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by Mitchell Scher    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

"Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is the one and only" (Deuteronomy 6:4; the first line of the fundamental shema prayer)



"Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is the one and only" (Deuteronomy 6:4; the first line of the fundamental shema prayer)

The shema is the national anthem of the Jewish people. It is the first verse of the Torah taught to a young child and the words that a Jew strives to have on his or her lips while departing this world. The Torah requires that we recite this verse twice daily, every morning and evening. Even the most uneducated and unobservant Jew recognizes these words. Why is it so important and what does it mean? When we say "Hear O Israel," to what are we listening?

King David writes in the book of Psalms "Forever, Hashem, your word stands in the Heavens" (119:89). What does this mean? The Ba'al Shem Tov, the founder of the Chassidic movement, explains the meaning behind this verse. When a human speaks, the sound waves quickly dissipate, but when Hashem speaks, His word endures forever. The Hebrew word for speak is medaber; the Hebrew word for object is davar. They both share the same root. This is because every object in this world came about only because of Hashem's speech, which is an expression of His will. If his "words" ever faded away, the world would be nonexistent. His word is continuously spoken, and the world continues on.

Every Jew heard the first two of the Ten Commandments directly from G-d at Mt. Sinai. Both of these commandments are implicit in the shema prayer. The first commandment is "I am Hashem your G-d. . . ." This corresponds to the phrase "Hashem Elokeinu - Hashem is our G-d," in the shema. The second commandment is "you shall not have for yourself any other gods." This is hinted to in the phrase "Hashem echad - Hashem is the one and only." As explained above, since these two statements were said by Hashem Himself, they did not fade out but rather they still resonate loud and clear until this very day. If so, then why don't we hear them?

The truth is that we can. Every Jew in the world has the ability to hear them; they just have to tune in. It is impossible to hear radio waves without a radio tuned to the right station, or to see television without a television set on the correct channel. The proper receiver is required. A Jew is the receiver for hearing G-d's voice; he or she just must be tuned to the proper frequency. When reciting the shema, a Jew is asserting to all of the Jews in the world, (including himself), listen Israel, Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one. All Jews have the ability to connect intimately with their Creator. Every Jew must understand that it is a fact that the Jews heard Hashem speak at Mt. Sinai. The Talmud tells us that the Jews are all "believers, the children of believers" (Tractate Shabbat 97a). Every Jew inherently believes in G-d's dominion and has a desire to serve G-d with a full heart. Even though a particular person may not appear externally to feel this way, the desire is within. It just has to be brought to the surface. Every Jew has a "pintele yid - a Jewish spark" inside of him and in the correct mindset and situation it will emerge passionately.

Many Jews may think "I never had any Jewish education. I can't understand and get close to G-d." Many Jews may feel that religion is reserved for those few righteous people who can contemplate and understand G-d. Others feel that they could never manage to follow the Torah's many instructions. The shema refutes these claims. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, a great Chassidic master, explains that the words "shema yisrael - hear O Israel," are speaking to every Jew on a personal level. Each and every Jew regardless of education or background has the ability to understand that Hashem is our G-d and Hashem is the one and only. All Jews heard Hashem's voice at Mt. Sinai and have the potential to grasp their higher purpose in life. Every Jew is capable to understand and act on the messages inherent in the shema.


Mitchell Scher, an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, will be attending the Yeshiva of Greater Washington and the University of Maryland this fall.

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