The most famous of Jewish prayers is the Shema.
It is a mitzvah to make the declaration of the Shema both morning and evening. It also appears a few other times in the prayer book. Thus, apart from the Shema in the evening Prayer, there is also the reciting of the Shema before going to sleep at night. It is one of the first Jewish texts taught to a young child -- and it is also said when a person finally takes leave of the world.
The key statement in the first line of the Shema is that "G-d is One." The Talmud speaks about "lengthening" the way one says the word "One": Echad. "Anyone who lengthens
Echad has his days and years lengthened."
Chassidic teachings explain that this means thinking about, or meditating on, the inner meaning of the word.
The idea that "G-d is One" means not only that there is one G-d, but that G-d and the whole of creation
are only oneness. There is nothing apart from G-d. Nothing exists outside of Him; everything that
we perceive, every particle of existence, is nothing but a veiled manifestation of G-d.
For this reason everything in the universe is totally dependent on G-d at every moment.
G-d created the universe a long time ago, but He also continuously keeps it in existence.
The Sages speak of a stream of energy emanating from the infinite essence of G-d, making the
universe exist. Were He to remove this life-giving force from the world, it would no longer be
there. As Maimonides
puts it: G-d can exist without the world, but the world cannot exist without
With this idea in mind, one declares the Shema with all one's being.
Hebrew letters have numerical values, which help us understand the meaning of the Torah and the
The word "one" in the Shema, echad, is made up of three letters: Aleph,
Chet and Daled. Aleph, which has the numerical value "one,"
refers to G-d Himself. Chet, numerical value "eight," signifies the seven heavens and the earth,
ie: 'up' and 'down', the vertical plane, including all spiritual dimensions. The third letter is
Daled, numerical value "four," which denotes the four directions of the horizontal plane:
north, south, east, west.
Now we can understand what the Talmud means by "lengthening" the way we say "echad."
It means spending time thinking about the meaning of the word: that the world in all its dimensions--the
spiritual and the physical, and throughout the world and the entire physical universe--is really an
expression of the infinite oneness of G-d.
The Jewish people is itself described as echad, "One nation in the
world." This implies not only that
we are unique in the world, but that we are the nation which communicates to all humanity the concept of the
oneness of G-d. Further, by keeping G-d's commands in our daily lives, we draw the Divine Oneness
into the world, into every detail of our physical existence. And as the Talmud says, G-d rewards us by
granting us long and fulfilling days and years.