GOOD MORNING! A Jewish soldier was dying on the beach during the invasion of Normandy. He calls to his Jewish comrade, "I'm dying! What do I say?" His comrade didn't know; he called for the chaplain. The Catholic chaplain leaned by the Jewish soldier's side and said, "Repeat after me. 'Shema Yisroel Adonoy Eloheinu Adonoy Ehad -- Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.' " The soldier said the words of the Shema ... and then died.
What is the Shema and why does it play such an important role in the life a Jew? My friend and colleague, Rabbi Shraga Simmons, eloquently elucidates in the following excerpted and adapted article which he recently wrote for Aish HaTorah's website, (http://www.aish.com/literacy/mitzvahs/Shema_Yisrael.asp):
The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God. It is said upon arising in the morning and upon going to sleep at night. It is said when praising God and when beseeching Him. It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught to say. It is the last words a Jew says prior to death.
Throughout the ages, the cry of Shema has always symbolized the ultimate manifestation of faith in the gravest situations. With the Shema on their lips, Jews accepted martyrdom at the Inquisitor's stake and in the Nazi gas chambers.
We are commanded to say the Shema twice each day: once in the morning and again in the evening. This requirement is derived from the verse:
"And you should speak about them when you... lie down and when you get up" (Deut. 6:7).
The Talmud explains that when you "lie down and when you get up" does not refer to the literal position of one's body, but rather designates the time of day to say the Shema (Brachot 10b).
In technical terms, the time for reciting the evening Shema starts at nightfall (about 40 minutes after sundown) and continues until midnight (or if necessary, until dawn the next day). The time for the morning Shema starts about an hour before sunrise (from when you can recognize a friend from six feet away), and continues until approximately three hours after sunrise.
The full Shema is comprised of 3 paragraphs from the Torah. The first paragraph, Deut. 6:4-9, contains the concepts of loving God, learning Torah, and passing on Jewish tradition to our children. These verses also refer specifically to the Mitzvot of Tefillin and Mezuzah. While praying, we wear Tefillin as a visible sign of God close to our hearts and close to our brains, to show that our every thought and emotion is directed towards God. The Mezuzah scroll is affixed to our doorposts to show that we are secure in God's presence.
The second paragraph, Deut. 11:13-21, speaks about the positive consequences of fulfilling the mitzvot, and the negative consequences of not. The third paragraph, Numbers 15:37-41, speaks specifically about the mitzvah to wear tzitzit and the Exodus from Egypt. Tzitzit are a physical reminder of the 613 commandments in the Torah. This is derived from the numerical value of the word tzitzit (600), plus the five knots and eight strings on each corner, totaling 613.
A primary theme of the first verse is the Oneness of God:
"Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" (Deut. 6:4).
Further, as written in a Torah scroll, the letters "Ayin" and "Daled" of the first verse are enlarged - encoded to spell out the Hebrew word Aid - "witness." When we say the Shema, we are testifying to the Oneness of God.
Why is "oneness" so central to Jewish belief? Does it really matter whether God is one and not three? Events in our world may seem to mask the idea that God is One. One day we wake up and everything goes well. The next day everything goes poorly. What happened?! Is it possible that the same God who gives us so much goodness one day, can make everything go wrong the next? We know that God is good, so how could there be so much pain? Is it just "bad luck"?
The Shema is a declaration that all events are from the One, the only One. The confusion stems from our limited perception of reality. One way of understanding God's oneness is to imagine light shining through a prism. Even though we see many colors of the spectrum, they really emanate from one light. So too, even though it seems that certain events are not caused by God, rather by some other force or bad luck, they in fact all come from the One God. In the grand eternal plan, all is "good," for God knows best.
When a Jew says Shema, it is customary to close and cover one's eyes. One covers his eyes to block his own perception of reality and to recognize the Almighty's reality. The other time in Jewish tradition that one's eyes are specifically closed is upon death. Just as at the end of days we will come to understand how even the "bad" was actually for the "good," so too while saying the Shema we strive for that level of belief and understanding.
(to be continued next week! Meanwhile, I highly recommend Lisa Aiken's book The Hidden Beauty of the Shema available at your local Jewish book store or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242.)
Torah Portion of the Week
Moshe pleads with God to enter the Holy Land, but is turned down. (Remember, God always answers your prayers - sometimes with a "yes," sometimes with a "no" and sometimes with a "not yet".) Moshe commands the Children of Israel not to add or subtract from the words of the Torah and to keep all of the Commandments. He then reminds them that God has no shape or form and that we should not make or worship idols of any kind.
The cities of Bezer, Ramot and Golan are designated as Cities of Refuge east of the Jordan river. Accidental murderers can escape there to avoid revengeful relatives.
The Ten Commandments are repeated to the whole Jewish people. Moshe then expounds the Shema, affirming the unity of God, Whom all should love and transmit His commandments to the next generation. A man should wear Tefillin upon the arm and head. All Jews should put a Mezuzah upon each doorpost of their home (except the bathroom).
Moshe then relays the Almighty's command not to intermarry "for they will lead your children away from Me." (Deut. 7:3-4)
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah states:
"And you shall know this day, and you shall take this to your heart, that the Almighty is God in the Heavens above and upon the earth below, there is no other." (Deuteronomy 4:39)
What is the essence of this verse?
The Chofetz Chaim, Rav Yisroel Meir Kagan, says that there are two factors here: (1) Having the intellectual knowledge that all that happens in our lives is from the Almighty and (2) Having the emotional reality of the concept - internalizing it so that it becomes a part of us and has a practical effect on our emotions. It is our job to work on internalizing this important concept.
CANDLE LIGHTING - July 19:
(or go to http://aish.com/candlelighting)
Guatemala 6:17 Hong Kong 6:51 Honolulu 6:58
J'Burg 5:16 London 8:49 Los Angeles 7:45
Melbourne 5:04 Miami 7:55 Moscow 8:41
New York 8:06 Singapore 6:58
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
Don't count the days,
make the days count!
Mazal Tov on