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Hear O' Israel - The Shema in Jewish Prayer
Hear O’Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One. This is an exclamation of faith I sing every night with my children before they go to sleep. My two-year old daughter, in particular, loves it. We sing to the tune of the good-bye song from her Music Together class, and she asks for “sh’my” any time she lays down in her crib.
Shema Yisrael Ado-nai Elo-heinu, Ado-nai Echad is recited two times a day. It is recited in the morning. It is recited in the evening. They are the last words on our lips when we face death. Moshe recited the Shema. It is in our Tefillin (Phylacteries or black leather boxes), and it is on our doorposts (Mezuzah).
The foundation of our Jewish faith is expressed in the very first sentence of the Shema – our belief in one G-d. While most of our prayers were dictated by human thought, the Shema comes to us directly from G-d. It is one of the commandments of Jewish life, and within it lies many of the principles of our faith.
The first paragraph V’ahav’ta eit Ado-nai Elohekha b’khol l’vav’kha uv’khol naf’sh’kha uv’khol m’okedkha… tells us to love G-d and to foster Jewish sustainability by teaching our children. We are told that these commandments G-d gave to us should be recited in the morning when we rise and in the evening before we go to sleep. They are to be tied as a sign upon our arms and between our eyes (Tefillin) and written on the doorposts of our homes (Mezuzah).
The second paragraph V’hayah im shamo’ah tish’m’u el mitz’votai… is a description of the positive outcomes that will take place if we adhere to the mitzvot of G-d. It also tells us of the consequences that shall occur should we fail to fulfill G-d’s mitzvot.
In the final paragraph Va’yomer Ado-nai el Moshe lei’mor da’beir el b’nei Yisrael v’amar’ta aleihem,, the Children of Israel are told to make tzitzis (fringe found on a tallit or Jewish prayer shawl). The tzitzis will serve as a reminder of Hashem and the commandments to be fulfilled. In the near final words, G-d mentions our Exodus from Egypt. One of the 613 mitzvot given to us by G-d is remembering the Exodus each day, and we accomplish this when we recite the Shema.
B’chal L’vavecha U’v’chal Naf’she’cha – with your heart and with your soul – is written in both paragraph one and paragraph two. So often in Judaism, our values and our traditions help us to connect the physical life we are living with the spiritual life we long for. G-d’s words to us in the Shema remind us that the physical life is an important avenue to our spiritual self. By partaking in Jewish rituals here in the physical world, we can connect more deeply with the Divine. The Shema is the basis for all Jewish thought. Our belief in a single G-d is the premise for everything else.
If you don’t already, think about adding the Shema to your daily rituals.
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