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Why Do We Cover Our Eyes for Shema?

Why Do We Cover Our Eyes for Shema?

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The basic answer: While saying this important prayer, we are not to be distracted by anything around us. Closing our eyes enhances our concentration. (Code of Jewish Law, Orach Chaim 61:5)

The Talmud (Berachot 13b) traces this practice to the great Rabbi Judah the Prince. He would often interrupt his Torah lectures for Shema, and his students would observe him passing his hand over his eyes at the moment that he said the verse.

The deeper answer: The meaning of the Shema goes way beyond the belief in only one G‑d. Hashem Echad declares that there is no existence outside of G‑d.

Our world, and everything inside it, is created from G‑d’s speech at every given moment. (To learn more about that, please read Juice andWhat is G‑d?) For a few moments every morning, we close our eyes and live this reality. Our breakfast, our shirt, our job . . . behind all the packaging, it’s all essentially G‑dliness.

We then open our eyes and see a very different-looking place in front of us.

But we can make it past this. For we have been reminded.

And this reality remains with us until evening, when it will be time for our next charge, the nighttime Shema.

Let me know if this helps.

Rabbi Yisroel Cotlar is a Chabad rabbi in Cary, North Carolina. He is also a member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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iLan Azoulai chatsworth, CA December 24, 2016

Covering your eyes during the Sh'ma I would add something that occured to me,
As this prayer is illuminating G-d's presence, like one who comes and bows and exalts the king, G-d's presence is not possible to view with our physical eyes, nor our spiritual one. Hence, covering both eyes, and the one symbolized in our forhead, we cover our existence from even poking at G-d, and yes, while our eyes are closed, we can only focus on that which we speak of at that moment. Reply

Frederic February 22, 2016

Does everyone recite the entire shema daily? Reply

Mary Ruth Andrews Gladwin January 2, 2013

I usually cover my eyes when saying the Shema, but recently attended a synagogue where that was not the norm. I believe in the future, I will cover my eyes anyway, even if no one else is doing it, because I am comfortable praying the Shema in this manner. Reply

Barbara Niles Phoenix, Arizona December 28, 2012

Shout It Out The Shema is so very important. It should be shouted out to the whole world with eyes wide open and uncovered. It is to be shared - not kept to oneself. Reply

Anonymous December 26, 2012

Confusing While the idea of opening and closing of our eyes to acknowledge what Hashem does or did by His speech and the reality it (His action) Created , why this is specific to the Shema is not explained. What He allows us in having a life is something of fear, not love . While I feel grateful for this reality and be able to make causes in this my life my thankfulness is of the awareness of wakeful experience.

There is only potential in any form to the degree that this potential is allowed by Hashem. In the discussion with Moses, Hashem says to Moses first that He has given him a great name. This means the potential to be great to Hashem as a servant. Second Hashem say he has fulfilled this potential in part part by gaining favor in His eyes. Moses, not knowing exactly how he has found favor in Hashem's eyes asks Him to show him His ways . He asks not just for himself but for the nation of Israel. Reply

Anonymous December 26, 2012

I never thought we had the right to be alone in hearts unless we acquired special rights. I thought one day that a rich man owned this right. I want to suggest that all people should have this opportunity to be able to pray and to learn how to pray for G-D or at least for themselves. Then another time I thought that I was not a normal person to want to be on my own in my heart, I just thought though that everyone is understanding. I think the truth in my heart and it is not given to everyone to understand my heart neither my thoughts. Since then openly I want to cherish this moment to pray and to show that it is all right to pray anonymously since we can lower our eye lids towards the ground for a shame for us to have this time to remind ourselves we are all alone in our hearts to distinct ourselves from nature and animals and other creatures as human beings. I want to spend this time to carry this shame in my heart if this is all I have left to pray with so I be all alone in my heart. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma December 26, 2012

this most beautiful prayer I don't have a special time for saying this. It just comes out of me, and when I say it, I can be coming Home from a long day, or walking in nature, or simply being, wherever this is. It simply IS, a prayer that goes back through the ages, invoking all the others who have said this, many who died in terrible ways, and it's a gold thread, that connects us all, to One vast and important, loving, Truth. it's to be felt, and the meaning for me has changed, has deepened. Reply

Simone Minneapolis December 24, 2012

Thanks I'm a female Reform Jew. This helps me tremendously. Thanks so much for adding your insights in a modern, helpful way to Talmud and Shulchan. Reply

Anonymous December 23, 2012

I love you! I love these posts and reading the feedback! I never post anything but I would like to share. I see people commenting on why and how? We all have one thing in common and that is a neshama (Jewish soul), which cries out to be reunited with its creator. I love asking people about different customs and try and learn from them, I picked up several customs from others that called to me through out my years. Shema is the most important prayer and I love everyone's input, especially those of you listening for others. It’s all about concentration and you should focus on the words and what they represent if you can do that better by looking at the words inside than that’s probably best for you. Take a moment to think about it before you start. It should have meaning to you, it's what's inside counts!!! When said with proper “kavana” (intentions), shema can rectify many wrong doings.
In a world that’s filled with so many people claiming to be “non believers” I hope our prayers get answered soon! Reply

Anonymous December 23, 2012

Covering the eyes in front of Sefer Thora? After removal of the Sefer Tora on Shabbat or Yom Tov from the Arc the Chazzan chants another "Shmea" and the congregation repeats. Some cover their eyes while doing this. Is covering one's eyes okay while fronting the Sefer Thora and the open arc? I have the feeling this is not right. Can you help?
Thank you Reply

Anonymous seattle, wa January 20, 2012

Why with our hand Why can't we just close our eyes? Why do we cover our eyes with our hand? Reply

Anonymous WC May 7, 2010

yes Yes, it helps ! Reply

Frederick Josephson San Antonio, Texas January 20, 2010

Hear O Israel To Anonymous in Seattle, WA:
I hear you when I pray the Shema and I will continue to listen for you and Jewish brothers and sisters as we become one people and pray together.
Thank you, and listen for me as well. Reply

esty southfield December 1, 2009

Thank you Many of these very meaningful practices are unfortunately done by rote, without any thought. I've wondered in passing about this, and when I saw your article it brought so much meaning into this. Even if I only have these intentions once, it will have been worth reading this article for the kavanna i had that one time! Reply

Anonymous Seattle, WA November 29, 2009

Hear O Israel When I pray the Shema, I cover my eyes as if I am not only listening for G-d, but for all of my Jewish brothers and sisters who are also praying the Shema at that very moment. Its as though, in as much as G-d is One, I am one with my people. I close my eyes to hear them, and cry out them to hear me, that we may be one. By unifying myself with our G-d and our people who prayed the Shema at the exact moment I feel more at peace, strengthened and unified with Israel. With G-d before me as I start my day, I feel capable and part of something larger than myself. And I sleep peacefully to the chorus of so many Jews praying the Shema together as we settle in for the night. I know that no matter what happened during the day, no matter how hard it was to find kosher food, or how many coworkers wished me Merry Christmas or dont understand why I mourn Tisha BAv, when I pray the Shema, I strain to hear the voices of those also praying who do understand. And I know I am not alone. Reply

Leonard November 27, 2009

From what I understand we are not just covering our eyes, but creating a letter shin with our threefingers at the same time. Not just saying the words, but also physically placing the shin of the shema on our foreheads too. Reply

Anonymous November 26, 2009

Hashems presence Another view is that when one recites the Shema you are calling upon G-d's presence, as you are declaring that He is the one true G-d of Yisrael and are declaring His holiness over the entire universe. It is at that moment, that His presence comes before us to search our souls to see who is willing to declare that He is the one true G-d. We cover our eyes with our hand or a corner of our tallit to protect ourselves from His overwhelming holiness.

But I like the view expressed by Rabbi Cotler also. Reply

Anonymous November 26, 2009

Besides the story from Berachot, this doesn't really answer why we cover our eyes, only that we should close them - which we can obviously do without covering them. Reply

Anonymous NY, NY November 25, 2009

Covering the eyes. I have heard another mystical reason behind the covering of the eyes at the time of saying the shema.

Most of us have this struggle where g-dliness is somewhat external from us, we live our lives consumed by the physical reality around us, whether it is our job's or lack thereof, family , external pressures etc. Our lives are so consumed by activity we leave no room for a moment of spiritual nourishment or renewal, that is where the shema comes in.
The shema is that sentence when we totally blockade ourselves from the so called reality of this world and declare g-d's oneness. Therefore this is precisely why we close our eyes for it would be easier to just scream it out to the worldyet what needs to happen is a person has to take the message of the shema and internailze it. This is the meaning of covering our eyes by this most important verse, a person should take a step back from his hectic life and try for a moment to internalize who he really is and what he is doing here. Reply

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