The Shema is HaShem’s criteria for our ‘faith’ (emunah) and teaches us how to love the Most High, for loving Him, means that it has to be an act that is holy (based on HaShem’s criteria), and not left up to an individual’s interpretation.
It is a commandment to recite the passage that declares the absolute Oneness of our Creator, Devarim/Deut 6,4. So important is this declaration, that we are commanded to recite it, from the beginning and at the ending of our daily activities. RaMBaM states, ‘We are obligated to recite the Shema twice daily: in the evening and in the morning as Devarim 6,7 states: “…when you lie down and when you rise”, which means, at the time when people are accustomed to sleep, this being at night and when people are accustomed to rise, this being daytime.’ -MT Hilkhoth Kriath Shema 1,1.
The Shema is the premise for understanding the uniqueness and awesomeness of Our Father and Creator in heaven. It is here, in these passages that the foundation our belief in only One Power is set. It is here that , any beliefs in any forms of polytheism (duality, trinity, pantheism, etc) are nullified .
THE THREE OBLIGATORY COMMITMENTS OF LOVE
The Shema, is immediately followed by a list of instructions that are essential to fulfilling the 613 commandments (miswoth) or the His divine Torah. The Torah here states first, that we shall love HaShem with all of our hearts. According to our sages and Torah masters this means that we must serve Him through subjecting our inclinations to The Maker’s will.
–BT Mas. Berakhoth 12b.
The sages and RaMBaM taught that the service of the heart is also the Torah’s commandment to pray, for prayer is the service of the heart, –BT Mas. Ta’anith 2a, and MT Hilkhoth Tefillah 1,1. The Torah states next, that we must ‘love with all of your soul’, which our sages say means that one must be willing to die for this belief, and last but not least, ‘with all of your might’,which means all of your physical resources, must be used for the sake of heaven, –BT Mas. Berakhoth 12b-13a.
We must concentrate while reciting the first verse of the Shema and may not be distracted. Whomever recites the first verse of Kri’ath Shema i.e., Shema Yisrael… – without ‘kawanna’ (intention, concentrating on the fulfilling of the miswah), does not fulfill their obligation. – RaMBaM Hilkhoth Kriath Shema 2,1. It is almost a universal tradition to cover ones eyes while reciting the Shema, so that one may focus on saying the Shema.
The W.A.J.D. communities, specifically from Rabbi WA Matthew z”l cover our eyes, creating a ‘shin’ (שּ) with our index, middle and fourth digit fingers pointing upwards on our foreheads, which stands for the Almighty Power, to Whom we are affirming our love and faith. You may recite [the Shema] as you are, whether standing, walking, lying down or riding on the back of an animal. It is forbidden however, to recite the Shema while lying face down on the ground or flat on your back with your face pointing upwards. However, you may recite it lying on your side. – RaMBaM, MT Hilkhoth Kriath Shema 2,2.
There are three parts of the Shema that one must recite to fulfill this commandment, and they are:
- Devarim/Deuteronomy 6,4-9,
- Devarim/Deuteronomy 11, 13-21
- Bamidbar/Numbers 15,37-41 -RaMBaM MT Hilkhoth Kriath Shema 1,2.
Here is an inspirational story and example of how seriously committedwe must be to the words of the Shema while reciting it.
There was a time when the Romans prohibited the public study of Torah. Because he defiled the decree, Rabbi Akiva was imprisoned and sentenced him to death. During the act of his execution, it was time for the recitation of the Shema. As the Roman soldier ripped his flesh open with iron spikes, began to pull the guts out from his abdomen, Rabbi Akiva adjusted himself and began to chant the Shema. One of the Roman soldiers asked one of Rabbi Akiva’s student was he an expert in magic seeing that he seemed to exhibit no pain while chanting. So, Rabbi Akiva’s student made way to ask, “Rabbi, how are you able to do this at this time?” Rabbi Akiva replied “In my whole entire life, I never understood how I could truly fulfill this Torah passage, “And you shall love the L-rd your G-D …with all of your soul.” Today, finally I am able to fulfill this commandment. After explaining this, he cited the passage again to his students and fell onto his back right after he uttered the word “Ehad” and died. -BT Berakhoth 61b. Shalom uvrakha Judah Moshe ©2013 all rights reserved. MT=Mishna Torah