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The Shema is the central, most instructive and most important declaration in all of Judaism. 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.
As Rashi explains:
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).
The Shema is the soulful cry of Moshe Rabbenu (our teacher Moses) for the Jewish people to hear and to receive the Truth as members of the eternal Covenant. Hear this you people of HaShem! And so we can say: Listen, this is for your ears! 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 True God and His Covenant people is to be our focus. As Rebbe Natan of Breslov has noted:...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!Through this foundational truth the Jewish people bless the world. Through this authority and lineage eventually Messiah will come and then there will be peace throughout the planet (Isaiah 11). Global peace will be G-d's gift to humanity and it will come through the Jewish people and the Messiah HaShem will one day send to us. Then the other nations will come to the Jews and the Jewish Messiah and through us they will find G-d (Zechariah 8:23).
The word Adonai ("the Lord") indicates the presence of the Sacred Name of Four Letters within the text. Eloheinu is a more generic form of the word God. As Jews we are to hear and act: For you People Israel HaShem ("the Name") alone is God and there can be no other gods for us nor with us. We should not judge the people of other religions, we just need to remember that for us 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 of other religions, this essential truth also demands that our money, prestige, fame, honor, everything we have or aspire to must not become gods for us. Anything we place above HaShem is an idol and we are to have no gods before Him. This includes our religious practices! HaShem alone is God, not our beliefs about Him! Not our rules and regulations, our denominations or movements. Not our clever interpretations nor our various Torah observances... Beliefs and practices are important, but they can all too easily replace HaShem and so 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 (faith: emuna) and intention (kavana) come before the observance and the 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. 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 no matter what any rabbis or any one else may tell you! Jewish history makes this abundantly clear: "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!Just have emuna! Have faith in the One God revealed through Torah, our history, 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! Blessings! And THIS will bring Messiah!
"One" in Hebrew is echad. If it is not modified (and its not here) then echad is absolute one. 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, Titles, and Attributes... There is no god nor other being with Him. He is not a duality, a trinity nor a pantheon... HaShem is echad! (Deuteronomy 32:39)
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 life. He cares for us and has our best interests at heart always! If HaShem is with us what have we to fear? Do your best always, and then trust HaShem for the outcome because He is One.
Because of we are bound by the Shema HaShem declares: 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 it!
Because of and through the Shema: 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.And the full Shema concludes with Numbers 15:37-41:
When we say the Shema we are recalling and reaffirming Deuteronomy 6:4. In Jewish liturgy we conclude this first part with the phrase:בָּרוּךְ שֵׁם כְּבוֹד מַלְכוּתוֹ לְעוֹלָם וָעֶדNext comes the V'ahavta:
Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed
Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and everWe continue with Deuteronomy 11:13-21:וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְותַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם׃ וְנָתַתִּ֧י מְטַֽר־אַרְצְכֶ֛ם בְּעִתּ֖וֹ יוֹרֶ֣ה וּמַלְק֑וֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ֣ דְגָנֶ֔ךָ וְתִֽירֹשְׁךָ֖ וְיִצְהָרֶֽךָ׃ וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ׃ הִשָּֽׁמְר֣וּ לָכֶ֔ם פֶּ֥ן יִפְתֶּ֖ה לְבַבְכֶ֑ם וְסַרְתֶּ֗ם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם֙ אֱלֹהִ֣ים אֲחֵרִ֔ים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶ֖ם לָהֶֽם׃ וְחָרָ֨ה אַף־יְהוָ֜ה בָּכֶ֗ם וְעָצַ֤ר אֶת־הַשָּׁמַ֙יִם֙ וְלֹֽא־יִהְיֶ֣ה מָטָ֔ר וְהָ֣אֲדָמָ֔ה לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן אֶת־יְבוּלָ֑הּ וַאֲבַדְתֶּ֣ם מְהֵרָ֗ה מֵעַל֙ הָאָ֣רֶץ הַטֹּבָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה נֹתֵ֥ן לָכֶֽם׃ וְשַׂמְתֶּם֙ אֶת־דְּבָרַ֣י אֵ֔לֶּה עַל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וְעַֽל־נַפְשְׁכֶ֑ם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּ֨ם אֹתָ֤ם לְאוֹת֙ עַל־יֶדְכֶ֔ם וְהָי֥וּ לְטוֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֵיכֶֽם׃ וְלִמַּדְתֶּ֥ם אֹתָ֛ם אֶת־בְּנֵיכֶ֖ם לְדַבֵּ֣ר בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ׃ וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּז֥וֹת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ׃ לְמַ֨עַן יִרְבּ֤וּ יְמֵיכֶם֙ וִימֵ֣י בְנֵיכֶ֔ם עַ֚ל הָֽאֲדָמָ֔ה אֲשֶׁ֨ר נִשְׁבַּ֧ע יְיְיְ לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶ֖ם לָתֵ֣ת לָהֶ֑ם כִּימֵ֥י הַשָּׁמַ֖יִם עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
וְאָ֣הַבְתָּ֔ אֵ֖ת יְיְ אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ בְּכָל־לְבָבְךָ֥ וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁךָ֖ וּבְכָל־מְאֹדֶֽך
וְהָי֞וּ הַדְּבָרִ֣ים הָאֵ֗לֶּה אֲשֶׁ֨ר אָנֹכִ֧י מְצַוְּךָ֛ הַיּ֖וֹם עַל־לְבָבֶֽךָ
וְשִׁנַּנְתָּ֣ם לְבָנֶ֔יךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ֖ בָּ֑ם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ֤ בְּבֵיתֶ֙ךָ֙ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ֣ בַדֶּ֔רֶךְ וּֽבְשָׁכְבְּךָ֖ וּבְקוּמֶֽךָ
וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ
וּכְתַבְתָּ֛ם עַל־מְזוּזֹ֥ת בֵּיתֶ֖ךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶֽיךָ
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the LORD your God and serving Him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil— I will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle—and thus you shall eat your fill. Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For the LORD’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the LORD is assigning to you. Therefore impress these My words upon your very heart: bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, and teach them to your children—reciting them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up; and inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates— to the end that you and your children may endure, in the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to assign to them, as long as there is a heaven over the earth.
וַיֹּ֥אמֶר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃ דַּבֵּ֞ר אֶל־בְּנֵ֤י יִשְׂרָאֵל֙ וְאָמַרְתָּ֣ אֲלֵהֶ֔ם וְעָשׂ֨וּ לָהֶ֥ם צִיצִ֛ת עַל־כַּנְפֵ֥י בִגְדֵיהֶ֖ם לְדֹרֹתָ֑ם וְנָֽתְנ֛וּ עַל־צִיצִ֥ת הַכָּנָ֖ף פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת׃ וְהָיָ֣ה לָכֶם֮ לְצִיצִת֒ וּרְאִיתֶ֣ם אֹת֗וֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם֙ אֶת־כָּל־מִצְוות יְהוָ֔ה וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְלֹֽא־תָתֻ֜רוּ אַחֲרֵ֤י לְבַבְכֶם֙ וְאַחֲרֵ֣י עֵֽינֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־אַתֶּ֥ם זֹנִ֖ים אַחֲרֵיהֶֽם׃ לְמַ֣עַן תִּזְכְּר֔וּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֶת־כָּל־מִצְותָ֑י וִהְיִיתֶ֥ם קְדֹשִׁ֖ים לֵֽאלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃ אֲנִ֞י יְהוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֗ם אֲשֶׁ֨ר הוֹצֵ֤אתִי אֶתְכֶם֙ מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרַ֔יִם לִהְי֥וֹת לָכֶ֖ם לֵאלֹהִ֑ים אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
The LORD said to Moses as follows: Speak to the Israelite people and instruct them to make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments throughout the ages; let them attach a cord of blue to the fringe at each corner. That shall be your fringe; look at it and recall all the commandments of the LORD and observe them, so that you do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge. Thus you shall be reminded to observe all My commandments and to be holy to your God. I the LORD am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I, the LORD your God.
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 multiplied throughout time and beyond! We are to recognize His oneness in all areas of life and to honor all life as sacred because life comes from HaShem.
People all too easily get wrapped in traditions, in personal practice and self importance. What is all boils down to however is the Shema. God is One.
May we all become one in Him as directed in Torah.
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Rabbi Shlomo Nachman