Part 14 – The Shema
Another way we can fight the temptations of pgam habrit, and strengthen our determination to be Holy is to recite the Shema each day.
The Shema? Isn’t this prayer recited for more lofty reasons?
The Shema is the core belief in the Jewish faith. It is our national mission statement. We can dissect this prayer and find out how Hashem communicates to us this He wants from our service of Him.
It is also a mitzvah to recite the Shema twice per day. This gives us a tremendous opportunity. In purchasing an interlinear copy of the Shema, we can accomplish many things. First, we can fulfill the obligation to say the Shema twice a day. It only takes a few minutes to perform this mitzvah. Second, in reciting the interlinear version, we can go over each word and understand its English meaning. Praying in Hebrew is a life-transforming experience. It is using the Holy language to serve our Creator. To pray in Hebrew, while understanding what you are saying with the translation right in front of you is like talking directly to Hashem. It is an unbelievable way to fulfill this mitzvah. In going over what we are saying, we can gain a deeper understanding of what the Shema is. We can fully grasp what we are communicating to Hashem on a daily basis, and what He is communicating to us.
Rabbi Tovia Singer told a very eye-opening story about the Shema. Rabbi Singer dedicates his life to dealing with Jews who have become Christians. He finds people who have fallen under the sway of the missionaries and tries to get them as excited about their own faith. He got a call one day from some frantic parents. They told him that their daughter converted to Christianity while she was away at college. Undeterred by this challenge, Rabbi Singer went to the college and set up a meeting with the girl. He asked her why she chooses to give up her religion.
She told him that there was a great beauty in Christianity that Judaism lacked. She told the Rabbi that there is such a yearning for G-d in her newfound faith that she never found before in Judaism.
Rabbi Singer, who had years of experience in dealing with this exact situation, knew exactly what to do. He asked her to give an example of the beauty of Christianity.
The girl quoted a passage from the Book of Deuteronomy:
And you shall love your G-d with all of your heart, and all of your soul, and all of your might.
Rabbi Singer smiled. He took out the Hebrew translation of the very words the girl had spoken and asked her to read them. To her surprise, she was reading the first paragraph of the Shema. This was a very passionate and spiritual young woman who was thirsting for something. Rabbi Singer knew that her thirst could only be truly quenched by the faith that Hashem had blessed her with and none other.
The same applies to all of us. With all the talk about the ‘situation in the Middle East,’ we begin to see Judaism solely as a political religion. With so many Jews as leaders of political parties, social movements, and charity organizations, we see Judaism for its ‘social change’ side. In doing so, we forget that primarily, Judaism is a religion of the soul. Our spiritual side is the most warm, energetic, and full than any other on earth. In reading the Shema, a Jew is no longer a player in Middle East politics, nor is he a campaign chief for the next candidate for public office. He is a man with a soul that yearns for its Heavenly Source.
In going over the lines of the Shema, step by step, we scratch the surface of our own spirituality and reveal the true wonders of our existence.
The first two lines tell us the basic underlying truth about what it means to be a Jew.
Hear O Israel, the Lord our G-d, The Lord is One. Blessed is the Great Name of His Kingdom forever.
The G-d of the Universe is the G-d of Israel. He is One and Only. This means that the entire world emanates from Him. In the second line we are stating that Hashem is our King. While we follow the laws of the land and the dictates of the president of the united states, we follow, first and foremost, the laws of our true Chief Executive – our G-d, the King of the Universe. We are stating that we subordinate our will to His and subject our thoughts and actions according to the laws that He set forth for us to follow – namely The Torah.
It’s easier said than done. Accepting G-d’s existence in the world is a very frightening thing. You are saying that you cannot do as you please. You are saying that there is Someone watching you at all times. You are saying that the way you live your life isn’t perfect and that there is always opportunities to improve oneself. While others are cheating on their taxes, getting sloshed at the bar, or talking about who annoys them the most, you are having second thoughts. If G-d exists, and is King, then all the laws of the Torah have to be true. If all of the laws of the Torah are true, then I have to reconsider every action I take. Proclaiming Hashem King of the Universe is no simple task. Even if we are not at the level of holding all the laws in the Torah, just to anoint G-d as King over us states that there is an ultimate aim in our lives that we are striving to achieve.
I am a Hozer B’Tsuva, or returnee to the faith. I spent years learning to recite the Shema in Hebrew and in becoming comfortable in reciting it with ease and quickness. In all the years I read the Shema, there were very few times I actually made the effort to understand what I was saying. Once I got the interlinear translation, and began to recite each Hebrew word while looking at the English to find out what I was saying, the power of my prayers were revitalized my prayers in the most unbelievable fashion. I went from closing my eyes and feeling the connection of my soul to Hashem’s Will, to actually looking Hashem in the eye, face to face, and screaming at the top of my lungs: I love You! I prefer to pray in Hebrew. I think most people do, even if they don’t understand the words. The words of our daily prayers, which include parts of the written Torah, Psalms, and the Amidah, are so powerful. If you don’t know Hebrew, or can only read the letters, it is worth the effort to read the prayers in English when you have some time. Just to get a feeling of what you are saying. I would even go so far as to suggest that one read the Shema in English first and keep in mind some of the concepts he just read when he recites the Shema in Hebrew.
It does take a little longer to recite the prayers, but you get so much more out of it. You slowly read a word of Hebrew while quickly glancing at the English to understand what you are saying. In your mind, you can scream out the words to Hashem with full knowledge of what you are saying. It adds to the connection to Hashem, as well as to the intensity of your prayers. I know first-hand what it is like to pray quickly and for the prayers to become stale. I thought to myself: if I was going to give 20 minutes of my day to prayer regardless of how I decided to pray, why not make totally sure that I was getting the most out of it? I was told that praying fewer prayers with understanding of what you were saying, with stronger intent, and more passionate intensity was more effective than reading faster and getting only the accomplishment of Davening the whole service. There is so much more we can all experience in the same amount of the time we set aside for our daily prayers.
The Shema is a very powerful prayer. It is exciting, scary, and comforting. It all comes directly from the Torah. The first paragraph comes from the Book of Devarim, Chapter 6. It starts with the commandment to love Hashem. The first line, which we just mentioned says “And you shall love Hashem, your G-d, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all of your strength.”
In order to truly fight and defeat the forces of impurity, we have to keep sexual acts, words, and thoughts out of our reality. In order to do this, we will have to exert ourselves using all of our hearts, our souls, and our strength. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could end our day and say the bedtime Shema with satisfaction of saying to Hashem that we performed this mitzvah all day long? This commandment is a big challenge to all of us, and also a wonderful opportunity to serve our King in Heaven.
“and these matters that I command you today should be upon your heart.”
This can be a reference to meeting the day with a pure heart – free from internalizing temptation. In the morning, we affirm our commitment to staying the course of purity, when we say the Shema at night, among the benefits of this prayer is that it is a good defense against a nocturnal emission. We will wake up and go to bed with purity and keep our souls clean to receive Kedusha from Hashem.
“Teach them to your children and speak of them while you sit at your home”.
The sin of sexual immorality is one that children are also guilty of if they commit it, even if they are not of the age of bar mitzvah. Ignorance is not a defense for this sin – you still have to bear the consequences of your actions whether you are young or old, or whether you know about these laws or not. It is important to educate our children about these matters so that they know what not to do and how to resist the temptations of the world. Obviously, educating children in any subject requires a great degree of care, patience, and tact. With a subject like this, it is important to know what to teach at different stages in a boy’s life. We should definitely consult a Rabbi or Torah Scholar in how to go about educating our children in these matters – but we must also make sure to do it. It is just as important to keep the computers in a public room, and not let anybody access the internet while alone. Installing internet filters on all computers are essential.
The last part of the line – “speak of them when you are at home”, can also mean that we must set an example for our children. The best way to teach our children the proper path in life is to set an example for them with our own behavior. If we make crude jokes, or laugh at them, we are giving an implicit permission for our kids to do the same. Unless we make a special effort not to talk about these matters in front of them, and express disapproval towards our kids when they do, we are risking the spiritual and emotional welfare of our children. Leading by example is the best way to educate a child. It is critical to make sure your kids are not misusing the internet. Get internet filters, check your children’s internet history, and set specific times when they can use it. Always be in the room or have someone there when your kids are online. Many Rabbis today have decreed that it is against Jewish law to be alone when you are using the internet. Spiritually, giving a child free reign to use the internet is like giving him free reign to use a chainsaw. It is a catastrophe waiting to happen. Along with meeting virtual and real predators online, the content on most of the websites are spiritually devastating to a child. We love our children and will do anything to keep them out of anything dangerous.
“while you walk on the way, when you lie down, and when you arise.” This verse could not have more meaning than in this generation. Adding a double meaning to the previous line, “when you are at home” implies that we must exert ourselves to avoid staring at women or thinking about them. Thinking about women and staring at woman are both one sided acts. You don’t need permission to think about a woman. While you may get a nasty look by the person, and as long as you are not stalking somebody, you also don’t need permission to look at someone else. These are both acts that you can perform at will. So, in order to prevent yourself from committing these sins, you have to individually restrain yourself. That’s what the first paragraph is talking about – individual acts that one must do in order to properly serve Hashem. In the home can also refer to the temptations of the internet and TV, or other potential sources of impurity that encourage sin in the home. You can get an internet filter downloaded to your computer for free, the site is http://www.k9webprotection.com/. You can trash any graphic materials in your home. You can make your house Holy in regards to purging it of anything sexually immoral and also protect the spiritual welfare of not only yourself, but of any other people living in your home – especially your children.
“When you walk on the way.” You can be Haredi, secular, modern orthodox, or a Kollel student. If you walk outside, you are subject to the temptations of immodestly dressed women. Even if you are in the Holy Land there is temptation everywhere. Whether you are in Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, every time you walk from point A to point B and there is usually a woman who is dressed in a manner to convince you to dart your eyes at her. How many ignorant European’s go to the Old City in Jerusalem and forget how to dress? Do you realize the potential for spiritual damage when a man studies Torah for 10 hours straight, and then goes out to his dorm across the street to buy a coffee or walk to the Kotel and a woman in a belly shirt walks by?
When the European leaders of the world try to weaken Israel with their policies, their woman weaken our strength with their harlotry. Even in religious areas like Crown Heights or Borough Park there are challenges. In just the journey from the lobby to your office at work, there are women dressed in business attire that also have cleverly fitted themselves in such a way as to display themselves. Wherever you go, whomever you are, when you “walk on the way”, you always need to be very careful to focus on what’s important. You will be tested. Remember that you can look at the top of your nose, or a signpost just above, or anywhere else and resist this temptation. Looking at ones nose in the office is probably best as it doesn’t attract undue attention to oneself. According to the Zohar (taken from a CD lecture by Rabbi Lazer Brody), when you resist the urge to stare at a woman, thousands of angles in heaven praise you. Your image is transported to the loftiest heights of all the upper worlds and you are placed next to the greatest sages and tzaddikim of all time.
“when you get up, and when you lie down” the first thing we do when we get up is wash our hands. Sleep brings on a small impurity to all of us. Upon waking up, we want to be as pure as we can when embracing the day, this applies to all impurities. When you lie down, is an important part. As we discussed before, once you go to sleep, you have very little, if any, control over yourself. If you haven’t been able to resist the temptation of not looking at women, thinking about women, or flirting with women, even if you don’t have any illicit relations, there is a possibility that you will spill seed while you sleep. The best ways to combat this are to recite Psalms 1 thru 4, and to say the shema before you go to bed. It is important to try to bring the soul to a higher spiritual state so that the danger of an ‘involuntary’ emission is very dramatically reduced.
“bind them as a sign upon your arm, and they will be tefellin between your eyes” This verse refers to the Commandment of Tefillin. Tefillin plug you into Hashem. When you start wearing them, you feel an intense level of Kedusha. What are we really doing when we put them on? We are, as the Shema say, binding our arms and our head. What does this mean? It means that we are observing Hashem’s law by restraining our actions in deed, represented by the arms, and in thought, represented by the head. In controlling our limbs and our thoughts and subjecting them to the laws of our King, we are plugging our very existence into His world. We are coming closer to Him. When Hashem Commands that we bind our arms and our head, what are we binding them to? In controlling our impulses, from the body and the mind, we are binding ourselves to G-d, and declaring us and our nation to be part of His Kingdom.
“and write them on the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.” The Commandment is to affix a Mezuzah to every doorway in the home with the exception of the bathroom. When you see a Mezuzah, the first thing you do is think of Hashem. You think of holiness. You momentarily raise your soul to a higher level. A Mezuzah is also a symbol that you are in a Holy place. It is a reminder that it is a place where G-d’s Holy name is written and posted on the doorway, and we should be very careful not to defile His Name by impure or immoral acts. If a strip club had a Mezuzah on it, would it be as easy to enter it? Wouldn’t you at least be acutely aware of the fact that you are doing something wrong? The same should be said about the home, or about any place with a Mezuzah. You are passing into a place where you need to act accordingly.
The second paragraph focuses on the concept of reward and punishment.
The second paragraph demonstrates the reward of guarding the mitzvoth a good life in the Land of Israel, and the punishment being exile. This is mentioned twice in the paragraph.
Three times is there mention of how we must serve Hashem with our heart. If we don’t, we are guilty of idolatry.
The second paragraph starts out with the commandment to love Hashem with all your heart and all of your soul.
If you do that, your desire to learn Torah and do mitzvoth will increase. You will perform more mitzvoth and you, and your nation, us, will reap the rewards. As we read on, we see what happens if we don’t perform the mitzvot. The Shema begins to warn us of what will happen if we begin to stray from Hashem’s path.
It is important to note that of all the ways the Torah describes going off the path. The term used is ‘yifteh levavchem’, or for your heart to stray. It doesn’t talk about deeds, but rather intentions. This can imply that if you no longer desire mitzvoth in your heart, you will quickly turn to sin. We all do this. One moment, we are on a very high spiritual level. Mitzvot come easy, and we get great satisfaction out of them. Then, for one reason or another, we commit a sin. The mitzvoth get harder, and we don’t have the strength we once did. We begin a bad habit of sinning, whether in sex, going out to the bars too much, or eating non-kosher foods. The habit, where it used to be one lone sin, now becomes a behavior. We come to accept this new behavior as permissible. Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein quotes the RamBam in saying that once we turn a sin into a learned behavior, we lose the ability to do tsuva for it or to stop it – that it how deep we sink. This is what happens when our heart strays, we take a step away from Hashem, and then we accept that place as where we should be holding. Once we take a step back, our personal standards for all facets of our life begin to lower and we commit even more atrocities. I remember that a couple of years into my tsuva, I choose to attend a synagogue about 2 miles away from where I lived. It was the singles synagogue. As time went by, and I didn’t want to walk 40 blocks to Shul, I got lazy. One Shabbat, I decided to sleep in and daven at home. Three weeks later, I did the same thing. The next thing I knew, Shabbat consisted of staying at home for 25 hours and counting the minutes until I could turn on the TV. Once I lowered the bar, anything became possible. Four months later, I did the unthinkable: I turned on the radio. I thought it would add a little joy to the day. Instead of finding a new Shul, or exerting myself to put in the effort to go to the Shul I was attending, I did something that, because of the lowering of my standards, seemed acceptable. A week later I turned on the TV. A year later, I took a job that required me to work on Saturdays. Openly breaking the Shabbat is tantamount to idolatry. Working on the Shabbat is like saying that it is my effort’s that bring in money to my home and not Hashem.
I was saying that I didn’t need to live according to His laws because I didn’t need G-d to provide me with anything. G-d created the Heavens and the Earth. He creates everything in existence at every moment of our lifetimes. My job, my salary my successes – are not mine! They are Blessings from Hashem to my family. A job, an investment, or a business – they are merely the vessels with which Hashem chooses to send His Blessings. A small sin of omission became a bad habit. This habit eventually snowballed into my desecrating the central message of the Shabbat - Hashem created the world and everything in it. He completed the creation of the world by resting on the Sabbath and we celebrate G-d creating all existence by resting on the seventh day as well. May G-d forgive me.
The consequences of these actions are documented clearly in the following lines. The first punishment in the Shema is that Hashem’s wrath will blaze against us. He will shut up the heavens and there will not be any rain. Without rain, there will not be any crop. Starvation, sickness, pestilence will follow. After we are stripped of the basic physical needs, our dignity is taken from us. The next line states that we will be quickly banished from the good land Hashem gives us - the Land of Israel.
The third paragraph talks about the mitzvah of tzitzit. Tzitzit are very important. They are a constant reminder that we are on this earth to serve Hashem and to fulfill His Mitzvot. When you are wearing tzitzit, you are less likely to check out a girl or to flirt with someone or to ‘misbehave’. One of the reasons you will behave is that you don’t want anyone to see someone who is wearing tzitzit acting like an animal. It defames all religious Jews and it makes Hashem look bad. This is called hillul Hashem – or desecrating G-d’s Name. When we see the tzitzit, we will be afraid to act in an uncouth manner and we will make sure we behaved as refined human beings. This is part of what is meant in the third paragraph. “and it shall constitute for you tzitzit, that you may see it and remember all of the commandments of Hashem and perform them, and not explore after your heart and after your eyes which you stray after them so that you remember and perform all My Commandments and be holy to your G-d.”
As long as we see the tzitzit, a symbol of the Covenant we have between our G-d and us, we will be careful with our eyes and our desires, and be pure and holy before Hashem.
We can see that the Shema is all about serving Hashem and by guarding the laws of the Brit.
David Fink is the Editor-in-Chief of the daily investment newsletter, Real Wealth Recon. In 2008, his Real Wealth portfolio MADE MONEY, outperforming the three major indices by 38%, and the average Hedge Fund by 25%. For $99 a year, you get David’s daily market commentary, instant emails for every trade he makes, total access to David’s portfolio, and a weekly review of the major articles published around the world. Why hand over your hard earned money to someone in a suit saying “trust me.” Keep your money and trust yourself. Join the elite investors who are making money this year, and tell Wall Street: YOU’RE FIRED!