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What Is the Origin of the Second Line in the Shema Prayer?

What Is the Origin of the Second Line in the Shema Prayer?

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Question:

I noticed that in the daily Shema prayer, where we pronounce G‑d’s unity by saying, “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one,”1 we add another line quietly: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.”

I cannot seem to find that line in the Bible. What is the source for it? Why do we add it to one of the most fundamental Jewish prayers, and why do we say it quietly?

Answer:

You are correct that this line is not found in the Bible. It is first mentioned in the Talmud, in a discussion that puts forth the very question you asked:2

What is the reason we say this [“Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever”]?

Rabbi Shimon the son of Lakish says, “And Jacob called his sons and said, ‘Gather and I will tell you.’”3 [What did he want to tell them?] Jacob wanted to reveal to them when the End of Days will be, but the divine presence left him [and he no longer knew when it will be].

Jacob asked, “Perhaps [the reason this happened, was because] there is imperfection amongst my offspring,” as from Abraham was born Ishmael and from Isaac was born Esau. [So too, there may be an idol worshipper amongst my children.]

His children responded, “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one. The same way you have only one G‑d in your heart, so too we have only one G‑d in our heart.”

At that time Jacob said, “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.”

The Sages asked, “Should we recite this [as a part of the Shema prayer]? Moses did not record this [in the Bible]. Should we not say it [if] Jacob said it?”

They therefore established that the line should be recited quietly.

Our sages, in the Midrash, give another account of this story:

When Jacob was about to pass away, he called all of his children and he said, “Maybe, when I pass on from this world, you will bow down to another god.”

They responded, “Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one.”

And Jacob responded quietly, “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.”

And what do their descendants say today? “Hear, our father Israel,4 the same instruction that you instructed [our forefathers], we are accustomed to do today, [and we believe] the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one.”5

These accounts explain the connection between this declaration and the Shema, as well as the reason we say it quietly. However, our sages tell us another story to explain why, on the day of repentance (Yom Kippur) we say this line loudly:

When Moses went to heaven to receive the Torah from G‑d, he heard the angels praising G‑d, “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” After Moses heard this, he brought it to the Jews below.

And why is it not said out loud?

Rabbi Assi says, “It is as if someone took jewelry from the king’s palace and gave it to his wife, and told her, ‘Do not wear this out in public, only in the home’ [so the king’s people should never come to see it and take it back]. [This line, that was taken from the angels, from G‑d’s palace, we do not say out loud.] However, on Yom Kippur we are like angels, and we say it out loud in public.”6

Rabbi Chanoch Zundel ben Yosef of Bialystok (d. 1867) explains that, in truth, we mortals are not fit to be blessing G‑d, since outwardly we are not adequately connected to G‑dliness and spirituality. For angels, who are constantly spiritual and connected to G‑dliness, it is appropriate to bless G‑d. That is why Moses told us to say this line bashfully, quietly, to ourselves. However, on the holiest day of the year, when Jews have this deep connection with G‑dliness and show it outwardly, and are compared to angels, we say it out loud.7

Please see Expressing Oneness: The Shema Prayer and the text of the Shema prayer.

Rochel Chein
for The Judaism WebsiteChabad.org

Footnotes
1.

Deuteronomy 6:4. The other paragraphs of the Shema prayer can be found in Deuteronomy 6:5–9, 11:13–21, and Numbers 15:37–41.

2.

Talmud, Pesachim 56a.

4.

Jacob was given the additional name “Israel” by G‑d (see Genesis 32:29).

5.

Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:35.

6.

Ibid. 2:36.

7.

Etz Yosef commentary loc. cit.

Mrs. Rochel Chein is a member of the chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
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Hilda Zeigler August 11, 2011

2nd line of the Shema Prayer Is it possible that the glory of His kingdom is G-d's people fully spiritualized and in full communion with him but Moses was fearful people may become puffed up by that idea and not remain humble before G-d so he whispered it to himself in thanksgiving that G-d would at some future time bring this to manifestation? Reply

Me Nottelling August 9, 2011

To Seth Then why say it loud on Yom Kippur? Reply

Shlomo Goldbrg Ra''anana, Israel August 9, 2011

Baruch Shem K'vod.... I have learned that the reason for saying it quietly is that when Judea was ruled by the Romans, it was dangerous to declare "...the glory of His Kingdom forever" as there were spies constantly eavesdropping where Jews prayed, and hearing that would immediately (mis)construe it as words of rebellion and treason against the Emperor. Only on Yom Kippur did the Jews throw caution to the winds in an act of defiance and declare it loudly. And so the tradition remained to this day, even though that fear no longer exists. Reply

gavriel eliezer ben ze'ev gershon July 15, 2011

Agree with Thomas but... The second stanza would certainly be vehaya--if stanza can be used to describe the Shema altogether. But please understand, Rabbis are experts in Torah, but some of them are not so learned in music, English or other arts. Respect them for what they know and thank them for it. Reply

Seth Salinger Newton, Massachusetts July 14, 2011

Shema prayer, 2nd Stanza The Rabbi in our Reform shul has an explanation that is similar to the second one given here. The dying Jacob had gathered his sons around him and expressed serious concern that they would continue with the Jewish enterprise. They answered resoundingly: Sh'ma Yisrael..."

Jacob, with his weak voice, barely audible, but grateful for this answer, whispered in response, "Baruch Sheim k'vod malkhuto..."

That is why every time we recite the Sh'ma, we relive that critical moment in our history by singing the first part loudly and confidently, as did Jacob's sons to reassure him (today we might say "am yisrael chai!"), and by whispering the second part, as did Jacob as one of his last acts on earth. Reply

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