Pope Francis and How to Influence Others
About a year ago, standing at this pulpit, I joked around how the Vatican should cheer up a little bit and how the pope wearing a white kippah made me think of Yom Kippur. Well, quite a lot has changed since then. The Roman Catholic Church, as you know, elected Jorge Mario Bergoglio as pope, and in his short time in office Pope Francis has proven himself to be anything but Yom Kippur-like. When people think of the papal office these days most people think ‘rock-star’ because that’s exactly what this new pope has proven himself to be.
A week ago, Time Magazine named him the Person of the Year for 2013. He is not the first pope to receive the title but he is the quickest; receiving the title after less than a year in office. I think what’s incredible is not so much that he is well-loved; but what’s incredible is who loves him. Here’s a man who recently put out a manifesto in which he shared views on economics which many saw as having Marxist leanings, he took over a church that is embroiled in controversy, and he’s the head of a religious group that is anything but liberal in a world that is becoming less and less tolerant to religion. And yet, you have numerous conservatives – with the exception of Rush Limbaugh, you have numerous Jews – myself included, who admire this man.
What makes him so admirable is the fact that he doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. He doesn’t just preach about kindness to the less fortunate. We have pictures of him hugging individuals who have been disfigured by disease. He doesn’t just talk about giving to the poor but he supposedly leaves the Vatican late at night, dressed as a regular priest, and gives out food and money to those in need. That is how a leader educates his or her followers and that’s why so many adore this man.
But this is in no way limited to leaders.
I recently read an article by author Lee Sigel titled America the Vulgar. Mr. Siegel begins the article by lamenting the fact that whenever he is reading the news or watching a television show he has to keep his finger on the off-button in case one of his children walk by. The author goes out of his way to demonstrate that he is no prude but nonetheless feels that the offensive language and sexuality displayed in mainstream media has become so common that it has gone, as he writes, “from boorish to boring.”
He concludes by acknowledging that he has no solutions other than the hope that, as so often happens in America, restless impatience with the status quo will carry the day and the pendulum will swing in the opposite direction. He concludes the article by stating that in the meantime he’ll keep his finger on the off button of whatever device he is using just in case the kids happen to walk by.
Now I read the article, I thought it was interesting and so I shared it with my wife. As she was reading it I was watching her make all sorts of funny faces indicating that she was anything but impressed by the article. So I turned to her after she was done and asked her why she didn’t like it. “The article is fine,” Hindy said, “What I didn’t like is the fact that the author has absolutely no idea how to be a parent! If this guy really didn’t want his kids to be exposed to his email box, his favorite television shows and the news that he reads, don’t just turn it off when they walk in. Don’t watch it yourself!”
This is why I let my wife made executive educational decisions in our home – she knows what she’s talking about.
You could send your kids to the finest Jewish institutions, you could lecture them every day about the importance of doing what’s right, but if the parent isn’t leading the way, the child has no one to follow. Kids can smell a faker a mile away. Turning the off button when they walk by is simply not good parenting.
This week’s Torah portion introduces us to our first and greatest leader, Moshe. But before doing so the Torah shares with us a short story of two Jewish midwives who didn’t bow to Pharaoh’s demands. Pharaoh ordered them to secretly murder all Jewish boys. And these two women stood up to the most powerful man in the world and refused. This act of heroism, as remarkable as it is, doesn’t seem to relate to the context of the Torah portion. The Torah has two major themes in this week’s Parsha – the atrocities of the Egyptians and the birth and development of Moshe. What’s this story doing here?
The Medrashim fill in the blanks by informing us that those midwives were none other than Yocheved and Miriam. Yocheved was the mother of Moshe. And what the Torah is teaching us is that greatness is not born into a void. Moshe’s willingness to risk his life for the sake of the Jewish People, Moshe’s willingness to give up his place in the World to Come, – he learned that from someone. He learned that from parents who demonstrate the same willingness themselves. Greatness is not born into a void. It’s is cultivated by an environment that lives and breathes it.
So here’s a little quiz for you: Which one of these two factors will greater influence a child’s test scores? Is it, a) Reading to the child every night? Or, b) Having more than 100 books in the home?
The answer, studies have shown, is that there is a greater correlation between having 100 books in one’s home and higher test scores than there is with reading to the child every night. Why is that? Because having 100 books in the home indicate that the parent doesn’t only want their child to read, it indicates that the parent likes to read as well.
That is how you educate a child. If you want your child to love Shabbos then love Shabbos! If you want your child to be interested in their Judaic studies then come to Torah classes yourself! If you want your child to enjoy prayer then develop an appreciation for prayer!
The etymology of the word influence comes from a 13th century Old French term that describes the emanation from the stars that acts upon one’s character and destiny. That is because we use the word influence to describe a flow of something between one person and another. But in Hebrew the term used for influencing other people is hashpa’ah. Hashpa’ah comes from the word Shefa. Shefa means to overflow. Meaning, it’s not enough to direct your energy at someone else to influence them. True influence comes from a person who is so passionate and engaged in whatever it is they do that it affects the people around them. That is how you influence! So let me rephrase what I stated earlier, it’s not enough to lead by example. To teach, to lead, and to influence, one must lead with passion. Influencing others come about when you are so saturated with whatever it is you do that it trickles down and spills over to those around you.
Hindy and I have been running a monthly B’nei Mitzvah Program for a year and a half now. And I remember after our first session, when Eliana Albert left to go home, my wife turned to me and said “Wow! That is some girl!” And she was right. Eliana was polite, she was respectful, she was energetic, she was committed, she was fun and she was popular. And over the past two years I have watched her come to shul almost every Shabbos and start davening well before most of the congregation arrives, I’ve watched her volunteer first in the kitchen with setting up for the Kiddush, and more recently I’ve watched her volunteering with the groups upstairs. While most kids this age are being dragged to shul, Eliana is probably our greatest volunteer, shul-wide. If you go up to classroom 9 you’ll see the classroom that she just painted and is in middle of decorating as her Mitzvah project.
Where does it all come from? It comes from parents who are mashpi’im. When a father comes to shul virtually every day of the week – that has an effect on his family. When a father has numerous study partners set up and even sends me text messages during the day with questions from different Gemaras – that has an effect on his family. When a father volunteers to lead the congregation for years and years in a beautiful, soulful High Holiday davening – that has an effect on the family. When a mother, despite her own busy schedule, devotes so much energy to ensure the stability of her family – that has an effect on the family. When a husband describes his wife to me as an example of a true Eishes Chayil – that respect between husband and wife has an effect on the family.
And although I can’t speak of the characteristics of the new Evgey baby whom we just welcomed to the world, I am confident that she, very much like her older siblings will see the shul as their second home. And that’s because her parents, Itamar and Mily, see the shul the exact same way. The Evgey’s are one of the driving forces behind the growth of the young families. Not only do I mean that figuratively but I also mean that literally. For a while Itamar was driving around before Shabbos picking up some of the young men to join us for services. I am confident that your dedication and commitment to Jewish community and to Judaism will rub off on your new daughter.
Eliana and Maya Inbar, may you be both be a source of tremendous nachas for your parents. And may we learn from you, Scott and Aimee, Itamar and Mily and become true mashpi’im; may we overflow with commitment, with passion, and with desire to connect to the One Above.
Jerry Seinfeld, the famous comedian, once observed that according to recent studies, people’s #1 fear is public speaking. The 2nd greatest fear is death. Which means, he pointed out, that at any given funeral most people would rather be in the casket than be the one delivering the eulogy.
Death is a topic that makes people very uncomfortable. And yet it’s inescapable. As Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” So with tax season around the corner, I’d like to take this opportunity to talk about death.
This week’s Torah portion is a gold-mine for valuable lessons about the end of life and the years and decades that precede it. I’d like to share with you three observations from this week’s Torah portion – all rather straightforward – but nonetheless worth repeating and contemplating.
The first is by the great medieval commentator, Don Isaac Abarbanel who suggests that the purpose of this week’s Torah portion is to teach us to prepare for death. The bulk of the Torah portion describes how Yaakov spent his last year making sure that everything was in order; where he will be buried, how he should be taken to Israel, which one of his descendants will care for the rest of the family, and ensuring that old wounds that stood between the brothers and Yosef would be forgiven and forgotten.
So whether you’re ninety nine or twenty two, there’s no reason not have a will to ensure that your money will go where you want it to go. There is no reason not to have a Halachic will – a straightforward and short document that makes a will acceptable from the perspective of Jewish law. And there’s no reason not to have a Living Will which gives the power of attorney to an individual of your choice who is competent in Jewish law and is empowered to make difficult decisions if the need ever arises.
You know, this is why I love being a rabbi. A friend of mine has been encouraging me for the past year to write a will and I have held out because things kept on getting in the way. But I can’t stand up here and preach to you about the importance of wills and not write one myself. So this past week I found those documents, printed them out, and I hope to take care of the rest of the will shortly – and I encourage you to do the same. Before Shabbos I posted these documents on the shul’s web-site and I would be happy to discuss the details in person.
There are two more observations from the Torah portion that I’d like to share that revolve around the last stage of life – not from the perspective of the one who is in their old age but rather from the perspective of their children and caregivers.
Recently, in China, the government made it mandatory for children to visit their parents. It’s also not uncommon for parents to sue their children for not providing their basic needs. In Jewish Law, a parent cannot sue their children for not supporting them. And while a child does have an absolute obligation to care for his or her parents, the emphasis is one of dignity and respect.
The Torah portion begins with Yakov asking a favor from his son Yosef. “Please,” asks Yaakov, “make sure to bury me in Israel.” But before he asks for this favor, he asks Yosef to do “chesed v’emes, true and absolute kindness.” The commentators explain that when one does kindness with one who is no longer living it is a true kindness because they anticipate nothing in return. Thus, Yaakov who was on his death-bed, requested from his son a true and absolute kindness.
What I never understood is how could we describe the kindness that a child does for his or her parent – the parent who brought the child into this world, who fed the child, who educated the child – how can that kindness be described as “true kindness”?! It’s true that there is no payback from the deceased, but doesn’t the child owe so much to the parent?! How is it that Yaakov describes this act as an act of true kindness? He should have demanded it from Yosef?!
But I believe that the Torah is teaching us the incredible sensitivity we must have for those we help. No one wants to feel like they’re a burden, not even a parent who is owed so much by their children want to feel that they are being helped because they have to be helped. The Torah is reminding us how vulnerable an individual who is in the need of assistance may feel.
What Yaakov was saying was don’t help me because you have to. Don’t drag your feet as you obey my dying command because you feel bad for me. I may not be able to care for myself, said Yaakov, but please treat me with respect, treat me with dignity.
The Talmud relates a story of an individual who fed his father rare meats and the father asked how son how he could afford such expensive food. To which the son replied, “Old man, what do you care? Chew and eat!” That’s a man, says the Talmud, who ends up in hell.
It’s not what we do. It’s how we do it. For many, there is nothing more difficult than being in a position of asking for help. Acknowledge that. Respect that. The overarching goal in giving to parents is not what we give them. The overarching goal is giving them kavod; treating them with respect. And that’s lesson number two – It’s not what we do for those we care for. It’s the attitude; the love and respect that we bestow on them that really matters.
There’s another dialogue between Yosef and Yakov where we see the sensitivity of a son to an elderly father. Yosef brings his two sons to their grandfather for a blessing, deliberately placing the elder son to Yakov’s right and the younger son to Yakov’s left. And yet, Yakov famously switches his hands and places his right hand on the younger son’s head. At first Yosef jumps in to correct him. Yaakov responds with three cryptic words: “Yadati b’ni yadati, I know my son, I know.” And with those words, Yosef steps back and allows his father to keep his hands the way they are. Many of the commentators suggest that Yakov’s response was packed with meaning and Yaakov was alluding to many different ideas with those three words. I would like to suggest that the verse can be understood at face value. And what we have is a son who thinks his father is wrong; a son who thinks his father does not understand what is going on around him. He tries at first to gently guide his father to a different point of view but when he realizes he can’t he accepts and allows his father to see the world his own way.
When caring for the elderly, and specifically with people suffering from Alzheimer’s, Yosef’s actions are incredibly instructive. There is a beautiful book I recently read called Broken Fragments. It is a collection of stories and perspectives shared by Jewish people whose loved ones have or had Alzheimer’s disease. One of the contributors spoke of a woman who would consistently confuse her own son for her deceased husband. Try as they might, they could not get her to understand that she was mistaken. Until finally they realized, and I quote: “[That] one cannot have a logical conversation with someone who has dementia, yet we need to acknowledge their words as reflecting their reality. We need to use their words to access that reality, to pursue their thought as they present it.”
Someone recently shared with me a beautiful story that happened to her when she was a teenager. She was sixteen at the time and worked as a volunteer at a Jewish senior citizen center. One day in middle of July one of the patients refused to eat. She kept on telling the staff that it was Yom Kippur and she was not allowed to eat. This young woman, watching what was happening, had a wonderful idea. She ran downstairs to the center’s chapel, grabbed a siddur, and handed it to the patient. Then she led the patient in a few short prayers, closed the siddur and said, “Okay, Yom Kippur is over. It’s time to break the fast!” Sure enough, this woman began to eat.
Yosef recognized that he could not change his father’s point of view. Instead of tiring himself out and getting frustrated at his father who just ‘couldn’t understand’, he stood back and allowed his father to see the world as he wished.
Allow me to conclude by reading you a letter someone shared with me. It’s a letter that is relevant to each and every one of us.
My dear child,
I know that you notice that I am getting old before your eyes. I beg of you, please be patient, and even more importantly, try to understand what is happening to me.
If when we talk I repeat the same sentence, a thousand times, don’t interrupt me in the middle and say: “You said the same thing a minute ago”, just listen, please. Try to remember the times when you were little and you read the same story before bed, night after night over and over again, until you fell asleep softly.
If I’m not ready to take a shower, don’t get angry and don’t embarrass me. Try to remember your childhood days when I ran after you, trying desperately to get you in the bath.
When you see how ignorant I am with regard to the wonders of technology, give me time to learn, and do not look at me with that look of yours. Remember, darling, the days when I patiently taught you to eat with a knife and fork, to get dressed, how to straighten your hair and cope with the very day crises of life.
If I lose you during conversations we have, give me time to remember, and if I cannot, don’t impatient or arrogant. Know in your heart that the most important thing for me is to be with you. And when my tired old legs won’t let me move as quickly as before, put your hand out the same way I gave you mine when you walked for the very first time. Don’t feel sad. Just be with me while I get to the end of my life – with love. I cherish and thank you for the time you spent with me, the happiness and the joy that we shared. With a big smile and with the immense love I have always had for you, I just want to say, I love you.
One may brush their teeth/ use mouthwash on a regular Fast Day (with the exception of Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av). Typically, it is not in the spirit of the fast day to bathe or shower. However, when a fast day falls out on Friday, one may do so as it is preparing for Shabbos. The fast concludes at nightfall (in Baltimore that is 5:29 PM).
Feel free to contact me to discuss the details
We have concluded the laws that pertain to Purim. I will now briefly discuss two prevalent customs that people observe on Purim.
Dressing up – There is no mention of G-d’s Name in the entire Megillah. The reason for this is because there were no overt miracles in the entire story. The goal of Purim is to reflect upon what happened, and despite no explicit mention of G-d, recognize how G-d is really behind the scenes. Some suggest that it is fir this reason we wear costumes. Wearing a mask or costume reminds us that it’s not just in the Purim story but in our daily lives we have to appreciate that there is something beneath the surface, or mask, and that is G-d.
Hamantaschen – There are many reasons suggested for this one. Some say that Haman’s ears looked like hamantaschen. Some suggest that he wore a three-cornered hat. Recently, I read about an archaeologist who discovered that Persian dice are in the shape of a triangle. The Talmud records that Haman chose the date to wipe out the Jews using dice. According to this explanation, we are eating Hamantaschen to remind us of Haman’s evil plot. (Maybe by eating them we remind ourselves of the sweet ending to the story:)
Sermon for Parshat Tetzaveh/ Zachor/ Purim, 2/23/13
You may be wondering why I’m wearing a white kippah…
Well, a year ago I sent my resume to a placement agency for clergy. This past week I got a letter from Rome. Apparently, someone in Vatican City just retired and they are looking for a replacement. I’m quite happy here so I kindly turned down their offer but I decided to take advantage of the situation and sent them some unsolicited advice.
I see a few of you shifting in your seats – Let me clarify, it’s Purim tonight, I’m joking around. But I do want to share with you some thoughts that I would theoretically send to them; thoughts that I believe are very pertinent to us as well.
The first thing I would tell them is that the white kippah has got to go. When I see that white kippah, all I can think about is Yom Kippur. I think of fasting, I think of crying, and I think of a full day of praying. Not that all those things are bad. But maybe for a day, maybe for ten days, but for a whole year?! No way. I would suggest they switch their Kippah once in a while. I think in addition to the white Yom Kippur Kippah, they should wear a Purim Kippah once in a while. A Purim Kippah is a yellow Kippah with a big smiley face. If the face of their religion is always somber, people are not going to stay committed. And in all seriousness, that message of not being so serious, somber and sad is one that we Jews have to hear as well.
Not too long ago, there lived a great Torah scholar, Rav Moshe Feinstein of blessed memory. He was considered by many to be the most authoritative voice in Jewish law here in North America. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein lived in the Lower East side from 1936 until 1986 when he passed away. As you know, back then, the Lower East side was teeming with immigrants. Many of those immigrants were religious Jews who came from Europe. And you also know, many of the descendants of those Jews eventually left Judaism. And Rav Moshe Feinstein, used to wonder aloud, how is it that the children of these Jews turned away from Judaism? The parents, many of them were incredibly committed Jews. They would be fired from their jobs every Saturday because they refused to work, they would try to keep kosher well before the kosher industry really took off. Why didn’t that commitment rub off on their children, he asked. And he would answer that those dedicated Jews, who were indeed incredibly committed to Judaism, would come home after being fired, or they would sit down to eat their severely limited meal due to kosher standards, and say, “S’iz shver tu zain a Yid. It’s difficult to be a Jew.” It was that message, explained Rabbi Feinstein, that turned off so many of the second generation American Jews.
And although nowadays we may not say those exact words, how often do we catch ourselves sighing heavily in context of our Judaism – especially this time of year. (SIGH) “Purim’s over, it’s time to clean for Pesach.” (SIGH) “Can you believe the price of Matza! For G-d’s sake, it’s flour and water!”
So it’s time, my friends, to metaphorically take off our white Yom Kippur Kippah and put on a smiley face Kippah instead –and that’s what Purim is all about. You know it’s incredibly unfortunate that our Synagogue is packed on the High Holidays but on days like Purim, and on days like Simchas Torah, more than half the seats are empty.
Purim reminds us that Judaism is not all about fasting and suffering. Our Sages write that when the month of Adar arrives, the month that Purim is in, one should increase their happiness, one should be happier. And the holiday itself helps us increase happiness. The reason why we are more joyous in Adar is because of Purim. Purim is a day to celebrate the Joys of Judaism – and there are many! And Purim is not only a reason to be happy, it actually makes us happy! All the mitzvot of Purim – reading the Megillah, giving food baskets to our friends, giving gifts to the poor, and the festive meal are meant to make us happy.
I’d like to focus on one of those mitzvoth; the Mitzvah of Matanot L’evyanim, giving gifts to the poor. The strict letter of the law teaches us that to fulfill this Mitzvah one has to give around $8 to two poor people. But the direction which this Mitzvah points us is to spend some time on Purim looking out for the poor. Not just those who are financially dependent but also those who are down, those who are suffering, and to try to lift them up, show them that you care about them.
Interestingly enough, Maimonides writes that looking out for those who are alone and poor on Purim is, and get this, the greatest way to achieve the happiness that we are expected to achieve on Purim! Giving gifts to the poor, reaching out to those who are lonely makes you happy. That’s what Maimonides said 800 years ago and that’s what studies have recently proven. I once shared with you a study that was conducted in the University of Massachusetts and it’s worth repeating. The University of Massachusetts conducted a study about people who were diagnosed with clinical depression. They were researching a theory that people who suffer from depression, do so, because they were not given enough love in their lives. So they gathered a group of volunteers, each one would be paired up with someone who was suffering from depression. The volunteers would shower all sorts of attention and concern on the patients. They tested the level of depression of the patients after a few weeks, and you know what they found? Absolutely nothing! They didn’t change at all. Then, one of the researchers had an idea – they tested the increase in happiness of the volunteers. As you guessed by now – the happiness level of the volunteers rose exponentially! Since then, many researchers have proven this point – giving; whether it’s time or money to others boosts the givers happiness level.
There’s a group of people here in Baltimore, they are an anonymous group that spend their Purim dressed up as clowns, full clown make-up, the wig, the outfit – the whole nine yards. There have been stories written about them in books, articles in newspapers. These clowns somehow get lists of people who are going through hard times, whether someone is sick, it’s a family who lost someone, a broken home, poverty, you name it. They go to those home and specifically homes that have children who would appreciate a little private clown show. That, my friends, is how to spend a Purim! And I guarantee you that those clowns probably have a Purim that is more enjoyable than we can ever imagine.
We can look at Purim many ways. There are so many perspectives and ideas that tie into Purim. But the bottom line, like the Gemara tells us, is that this month and specifically this holiday are about happiness. They remind us that Jewish holidays are not all like Yom Kippur, G-d isn’t all about Divine retribution. Yes, we believe in those things as well. It’s not all fun and games. But we need to remind ourselves that it is not shver tu zain a Yid. It’s awesome to be a Jew! It’s incredible to be a Jew!
I want to conclude by sharing with you a study. Dr. David Pelcovitz, head of the psychology department is YU has been conducting a longitudinal study. They observed students from Modern Orthodox high schools from their time in high school, through the years of college, or if they went to a gap-program, into adulthood. They wanted to know what factor or factors are most significant to determine if a child will remain connected to Judaism over those transition years. And Dr. Pelcovitz states that the one single factor that most strongly correlated was a factor they were not going to even include in their questionnaires. The factor is “what is your perception of G-d?” That’s it. The studies showed that if they perceived G-d to be a loving G-d then they were going to stay connected to Judaism. If they saw G-d as punitive….
Purim is a day to reflect on the joys of Judaism. The mitzvos of the day are meant to promote a sense of happiness within our lives. So this Purim, let’s remind ourselves how great it is to be a Jew. S’iz gevaldik tu zain a Yid! It’s awesome to be a Jew! Let’s put away our Yom Kippur Kippah’s and put on our smiley faced Purim Kippahs instead. And may the joy of Purim spill over to the entire month of Adar, and may the joy of Adar spill over to our entire lives. Happy Purim!
We read in the Megillah that when Esther told Achashveirosh that she had a request, Achashveirosh responded, “Ad chatzi hamalchus..”/ “I will do [anything] for you, up to half the kingdom” The Talmud explains what this strange terminology is all about: Achashveirosh was telling Esther that he would give her anything except for permission to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. (The Talmud explains that building the Temple would “divide the kingdom” which is learned from the words “half the kingdom.”)
Did Achashveirosh know who Esther was? Wasn’t her identity a secret? Why would he assume that’s what she would want from him? Whether he did or did not know who she was, why would the building of the Temple divide his kingdom?
I WILL answer this question and more tomorrow afternoon at 4:40 in Ner Tamid’s chapel in a class titled More Than a Subplot: Understanding Vashti’s Major Role in the Purim Story
Happy Shushan Purim!
The Talmud points out that Moshe taught the Jewish People the laws of Pesach Sheini (Pesach Sheini = One had to be ritually pure to eat the Pascal lamb. Someone who was impure at the time of Pesach had a chance to bring the lamb a month later on Pesach Sheini) exactly thirty days before Pesach Sheini. The Talmud extrapolates from there that one should start teaching the laws of Pesach thirty days before the holiday.
Some later Halachic authorities suggest that this idea of beginning to study the laws relating to the holiday applies to all holidays. Some argue that one cannot extend the law to other holidays and rather it is only Passover that needs thirty days because Passover has so many complex laws.
Either way, everyone agrees that thirty days before Passover one should begin studying the pertinent laws. And so for the next few weeks we will be studying some of the many laws of Passover.
It is forbidden to not only eat chameitz, but it is an obligation to get rid of all chameitz that is in one’s possession.
Biblically, one can relinquish ownership of chameitz that is in one’s possession and that would suffice. However, our sages were concerned that if one would have chameitz that is sitting around in one’s home they would inadvertently eat it. They therefore required one to remove all chameitz from one’s home. (We will discuss selling chameitz at a later time.)
It therefore follows that if one relinquishes ownership of the chameitz in their home they do not need to remove chameitz from locations that are very difficult to reach since there is no concern that one will inadvertently eat the chameitz there. For example, there is no obligation to move a fridge to remove chameitz from behind the fridge.
Echad – G-d is One.
The idea of G-d’s Unity is a very loaded one. On its simplest level it means that there is only one G-d. More specifically it means that everything, both good and evil, comes from G-d. That is an expression of the fact that G-d Himself is indivisible. While it is true that G-d is both compassionate and judging, they are united in absolute oneness.
On a practical level, we often times finding ourselves turning to G-d in times of distress or when we need something significant in our lives. The fact that we do not turn to Him at all times is a failure to appreciate this Oneness. Everything, good and bad, big and small, come from G-d.
The Shulchan Aruch relates that one should draw out the letter Ches of Echad and while doing so think about the fact that G-d is master of heaven and earth (There are seven heavens in Kabbilistic literature. Hence it is during the letter Ches which has a numerical value of 8 that we think of G-d’s dominion over the seven heavens and one earth.) Also, while one pronounces the Daled of Echad one should think of G-d’s mastery of the four corners of the Universe.