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An Overview of the Shema

An Overview of the Shema

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We inhabit a cosmic mirage. We perceive myriad creations, all seemingly self-sufficient and independent beings. But, as Jews, we believe that in fact there is only one true entity. One G‑d who is the essence of everything. One G‑d manifest in an infinite amount of creations.

Engraving this counterintuitive idea into our psyches is our greatest challenge, but key to developing a true appreciation for, and a relationship with, our Creator. Towards this end, every morning and night we recite the “Shema”—three biblical paragraphs (Deuteronomy 6:4–9; 11:13–21; Numbers 15:37–41), which starts with Judaism’s defining statement: Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is One. Shema then discusses some of Judaism’s basics: love of G‑d, Torah study, the principle of divine reward and punishment, and our exodus from Egypt. Click here to find the full text.

Contemplating the words of Shema enables us to see beyond the mirageContemplating these words enables us to see beyond the mirage—and live accordingly.

Shema is part of the morning and evening prayers. Say the Shema, though, even if you won’t be reciting the prayers.

When:

“When you lie down and when you rise up”—Deuteronomy 6:7.

Morning: During the first quarter of the day—starting from when there is sufficient light to recognize a casual acquaintance from a short distance.

Night: From when the stars appear until dawn. Preferably, however, before midnight.

(Click here to find the exact times for Shema for any location or date.)

How:

Say the Shema in your vernacular if you don’t understand Hebrew.

Ascertain that your environment is clean and modest, and make sure to carefully articulate and enunciate each word. No interruptions for the duration of the prayer.

Cover your eyes with your right hand while you say the first verse—blocking out distracting external stimuli. Recite the verse aloud, for the same reason.

Ideally, men should wear tallit and tefillinmitzvahs discussed in the Shema—for the morning Shema.

Illustrations by Yehuda Lang. To view more artwork by this artist, click here.
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Anonymous Illinois USA January 10, 2017

History of use of the Shema Since its inception in Shemot, what other evidence in Taanach is there for reciting of the Shema? And what about its usage during first century CE? Thanks. Reply

Shari Beame Florida via m.coralspringschabad.org March 27, 2016

Avi and I say it before he goes to sleep at night. Reply

Sarah T. Yarbrough Canton August 9, 2017
in response to Shari Beame:

Better than a sleeping pill. My G-- bless you and Avi. He hears it. Reply

Larry Goldman Wasp, PA March 26, 2016

Finally something concrete where I can flex my spiritual muscles and understand where you're coming from. That stuff posted by Zvi on Facebook and Instagram isn't too deep for me, but I believe that even Zvi doesn't know what he's saying. The "Shema" is a mitzvah that we can easily accomplish. Something concrete and non-ephemeral. Reply

Sarah T. Yarbrough Canton August 9, 2017
in response to Larry Goldman:

By my bed and in my hand, better than leaving it on a door where I rarely come and go. Very concrete. My rock when I have troubles. David understood this also. Reply

Haggege patrick miami March 25, 2016

amen Reply

Ron James San Diego March 24, 2016

Shema beautiful explanation....understandable for jews at all levels!
thanks 👍 Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for Chabad.org January 7, 2016

To Gershon Everyone covers their eyes with the right hand, even left-handed people. Reply

Anonymous Miami December 29, 2015

It is never too late to start practicing especially if you are feeling the need to do so. Follow that feeling. Reply

Chris August 8, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

How Reply

Gershon Long Island December 24, 2015

Do left handed people cover their eyes with their left hand? Reply

Anonymous England November 18, 2015

Lapsed Jew I am a 78 year old man born of two Jewish parents - Bar Mitzvah at 13, but I have not been a practising Jew, is it possible for me to return and be accepted into the fold? I feel the need to do so. Reply

Anonymous August 2, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

I just read your comment, almost 2 years after your posting. Sorry to see nobody replied. A Jew is never too far and is always welcome to come back to "the fold". I'm so happy to are retaking your heritage. Welcome back! Reply

Cheryl Mallory-Harris Altadena, California, USA September 17, 2015

The Daily Declaration of Faith On June 14, 2015, I suffered a full Cardiac Arrest with Brain Death. 3 days later I was sitting up in my hospital bed telling my family on this wonderful tour of heaven that I had just traveled. After they explained to me what had happened, I then understood that my daily activities (and of course other spiritual forces) somehow reached a cumulative total, and when I needed to make a withdrawal, faith was standing right there. There is for me and my house, only One True G-d, and I will make all of us declare this until I die again!! Whenever that will be!! (Smiles). Luv U Israel. Get ready for your Final Redemption; get ready for Mashiach!! Reply

Craig Hamilton Sandwich, MA August 11, 2014

Speaking of Divine Reward: If you are permitted to passionately love Gd on the inside, that is with emotion that resides in your gut and that goes beyond reason at the outset, then it is only a matter of time before the outside, the place of your dwelling, improves. Reply

philip goldman phila., pa. May 15, 2014

AMEN Reply

Anonymous Vancouver, WA May 15, 2014

Fantastic. I think it's so nice for every Jew to fulfill this mitzva even if it's only to say the basics.... Thank you for this wonderful push-technology... Reply

Fishel Yonkers NY April 22, 2014

The angels finish prayers I was reading the post from Dr. Isaacs that goes back to July 2012 and would like to comfort him by knowing when feeling tired while reciting prayers and you fall asleep before you finish just know that the angels of Hashem are finishing your prayers for you. Reply

paul bourgeois finland April 17, 2014

praying shema is being shema instructs us. It tells us to act and be. We do not just say the shema we hear and we do. We are the prayer because we live it. The prayer lives in us. Torah lives through us. Reply

Scott Davis San Ramon October 6, 2013

The Shema's Clarion Call L-rd G-od, we thank you for how you contend for our hearts minds, bodies, and souls unto the perfection of our knowledge of Your Love, Grace, Power and Authority. Your Shema L-rd G-d calls for your people to enter into that rest of oneness with you. You are in whom we trust. -Amen. Reply

Leonard Levine Vienna, VA October 6, 2013

We inhabit a cosmic mirage "We inhabit a cosmic mirage." What does this mean? Reply

Anonymous Ha-eretz October 6, 2013

Literally Hear Israel L-rd our G-d L-rd one

Consider this. In the hebrew, there is only one verb "Shema" and an imperative directed at our people identified by the name given to Yaakov meaning that he contended with G-d and prevailed. The statement ends with four hebrew words referring to Hashem and in a specific order. The statement is not a grammatically correct sentence but the paragraph that follows is a guide to fulfilling the mitzvah.

Moshe Rabeinu taught us to hear these four words in our heart. That is where they will make sense. As you might view the sunrise when you lie down and sunset when you rise up. When we bind them to our arms near our hearts and to our heads as frontlets between our eyes, we see them, we feel them. That is when and how we know what they mean. Reply

Michael September 28, 2013

I wonder when Moses was teaching the Shema to the children of Israel, did he say Ha'Shem, Adonai? Reply

Anonymous North Carolina October 27, 2012

Shema I am in agreement with the anonymous writer. I think Hashem would rather we say our prayers whatever time we rise and lay down as not to say them at all. Man's restrictions sometimes keeps us from G-d. Reply

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