Judaism --> Shema
are the first two words of a section of the Hebrew Bible that is used as
a centerpiece of all Jewish prayer services and closely echoes the
monotheistic message of
Judaism. The message of the Sh'ma
is applicable to every Jew at all times, at every conscious moment.
Indeed, embodied in the Sh'ma is one of the most profound and
mystical concepts known to man: Yichud Hashem -- the Oneness of
consisted only of the one verse: Deuteronomy 6:4 (see Talmud Sukkot 42a
and Berachot 13b). The recitation of the
Shema in the liturgy, however, consists
of three portions: Deut. 6:4-9, 11:13-21, and Numbers
15:37-41. These three portions relate to central issues in Jewish
Jerusalem Talmud points out that subtle references to the Ten
Commandments can be found in the three portions. As the Ten Commandments
were removed from daily prayer in the Mishnaic period, the
is seen as an opportunity to commemorate the Ten Commandments.
Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad."
|The first portion relates to the issue of the kingship of God. The first
verse, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God is one Lord," has ever been
regarded as the confession of belief in the One God.
The following verses contain the commands to love God with heart, soul,
and might; to remember all commandments and instruct the children
therein; to recite the words of God when retiring or rising; to bind
those words "on the arm and the head" (a reference to
tefillin), and to inscribe them on the
door-posts and on the city gates (a reference to
The second portion relates to the issue
of reward and punishment. It contains the promise of reward for the
fulfillment of the laws, and the threat of punishment for their
transgression, with a repetition of the contents of the first portion.
third portion relates to the issue of redemption. Specifically, it contains
the law concerning the
tzitzit as a reminder that all the laws
of God are to be obeyed, as a warning against following the evil
inclinations of the heart, and, finally, in remembrance of the exodus from
Egypt. For the prophets and Rabbis, the exodus from Egypt is paradigmatic of
Jewish faith that God will redeem them from all forms of foreign domination.
The commandment to recite the
, twice daily is ascribed by
Josephus to Moses ("Antiquities" 6:8), and it has always been regarded as a
divine commandment (see, however, Sifre, Deut. 31.)
The reading of the
morning, and evening is spoken of in the Mishnah as a matter of course,
and rests upon the interpretation of ("when thou liest down, and when thou
risest up"; Deut. 6:7, see Talmud tractate Berachot 2a).
The Benedictions preceding and following the
Shema are traditionally credited to the members
of the Great Assembly. They were first instituted in the Temple liturgy.
According to the Talmud, the reading of the Shema morning and evening
fulfils the commandment "You shall meditate therein day and night". As soon
as a child begins to speak his father is directed to teach him the verse
"Moses commanded us a law, even the inheritance of the congregation of
Jacob" (Deut. 33:4), and teach him to read the "Shema'" (Talmud, Sukkot
42a). The reciting of the first verse of the
Shema is called the acceptance of the
yoke of the kingship of God" (Mishnah Berachot 2:5). Judah ha-Nasi, being
preoccupied with his studies, put his hand over his eyes and repeated the
first verse in silence (Talmud Berachot 13a).
The first verse of the
Shema is recited aloud, simultaneously
by the hazzan and the congregation, which responds with the rabbinically
instituted "Baruch Shem" in silence before continuing the rest of Shema.
Only on Yom Kippur is this response said aloud. The remainder of the Shema
is read in silence. Sephardim recite the whole of the Shema aloud, except
the "Baruch Shem".
Before bedtime, the first paragraph of Shema is recited. This is not a
mitzvah, but is derived from the verse "Commune with your own
heart upon your bed" (Psalms 4:4).
The Shema was the battle-cry of the priest in calling
to arms against an enemy (Deuteronomy 20:3; Talmud Sotah 42a). It is the
last word of the dying in his confession of faith. It was on the lips of
those who suffered and were tortured for the sake of the Law.
Jewish law requires
a greater measure of concentration on the first verse of the
Shema than on the rest of the prayer. People commonly close
their eyes or cover them with the palm of their hand while reciting
it to eliminate every distraction and help them concentrate on the
meaning of the words. The final word, echad, should be
prolonged and emphasized. Often, the last letter of the first and
last words of the Shema verse are written in larger print in
the siddur. This is because these letters form the word "ed,"
witness, and remind Jews of their duty to serve as witnesses to
God's sovereignty by leading exemplary lives.
Rabbi Akiva patiently endured while his
flesh was being torn with iron combs, and died reciting the Shema. He
pronounced the last word of the sentence, "Echad" (one) with his last breath
(Talmud Berachot 61b).
The Talmud says that when Jacob was about to reveal the end of days to his
children, he was concerned that one of them might be a non-believer. His
sons reassured him immediately and cried out, "Shema Yisrael."