Hear and Do: The Shema

Hear and Do: The Shema

Hear and Do: The Shema. 

SHEMA (sh’ma): The first Hebrew word in the essential prayer of the Jews in the Hebrew Bible, found in Deuteronomy 6:4; is usually translated “hear,” but actually means hear and do, listen and obey, hear and respond, listen and take action, take heed; there is a traditional Jewish saying that “to hear God is to obey God, and to obey God is to hear God.” Hearing and doing are two sides of the same coin of faith, and is a vital aspect of biblical spirituality.

The Shema: “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone! And you shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and shall be immovable before your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).

Descriptions of the Shema: 

  1. the foremost of biblical commands in the Hebrew Bible;
  2. the biblical Pledge of Allegiance;
  3. the central creed of the pre-Christian faith;
  4. Scripture’s “greatest commandment,” according to Jesus Christ (Matt. 22:36-40, Mark 12:29, Luke 10:27;
  5. Judaism’s most essential prayer;
  6. a believer’s statement of faith;
  7. the marching orders for a faithful parent in the home;
  8. the most important passage in Deuteronomy, Moses’ final address to the Israelites.

Aspects of the Shema: 

  1. It is the first prayer taught to Jewish children;
  2. It is prayed daily by observant Jews, sunrise and sunset, and many Christians;
  3. It makes each parent responsible to pass on the Faith, the Word of God, to the children in the home. Biblical discipleship of the children is a home-schooling affair, and turns the home into a domestic church. Parents are the child’s first pastors and the child’s first teachers;
  4. It was given by Moses to the Israelites as they prepared to enter the Promised Land. It laid the groundwork for how the people were to live out their faith in their new homeland. The Shema was intended to help the people to always remember Whom they worship and how they are to hand it on to each generation to keep the faith alive;
  5. It continues to be recited in the weekly Sabbath service in the home;
  6. Jewish law requires a greater measure of concentration on the first verse of the Shema. Traditionally, the Jewish worshipper is thus asked to close their eyes or cover their eyes with the palms of their hands while reciting it, so that they can focus attentively with a minimum of distractions;
  7. Later Jewish tradition added two biblical passages to the original Shema, Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. This was done to cover all aspects of the Ten Commandments;
  8. If a person is alone praying the Shema, he begins with the phrase “God, faithful King,” in order to bring the number of words in the Shema to 248, which is the number of parts in the human body. The person praying thus dedicates his or her whole body to serving and loving God;
  9. Hebrew scholars say that the Shema starts with four Hebrew nouns… Yahweh our God, Yahweh one. So the passage depends on the placement of the word “is.” Many of these scholars say the proper translation is “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh alone,” or maybe “Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one.” This translation seems appropriate because Moses went to great lengths to explain the religious beliefs of the Canaanites. They believed in many gods, and the Israelites needed to be reminded that the Jews believed differently. They worship one God only, Yahweh.
  10. Observant Jews and many Christians have a mezuzah on their front doorpost of their home. The Hebrew word mezuzah means “doorpost,” and is a decorative little casing placed on the right front upright doorpost at the entrance to the home. Inside the casing is placed a handwritten little piece of paper with the first verse of the Shema. The mezuzah is fixed on the doorpost with a slight tilt to the right, indicating the people living there are not perfect, they are not perfectly straight, but instead sinners in need of redemption. Whenever passing through the entrance of the house, many people touch the mezuzah as a way of showing respect to the words hidden therein.
  11. When Jesus quoted the Shema (see above), He added the “mind.” Evidently, Jesus wanted to make sure that the listeners understood that we are to love God with all our mind. The Jews understood “heart” in the Shema to be the seat of both thoughts and feelings, reflecting both the mind and emotion. Jesus added the mind to underscore its importance in love of God.
  12. (in some other words) “Write these commandments that I’ve given you today on your hearts. Get them inside of you and then get them inside your children. Talk about them wherever you are, sitting at home or walking in the street; talk about them from the time you get up in the morning to when you fall into bed at night. Tie them on your hands and foreheads as a reminder; inscribe them on the doorposts of your home and on your city gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, the Message version).