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The Shema - Hear, O Israel!

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The Shema -

Hear, O Israel, the LORD is our God; the LORD is one

Click for Simplified Reading

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.

Hear it Sung (by Paul Wilbur)

Mezuzah Scroll

The Complete Shema

The Shema is actually more than just the famous six words Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad, but is composed of three parts linked together into a unity:

The First Part:
 

  1. Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-9):  The core Hebrew prayer. Special emphasis is given to the first six Hebrew words of this passage (Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad) and a six-word response is said in an undertone (barukh shem kevod malkhuto le'olam va'ed). After a pause, Deuteronomy 6:5-9 is then recited, which stresses the commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and might.

    Click here to hear the first part (for a flash presentation, click here).


    Enlarged Letters?

    The two letters Ayin (ע) and Dalet (ד) are enlarged in the first sentence of the Shema. Together, these letters form the word 'ed (עֵד), which means "witness," suggesting that the Shema is a testimony of the sovereignty of God and our primary duty to love Him with our whole being:
  2. Enlarged Ayin and Dalet
     

    This statement marks the declaration that LORD our God is One. Interestingly, the word echad in Hebrew can imply a unity in diversity (the word for one and only one, i.e., unique, is more often rendered as yachid). For example, in Exodus 26:6 the various parts of the Tabernacle (mishkan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezek. 37:19). Moses also used echad in Genesis 2:24 when he wrote, "And they (husband and wife) will become one flesh (basar echad)."


     

The Second Part:
 

  1. Vehayah (Deuteronomy 11:13-21): This moving passage stresses the blessings that come through obedience to Adonai and the consequences that come through disobedience.

    Click here to hear the second part.

    Mezuzot Scrolls

    The first two parts of the Shema are written in STA"M script on a small scroll which is then rolled up and put inside a mezuzah:

    Click for the Blessing


The Third Part:
 

  1. Vaiyomer (Numbers 15:37-41): This passage concerns the use of the tallit, a rectangular prayer shawl with four fringes (called tzitzit). One tzitzit is attached to each corner of the tallit. The reason for wearing the tzitzit is to remind oneself to observe all of the commandments of the Lord.


    Click for the Blessing

    Click here to hear the third part.


 

The Shema in Liturgy

Liturgically, the Shema refers to a section of the service that includes the following components:

  1. The Barechu - The Call to Worship
  2. Yotzer Ohr - The Creator of Light blessing
  3. Ahavah Rabbah -  The Great Love blessing
  4. The Shema - Core words of Deut. 6:4 (followed by blessing in undertone)
  5. The Ve'ahavta - Deut. 6:5-9
  6. The Ge'ulah Blessing - Thanking God for Redemption

 

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