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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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