I am about to begin a conversion process. My boyfriend is Jewish and I wish to convert before we marry. I have believed for many years that this is the way for me and will be the way in which I bring up my children.
I have a born-again Christian friend coming to visit me next weekend. She has been very involved in Messianic Judaism (even though she is a gentile) and I know she is going to have a big talk with me. I want to be able to answer her intelligently. I know exactly the one she is going to throw at me and I would like some help with the answer. She is going to talk about the time in the bible (can’t remember where it is) when they bought back a sample of the fruits of the promised land. Apparently it says that they bought “echad” grapes. The word “echad,” although it refers to ONE, is talking about a BUNCH of grapes. Therefore, when we talk about Adonai Echad,” we can be talking about three gods in one.
None of this rings true for me, but I want to be well thought out on all of this. Would you please help ASAP. (She is arriving next weekend!)
I am very pleased that you have asked this question; I am certain that many of our Jewish readers will be surprised by your dilemma. magine the astonished reaction of a Jew when he discovers that missionaries employ his cherished national creed,
שְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל: יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ, יְהוָה אֶחָד
– Deuteronomy 6:4
“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one“ (אֶחָד – Hebrew: echad), to prove the doctrine of the Trinity. To the surprise of many, Trinitarians will often use this most-sacred passage which declares the oneness of God to support their belief in a triune nature of God. The doctrine of the Trinity has no greater foe than the declaration in Deuteronomy 6:4. Let’s examine this well-worn missionary argument more closely.
To support their claim that there are multiple persons within the godhead, missionaries insist that the Hebrew word אֶחָד, (echad), meaning “one” at the end of Deuteronomy 6:4 does not mean an absolute one. Rather, they argue, this verse can only signify a “compound unity,” or many things in one. They will often cite two verses to support this assertion.
The first is the text you quoted states,
Then they came to the Valley of Eshcol, and there cut down a branch with one אֶחָד, (echad)cluster of grapes; they carried it between two of them on a pole. They also brought some of the pomegranates and figs.(Numbers 13:23)
And God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one (אֶחָד, echad) day.(Genesis 1:5)
From these verses, they insist, it is clear that the Hebrew word אֶחָד (echad) can only mean a fusion of a number of things into one.
Although this assertion is as flawed as the doctrine it seeks to support, for those who lack an elementary knowledge of the Hebrew language, this argument can be rather puzzling.
The word echad in the Hebrew language functions in precisely the same manner as the word “one” does in the English language. In the English language it can be said, “these four chairs and the table make up one dinette set,” or alternatively, “There is one penny in my hand.” Using these two examples, it is easy to see how the English word “one” can mean either many things in one, as in the case of the dinette set, or one alone, as in the case of the penny.
Although the Hebrew word echad functions in the exact same manner, evangelical Christians will never offer biblical examples where the word echad means “one alone.” Thus, by only presenting Scriptural verses such as Genesis 1:5 and Numbers 23:13, it creates the illusion to the novice that the word echad is somehow synonymous with a compound unity. Nothing, of course, could be further from the truth. For example, the Torah states,
עַל פִּי שְׁנַיִם עֵדִים, אוֹ שְׁלֹשָׁה עֵדִים יוּמַת הַמֵּת: לֹא יוּמַת, עַל פִּי עֵד אֶחָדAt the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses, shall he that is worthy of death be put to death; but at the mouth of one (אֶחָד) witness he shall not be put to death.(Deuteronomy 17:6)
לא יָקוּם עֵד אֶחָד בְּאִישׁ, לְכָל-עָוֹן וּלְכָל-חַטָּאת, בְּכָל-חֵטְא, אֲשֶׁר יֶחֱטָא: עַל-פִּי שְׁנֵי עֵדִים, אוֹ עַל-פִּי שְׁלֹשָׁה-עֵדִים–יָקוּם דָּבָר.One (אֶחָד) witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity or sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or the mouth of three witnesses, shall a matter be established.(Deuteronomy 19:15)
יֵשׁ אֶחָד וְאֵין שֵׁנִי גַּם בֵּן וָאָח אֵין לוֹ, וְאֵין קֵץ לְכָל עֲמָלוֹ גַּם עיניו (עֵינוֹ), לֹא תִשְׂבַּע עֹשֶׁר; וּלְמִי אֲנִי עָמֵל, וּמְחַסֵּר אֶת נַפְשִׁי מִטּוֹבָה גַּם זֶה הֶבֶל וְעִנְיַן רָע, הוּא.There is one (אֶחָד) alone, without a companion; yes he has neither son nor brother…(Ecclesiastes 4:8)
כֻּלָּנוּ, בְּנֵי אִישׁ אֶחָד נָחְנוּ; כֵּנִים אֲנַחְנוּ, לֹא הָיוּ עֲבָדֶיךָ מְרַגְּלִים.“We are all one (אֶחָד) man’s sons; we are upright men, thy servants are no spies.”(Genesis 42:11)
וַיַּעַשׂ יְהוָה אֶת הַדָּבָר הַזֶּה, מִמָּחֳרָת, וַיָּמָת, כֹּל מִקְנֵה מִצְרָיִם; וּמִמִּקְנֵה בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, לֹא מֵת אֶחָדThe next day the Lord did it: All the livestock of the Egyptians died, but not one (אֶחָד) animal belonging to the Israelites died.(Exodus 9:6)
שְׁלַח לְךָ אֲנָשִׁים, וְיָתֻרוּ אֶת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן, אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן, לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל: אִישׁ אֶחָד אִישׁ אֶחָד לְמַטֵּה אֲבֹתָיו, תִּשְׁלָחוּ כֹּל, נָשִׂיא בָהֶם“Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one (אֶחָד) man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one (אֶחָד) a leader among them.”(Numbers 13:2)
In the above verses the exact same Hebrew wordאֶחָד is used, and clearly the word (echad) is referring to one alone, not a “compound unity.”
There is a question that immediately comes to mind:If the Hebrew word אֶחָד (echad) can signify either a compound unity or one alone, how can one tell which definition is operative when studying a verse?
The answer lies in the context, which is always determinative. In the exact same way the word “one” is understood in the English language, that is, from the context. “Four chairs and a table make up one dinette set” is a compound unity, and “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” is unsullied monotheism.
I thank you for your question, and may the Merciful One guide you in your conversion process.
Rabbi Tovia Singer