledge; he can extrapolate that knowledge beyond its literal implications, but he can still be unconnected to what he knows from what he has inferred.
Da’at is connecting ourselves to the fruits of our knowledge, so that it becomes part of us.
That’s when the picture emerges.
Now we can understand the three Names of the Shema:
The first “Hashem” means that we know that Hashem created existence. That’s chochma — wisdom.
“Elokeinu” means that we know that Hashem didn’t just create existence but that He also supervises everything in existence, and especially the Jewish People. He is involved with the implications of His original creation. That’s bina.
The declaration that “Hashem Echad” at the end of the verse means we have the da’at to connect everything in existence back to Hashem, be that the miracle of how a seed produces fruit, the wonder of the human eye, or the fathomless depths of the Talmud.
Da’at is seeing the complete whole, understanding the wholeness of the Creation.
That’s when the lines of our “Drawing by Numbers” become a complete picture.
That’s “Hashem Echad”.
- Source: based on Rabbi Shimshon Pincus