In Leviticus 22:32 we read: “You shall not profane My holy name, that I may be sanctified in the midst of the Israelite people—I Adonai who sanctify you.”
Translation issues become important here. The text says v’nikdashti, “and I will be made holy” amidst the Children of Israel. Or, in other words, “You will make Me holy just as I, Adonai, have made you holy.”
Here, for a moment, there is a relationship. We do something for God in response to what God has done for us. The only problem with this magic moment of relationship is that it makes no sense. How can we profane God’s Name or make God Holy? How can any action of ours, however base, debase God in any way? And more to the point, how can our human acts help, in any way, to make the Holy One, holy?
Perhaps the most intriguing response of all the classical commentaries can be found in P’sikta D’Rav Kahana, one of the oldest collections of midrash and commentaries on the Torah. The P’sikta teaches:
“You are My witnesses, says the Lord . . . that I am the One; before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be any after Me” (Isaiah 43:10). Thus said Shimon bar Yohai: “If you are my witnesses then I am the One, the first One, neither shall there be any after Me. But if you are not My witnesses, I am not, as it were, God.” (P’sikta D’Rav Kahana, 12)
Let me emphasize that these words are taken not from some radical, post-holocaust, interpretation of the Torah, but from one of the oldest sources we know (6 c.e.).
If you are not My witnesses, I am not, as it were, God.
So, how exactly do we do that? How can we stand as witnesses that the Holy One is the One? One answer can be found in the Sh’ma, the central prayer of our synagogue service, a place where the Hebrew words for “witness” and “one” reside as one. We stand as witnesses of God’s oneness to the world when we say the words “Hear, O Israel! Adonai is our God, Adonai is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
The relationship between our statement of God’s Oneness in the morning and evening, recitation of the Sh’ma, and our role as God’s witness to the world is made explicit by the very lettering of these words as they appear in the Torah. There is something remarkable about the way the words of the Sh’ma are written in a Torah scroll. The last letter of the first word and the last letter of the last word are written larger than any of the others. The large ayin at the end of the word Sh’ma and the large dalet at the end of the word echad together make the word eid which means “witness.” As we read in Isaiah 43:10,“You are My witness” (see Baal HaTurim at Deuteronomy 6:4).
Having a relationship with God is a feathery thing. One never really knows what God is thinking, when God is present, how we can truly bear witness to God’s will in the world. And yet, through prayer we are reminded of all that is Holy in our world and in ourselves, and through this we form a bridge of connection. We become partners with God in the perfection of this world. It is then that we can truly make God holy. By repairing the brokenness in ourselves, by repairing the brokenness of our world, we repair the brokenness that has resided within God since the first moment of creation and in this way we can indeed make the Holy One, whole once again.