Vehaya Im Shamoa Tishmeuh
The second paragraph of Shema originates from Devarim (Deuteronomy) 11:13 and is referred to as Kabbalat
Ol Mitzvoth (acceptance of the yoke of mitzvoth). The passage begins, “Vehaya Im Shamoa Tishmeu Mitzvosai
Asher Anochi Metzaveh Eschem Hayom..”.- And it shall come to pass that if you (pl) listen and adhere to my
commandments that I command you (pl) today…” It is noteworthy that the previous section of Shema,
Veahavata et Hashem Elokecha, And you shall love G-d, is written in the singular and Vehaya is in the plural.
This demonstrates that the Torah that we learn, the Mitzvoth we perform and the loving kindness we express
impact us individually and also as a nation. In fact, we are taught on Rosh Hashanah that Hashem evaluates and
judges our deeds as individuals in addition to judging everyone as part of a greater whole. Although the 21
century societal ethos breeds a life philosophy of narcissism and egocentricity i.e. it’s all about me, the Torah
teaches us it’s about a lot more than me!
Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l writes that we see from the words Vehaya Im Shamoa that the Torah does not demand
results, rather it commands listening/ adherence. “Vehaya Im Shamoa” – “and if you listen..” There are times in
life that one may not be able to follow through due to extenuating circumstances, but one can always listen and
resolve to do the best that they can. The Baal Shem Tov was reputed to have said that in heaven we are judged
not only by what we did, but rather by what we desired to do. Finally, in Pirkei Avot 2:16 we are taught that it
is not necessarily our responsibility to complete all tasks, but it most certainly is our responsibility to try and
grow and accomplish as much as we can during the years we are granted here on earth. Hashem asks us to do
ours, and He will take care of the rest.
Let’s analyze the language of the first verse, “Vehaya im Shamoa Tishmeu” – “and when you listen”. Why the
double language? Would it not have been sufficient to simply delete either Shamoa or Tishmau, why do we
need both? The Mechilta / Midrash Halacha advances that from these words the following lesson is taught –
When you listen to one mitzvah, you will be able to listen to many more. The simple understanding of this
Mechilta is that Torah knowledge is learned and lived by listening and adhering to one Mitzvah at a time; and
after learning about one Mitzvah we are able to advance towards the next one (they are all interrelated). There
is another Mishna in Avot 4:2 which states that the reward of a mitzvah is the opportunity to perform another
one. Yet there is another deeper understanding to be learned as well. We know that every morsel of Torah is
layered with multiple levels of knowledge. Another message of this Mechilta is that the way to dig deeper and
find more meaning in life is by listening and learning the Torah over and over again. Each analysis will yield a
different lesson to learn from and incorporate. It is incredible that the same Chumash and Rashi is taught to five
year olds and is also expounded upon by the greatest Torah scholars of the generation. This is a reason why we
read the same Torah reading over and over each year. Every time we study there is more to discover.
Take Home Tip: Vehaya reminds us how important it is to listen. When we listen carefully, there is so much
more to hear and then apply to our lives and for the benefit of Klal Yisrael.