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October 5, 2010 / howgood1

Adonai Elohaychem Emet

The last two words of the last paragraph of the Sh’ma are “Adonai Elohaychem” which means “Adonai your God”.  In the Sh’ma, the word prior to these is “Ani”, or “I” in English so that the full sentence reads “I am Adonai, your God”.

The first word of the next prayer is “Emet” or “truth” so that reciting the last two words of the Sh’ma and then this word without interruption creates the phrase “Adonai elohaychem Emet” which means “Adonai, your God, is true”.

This phrase is the same as that which can be found at the beginning of Jeremiah 10:10.

As we will see in the next prayer which talks about G-d’s deliverance of the children of Israel from Egyptian bondage, the word “true” unites our belief in the one God as well as our belief that all of the acts attributed to Him in His Torah are true, and did in fact happen.

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October 3, 2010 / howgood1

Vayomer – The Third Paragraph of the Sh’ma

The third and final paragraph of the Sh’ma comes from Numbers 15:37-41 and deals with the mitzvah of wearing tzitzit.  For those who are not Jewish, you may have seen Orthodox Jewish men with strings, or fringes, hanging out from under their shirts.  Tzitzit are the undergarments that contain these fringes.  Tzizit act as constant reminder to perform G-d’s commandments (mitzvot).

“The Hebrew word tzitzis has the numerical value of 600, and the five knots and eight strings or fringes add up to thirteen. By wearing a tallis or tallis kattan (a small tallis generally worn under the shirt), we wrap ourselves in all 613 Mitzvot“.  – themitzvahproject.org

As you may note in Numbers 15:38 below, there is an instruction to add a string of “sky blue” to the fringes according to the translation below.  The Hebrew word in the Torah for this color is “t’chelet” whose source is no longer available.  See here and here for more info.

37. The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: לז. וַיֹּאמֶר יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר:
38. Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue [wool] on the fringe of each corner. לח. דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם וְעָשׂוּ לָהֶם צִיצִת עַל כַּנְפֵי בִגְדֵיהֶם לְדֹרֹתָם וְנָתְנוּ עַל צִיצִת הַכָּנָף פְּתִיל תְּכֵלֶת:
39. This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray. לט. וְהָיָה לָכֶם לְצִיצִת וּרְאִיתֶם אֹתוֹ וּזְכַרְתֶּם אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹת יְ־הֹוָ־ה וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֹתָם וְלֹא תָתֻרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם:
40. So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments and you shall be holy to your God. מ. לְמַעַן תִּזְכְּרוּ וַעֲשִׂיתֶם אֶת כָּל מִצְוֹתָי וִהְיִיתֶם קְדֹשִׁים לֵאלֹהֵיכֶם:
41. I am the Lord, your God, Who took you out of the land of Egypt to be your God; I am the Lord, your God. מא. אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם לִהְיוֹת לָכֶם לֵאלֹהִים אֲנִי יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם:

As we leave the Sh’ma for the next set of prayers, I leave you with the song Sh’ma Israel by Israeli pop star Sarit Hadad.  The song reminds us that not only is the Sh’ma a declaration of our belief that there is a G-d, but it is also a cry for help when we are afraid and alone, a cry that we believe will be answered.

September 28, 2010 / howgood1

V’haya Im Shamoa – Reward and Punishment

The second of three paragraphs which make up the Sh’ma come from Deuteronomy 11:13-21.

These Torah phrases describe the good that will come should we follow the commandments laid out in the previous paragrpah, and the punishment that will befall us if we don’t. Lines 18-20 are essentially a repetition of the instructions given to us in the first paragraph, although this time in plural.  In the first paragraph, we accept the “yoke of Heaven” and cement our individual relationship with G-d.  In the second paragpraph we are reminded that our actions as individuals affect the entire community.

I should also mention that the passage below, preceded by the previous passage, is what is written on the parchment that is found inside the mezuzot that we put on our doors.

13. And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, יג. וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹתַי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם:
14. I will give the rain of your land at its time, the early rain and the latter rain, and you will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil. יד. וְנָתַתִּי מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ:
15. And I will give grass in your field for your livestock, and you will eat and be sated. טו. וְנָתַתִּי עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ:
16. Beware, lest your heart be misled, and you turn away and worship strange gods and prostrate yourselves before them. טז. הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱ־לֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם לָהֶם:
17. And the wrath of the Lord will be kindled against you, and He will close off the heavens, and there will be no rain, and the ground will not give its produce, and you will perish quickly from upon the good land that the Lord gives you. יז. וְחָרָה אַף יְ־הֹוָ־ה בָּכֶם וְעָצַר אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלֹא יִהְיֶה מָטָר וְהָאֲדָמָה לֹא תִתֵּן אֶת יְבוּלָהּ וַאֲבַדְתֶּם מְהֵרָה מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר יְ־הֹוָ־ה נֹתֵן לָכֶם:
18. And you shall set these words of Mine upon your heart and upon your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. יח. וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל יֶדְכֶם וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם:
19. And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them, when you sit in your house and when you walk on the way and when you lie down and when you rise. יט. וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ:
20. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates, כ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזוּזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ:
21. in order that your days may increase and the days of your children, on the land which the Lord swore to your forefathers to give them, as the days of heaven above the earth. כא. לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם וִימֵי בְנֵיכֶם עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְ־הֹוָ־ה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לָתֵת לָהֶם כִּימֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ:
September 26, 2010 / howgood1

V’ahavta

The following is from the Jewish Virtual Library.

The three paragraphs of the Shema, comprised of biblical verses, were also said in the daily Temple service. The first paragraph is the continuation of the Shema verse, from Deuteronomy 6:5-9, starting with the word “v’ahavta.” This paragraph deals with the acceptance of Divine rule. This section consists of an affirmation of belief in God’s unity and in His sovereignty over the world, an unconditional love of God, and a commitment to the study of His teachings. It emphasizes the religious duties to love God, to teach Torah to one’s children, to talk of Torah at every possible time, to put on tefillin, and to place mezuzot on the doorpost of one’s home.

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5. And you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your means. ה. וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְ־הֹוָ־ה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ:
6. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart. ו. וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם עַל לְבָבֶךָ:
7. And you shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up. ז. וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ:
8. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. ח. וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל יָדֶךָ וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ:
9. And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates. ט. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזוּזֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ:

If you’d like to hear a traditional chanting of the V’ahavta, go here and click the “chanting” link.

It is this specific part of the Sh’ma which reminds me daily that unless I pass on my Jewish heritage and culture to my children, no one else will.

September 25, 2010 / howgood1

Baruch Shem K’vod

In response to the congregation declaring the Sh’ma aloud, each congregant answers with the following verse in an undertone or whisper so that others cannot hear:

Blessed is the Name of His glorious kingdom forever and ever!

This verse comes not from the Torah, but from a story in the Talmud (Pesachim 56a).  When Jacob/Israel was about to give blessings to his sons on his deathbed, he lost his ability to see the future as he had wanted to tell his children about when the Messiah would come.  As he worried that he lost this ability due to his children’s lack of righteousness, he was heartened to hear them all declare the Sh’ma Yisrael – Hear, O Israel! – proclaiming the Oneness of God.  As thanks, Jacob declared “Baruch Shem K’vod” in response.

The Talmud states that the response to the Sh’ma is said in a whisper as it is not a phrase from the Torah and a midrash tells us that it was praise sung only by the angels.  We do recite Baruch Shem K’vod out loud on Yom Kippur when we consider ourselves on the same level as the angels due to our sincere repentance.

September 22, 2010 / howgood1

Chag Sameach!

Due to Sukkot and Shabbos I won’t be posting for awhile.  Chag sameach!

Chabad Sukkot website

September 21, 2010 / howgood1

Sh’ma Yisrael – Hear, O Israel!

The “Sh’ma”, the most important declaration of faith of the Jewish people, is a simple phrase from the Torah.  Deutoronomy 6:4 to be exact.  Hear O Israel! The Lord is our G-d, the Lord is One.

The Sh’ma, along with the Amidah, are the cental prayers in the evening service.  It is recited twice daily as per the commandment given a few sentences later in Deutomronomy 6:6-7 – And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be upon thy heart; and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up . When people talk about the Sh’ma, it usually refers to this six word declaration as well as two additional paragrpahs from the Torah which will be expounded upon in later posts.

As with many Jewish traditions, commandments aren’t necessarily meant to be taken literally.  Therefore, while we can recite the Sh’ma the moement we get up from, or lay down to go to bed,  it is customarily recited during the morning and evening services which provides a more flexible timeframe.

One of the interesting differences I have seen in shul is that in the conservative services I attended in the U.S., congregants do not rise for the Sh’ma, while in Argentina, they do.  I tend to remember sitting during Orthodox services which is apparently because the passages are from the Torah so it is as if a person is studying Torah when he or she recites them, and sitting is the position for study.

The Sh’ma is one of the first prayers that a Jewish child is taught to say. It is often the last words a Jew says prior to death.

There are many stories, both ancient and modern which help us understand the historic importance of the Sh’ma.

The great Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Akiva (second century) loved God so much, that he taught Torah despite the Roman law forbidding it. When the Romans found out, they sentenced him to a painful death. They took a large iron comb and began to scrape off his flesh. As he was being tortured, Rabbi Akiva joyously recited the Shema — “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

In the Sbarro Pizza bombing in 2001 which killed 15 people in Jerusalem, five members of a Dutch family were killed. One was a 4-year-old boy named Avraham Yitzhak. As he was lying on the ground — bleeding, burning and dying — he said to his father, “Abba, please help me. Save me.”  His father reached over and held his hand. Together they said the words of the Shema.

There is much more here.

Below is a beuatiful version of the Sh’ma with a truly Middle Eastern inflection.

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