15 Av, 5761
August 3-4, '01
Listen up everybody. Do you know what the words "Shema Yisroel" mean?
You may be surprised.
You heard it here firstů In this week's parsha, Va'eschanan, Moshe first recorded those immortal words that Jews recite every morning and evening: "Shema Yisroel-Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One" (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). These are among the first words that a Jewish child is taught and they are the last words to be uttered by a Jew's lips at the twilight of life in this world. They proclaim the essential Jewish belief that an all-powerful Creator oversees and is in charge of our lives and that Creator is the ultimate force in the Universe, solely (though often silently) behind everything we see going on.
This is certainly an important proclamation, worthy of our perpetual pronouncement. But why do we have to begin with the words "Shema Yisroel-Hear O Israel" every time? Why not just say "The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One"? The phrase "Hear O Israel" seems far less important than the declaration of faith in G-d that it introduces.
Yet we say it every day. We even call this whole mitzvah by its first two unassuming words, "Shema Yisroel", or simply "Shema". What is the secret of "Shema Yisroel-Hear O Israel"?
The Torah is more than a body of universal law. Universal laws have to be followed by everyone. The law of gravity binds us all. Moral laws, like the prohibitions against stealing and murder, apply universally. The Torah includes these laws, but it contains more than them as well. Many of the Torah's 613
mitzvahs have meaning only to the Jewish People, like celebrating
Passover, Shavuos and
Sukkos. Many mitzvahs were only demanded by G-d of the Jewish People, like
Shabbos and keeping kosher. Why are we singled out?
Because we made a deal with G-d. We agreed to a covenant (bris in Hebrew) with G-d that created obligations on both sides of the table. Our part of the deal is spelled out in the Torah. It includes the 613 mitzvahs recorded therein. G-d also tells us what He'll do for us.
Of all the nations in the world, this special covenant only binds the Jewish People. We're the ones who agreed to it at Mount Sinai. Non-Jews do not have to keep kosher or Shabbos. They never signed on the dotted line. But we did. That's why we say "Shema Yisroel".
The proclamation, "Shema Yisroel-Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One", is more than the expression of our general faith in G-d. It is the expression of our acceptance of the covenant we made with G-d. That covenant was not made between individuals. It was concluded between G-d and the entire Jewish People.
Hear, O Israel, our special relationship with G-d, through which we are known as the Chosen People, is not derived from our individual merits. As individuals, we could not merit to be so close to G-d. Our special standing is derived from our membership as part of the Jewish People.
When we proclaim the words "Shema Yisroel-Hear, O Israel", we are expressing our recognition that not only is G-d so awesome, but we only merit our special relationship with Him because we are part of the Jewish People. That is our claim to fame. We have a covenant with G-d as a nation, and to the extent that we accept our responsibilities as members of that nation, we merit coming closer to G-d. Not as individuals, but as one people.
Insights Into Exodus
Insights Into Leviticus
Insights into Numbers
To get in touch with STEP, call Rabbi Shulman at (912) 303-9591 or Rabbi
Edelstein at (912) 351-0469. E-mail us at STEPKollel@netzero.net
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