…“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our G’d, the LORD is one.You shall love the LORD your G’d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”. Deuteronomy 6:4-9
THE SHEMA is the central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook (Siddur) and is often the first section of Scripture that a Jewish child learns. During its recitation in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews pronounce each word very carefully and cover their eyes with their right hand. Many Jews recite the Shema at least twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening. Parts of the Shema are written on a small scroll which is then rolled up and put inside a mezuzah.
The yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven
Reciting the Shema is sometimes referred to as accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of heaven. This is because by saying the words of the Shema, we acknowledge that we are responsible for following them and being totally committed to G’d and His commands.
It is often said while facing East. This is because prayers were said in the direction of the Temple. This is demonstrated by Daniel in Dan. 6:10. The practice comes from the following verses out of Solomon’s prayer to G’d in dedication of the Temple.
“Yet have regard to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplication, O Lord my G’d, to listen to the cry and to the prayer which Your servant prays before You today; that Your eyes may be open toward this house night and day, toward the place of which You have said, ‘My name shall be there,’ to listen to the prayer which Your servant shall pray toward this place. Listen to the supplication of Your servant and of Your people Israel, when they pray toward this place; hear in heaven Your dwelling place; hear and forgive.” 1 Kings 8:28-30
“Also concerning the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel, when he comes from a far country for Your name’s sake (for they will hear of Your great name and Your mighty hand, and of Your outstretched arm); when he comes and prays toward this house, hear in heaven Your dwelling place, and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to You, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know Your name, to fear You, as do Your people Israel, and that they may know that this house which I have built is called by Your name.” 1 Kings 8:41-43
Of course, G’d can hear prayers said in any direction but facing Jerusalem while reciting the Shema serves as a reminder of G’d’s desire to dwell with His people and hear our prayers, and that Yeshua (Jesus) is coming back to reign in the new kingdom of Jerusalem, as promised.
Phrases of the Shema and their meanings
“Hear, O Israel!”
(In Hebrew – “Shema, Yisrael”)
This first phrase of the Shema is the most recited portion. It is a call to G’d’s people to acknowledge that G’d is our G’d, our only G’d, and that we are His people. “Shema” literally means “hear” or “listen”, but it implies more than that. It implies that we should not only hear the following verses, but also act, showing in how we live our lives, that we believe them.
“The Lord is our G’d”
(In Hebrew – “adonai eloheinu”)
The command to listen is followed by the name of G’d (YHVH), but out of respect and obedience to the third commandment, G’d’s name is represented by “Adonai” instead. This phrase is said with great reverence and is said while bowing. It should humble and forever awe us that we have the great privilege of calling the Creator of the universe “our G’d”! How blessed are we?!
“The Lord is one”
(In Hebrew – “adonai echad”)
G’d is the only one deserving of our worship. No one, not political figures, other gods, our families, or even ourselves comes even close to the caliber of significance that G’d has. He is to be our focus and our purpose.
“Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever”
(In Hebrew – “Barookh shem k’vod malkhooto l’olam vaed”)
While not included in Deuteronomy, this was added by rabbis and is therefore said in an undertone, not at a normal volume as the rest of the Shema. Its purpose is to affirm G’d’s kingship throughout eternity.
“You shall love the Lord your G’d with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might”
(In Hebrew – “V’ahavta et adonai elohekha b’kohl l’vavkha oovkohl nafsh’kha, oovkohl me’odekha”)
Referred to as the v’ahavta, this phrase answers the question of purpose in our lives. With all our hearts, souls, and might, we’re to love G’d. It’s simply stated but takes a lifetime to learn!
“These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart”
(In Hebrew – “V’hayoo hadvareem ha’ayleh, ‘asher ‘anokhee m’tsavkha hayom al l’vavekha”)
I find it interesting that the commands were to be on the hearts of the Israelites. The common understanding is that the Law was at this time written on stone and them being written on our hearts only occurred later, post-Jesus, when the Holy Spirit was given to the apostles. G’d’s words were to be on the hearts of His people from day one, not only after the New Covenant was instated.
“You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
(In Hebrew – “v’sheenantam l’vanekha, v’deebarta bam b’sheevtkha b’vaytekha, oovlekht’kha vaderek oovshakhb’kha, oovkoomekha. Ookshartam le’ot al yadekha, v’hayoo l’totafot bayn aynekha. Ookhtavtam alm’zoozot baytekha oovish’arekha.”)
This is taken literally by orthodox Jews in the use of tefillin (or phylacteries) and mezuzahs. Tefillin are small leather boxes containing scripture that are attached to the forehead and arm using leather bands. This is done to fulfill the part of the command saying, “bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be frontals on your forehead”. Mezuzahs are small boxes containing scripture that are adhered to the doorposts of one’s house. These are to fulfill the command to “write them on the doorposts of your house”.
Something worthy to be noticed. I believe someone should be free to express his or her commitment and love for G’ds commandments. Either lighting a candle, having a mezuzah at the doorpost or following traditions. The important thing here is the heart. Things that we have or do for Adonai should always be the expression of our hearts. The Lord doesn’t want to limit His commands to physical structures like doorposts and gates, but instead to be throughout our lives, our schedules, our relationships, our homes, our goals, when we travel and when we are home. Our purpose. Let’s live in abundance !
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem