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The Shema is the central, most instructive and most important declaration in all of Judaism and biblical religion. It is the first thing we say upon awakening, the last thing we say before sleep and, if possible, our final words and thoughts before we return our bodies to the earth in death.
The first line:Deuteronomy 6:4 Sh'ma Yis'ra'eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad.As Rashi explains:
Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.The Lord is our God; the Lord is one: The Lord, who is now our God and not the God of the other nations - He will be [declared] in the future [to be] "the one God," as it is said: "For then I will convert the peoples to a pure language that all of them call in the name of the Lord" (Zephaniah 3:9), and it is [also] said: "On that day will the Lord be one and His name one" (Zechariah 14:9).Shema:
Hear, listen! Pay attention! This matters!Y'israel:
The Shema is the declaration by and for the people of Israel, the Jews, to hear and receive the Truth of who we are as members of the Covenant. Hear this you people of HaShem! And so we can say: Listen, this is for your ears! This is to empower YOU Jew! Receive this information and act upon it!
This is not to say that only Jews know and are accepted by HaShem of course, however the unique relationship that exists between the One God and His Covenant people is to be our focus as Jews. As Rebbe Natan, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov's main disciple, notes:...both the Shema and the expression, "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity," contain six words in Hebrew. Thus, Jacob and his sons together recited twelve words [Genesis 49:1], corresponding exactly to the number of Jacob's sons and to the number of the future tribes of Israel. Together, Shema and "Blessed is the name" are comprised of forty-nine letters, corresponding exactly to the number of letters in the names of the twelve tribes!From the basis of this foundational truth the Jewish people bless the world. Through this authority and lineage eventually HaMashiach will come and then there will be peace (Isaiah 11). The Shema then is the affirmation that we await his reign with joy and conviction. May HaMashiach come soon!
"Adonai" ("the Lord") indicates the presence of the Sacred Name of Four Letters within the text. Elohaynu is a more generic form of the word "God" and speaks of HaShem as being our God. He is with the Jewish people. So we are to hear and act: For you people of Israel HaShem ("the Name") alone is God and there can be no other gods for us. We should always remember that HaShem alone is God: Hear O Israel! This applies to the Jewish people inclusive, religious or not, Orthodox or Liberal. God is One and we are one extended family. In addition to the literal gods worshiped by other religions, this essential truth also demands that our money, prestige, fame, honor, everything we have or aspire to must not become gods. Anything we place above HaShem is an idol and we are to have no gods before Him nor with Him. This includes our religious practices! HaShem alone is God, not our beliefs about Him! Not our rules and regulations, not our denominations or movements. Not our cleaver interpretations nor our diverse Torah observances... Beliefs and practices are important, but they can all too easily replace HaShem. For this reason He warns us:Deuteronomy 10:12. And now, O Israel, what does the Lord, your God, demand of you? Only to fear the Lord, your God, to walk in all His ways and to love Him, and to worship the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul,The heart (emuna) and intention (kavana) comes even before our observance and knowledge! LOVE HaShem first and foremost! Not everyone is going to become a tzaddik (a person of deep and abiding righteousness) however if we honestly love Him we will be drawn to Torah observance and study. We will gradually become more righteous. Each in his or her own way. THEN He will accept our sacrifices and the mitzvot we perform because of the sincerity behind them. Observance without love and intention is not sufficient. This is confirmed so many times in the Tanach: "Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff necked" (Deuteronomy 10:16).
13. to keep the commandments of the Lord and His statutes, which I command you this day, for your good.
HaShem is One. This sounds so simple doesn't it? But it is the most profound truth of all!
"One" in Hebrew is echad. If it is not modified (and its not here) then echad is absolute singular. HaShem is echad in every sense! He is One in determining our health! Our wealth! Our level of Torah observance! Our relationships... He is One with His Name, His Attributes... There is no god with Him. He is not a duality, a trinity nor a pantheon... HaShem is echad! (Deuteronomy 32:39)
Plus, everything is One in HaShem and so we are safe within His Hands. For this reason the rabbis teach us to respond Baruch HaShem always! Praise God for the seemingly good and for the seemingly bad that we encounter in our lives. He cares for us as individuals and as a people and has our best interests at heart always! If HaShem is with us what have we to fear? Do your best and then trust HaShem for the outcome because He is One.
Just have emuna! Have faith in the One God revealed through Torah and through our sages! If we can wrap our minds around this central truth of His Oneness it will change everything! It will free us! We will channel His blessings to the world. This is what Torah says we are to be and do! Blessings and bless! THIS will bring HaMashiach!Genesis 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.This level of emuna is the eternal calling of the Jewish people! Through us HaShem is blessing the world entire. Nothing exists outside of His blessings! Just recognize and receive!Exodus 19:6 And ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel.
When we say the Shema then, we are referring to Deuteronomy 6:4. In Jewish liturgy however it is more ("Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity"). The complete Shema is Deuteronomy 6:4-8, 11:13-22 and Numbers 15:37-42. We wont look at it all here, but consider:Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
6:5 And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.
BECAUSE HaShem is echad (One), the Shema calls us to be a blessing in the Sacred Name of the One Eternal Adon Olam (the Master of the Universe)! Because He is One, we partake in the blessings of His oneness. When we bless others we bless ourselves, which blesses others and so on! Blessings upon blessings! We are to recognize His oneness in all areas of life and to honor all life as sacred.
People all too easily get wrapped up in traditions, in personal practices and self importance. What it all boils down to however is the Shema. God is One.
May we all become one in HaShem as directed in Torah.
How to Meditate on the Shema (Chabad videos):
Part One of four
Part Two of four
Part Three of four
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