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The Second Chapter of the Shema

The Second Chapter of the Shema

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An important component of the Torah reading of Eikev is the nine verses (Deuteronomy 11:13–21) which constitute the second parshah (“section” or “chapter”) of the Shema.

Last week’s reading of Va’etchanan included the six verses that make up the Shema’s first section (Deuteronomy 6:4–9). A third section (Numbers 15:37–41) completes the twenty verses which the Jew is obligated to recite each morning and each evening of his life. Together, the Shema’s three chapters enumerate the fundamental beliefs and practices of the Jewish faith: the oneness of G‑d; our love of Him; Torah study; education; the mitzvot of tefillin, mezuzah and tzitzit; the concept of reward and punishment; and the remembrance of the Exodus.

But while the third section contains precepts (the mitzvah of tzitzit and the remembrance of the Exodus) not contained in the first two, a large part of the second section seems but a repetition of what has already been stated in the first. The first section reads:

Hear O Israel, the L‑rd is our G‑d, the L‑rd is one. You shall love the L‑rd your G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might. These words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart; you shall teach them thoroughly to your children, and you shall speak of them when sitting in your home and walking on the road, when you lie down and when you arise. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes. You shall write them upon the doorposts of your home and gates.

The second section of the Shema reads (the repetitious passages are in bold):

And it shall come to pass if you diligently hearken to My commandments which I command you today, to love the L‑rd your G‑d and to serve Him with all your hearts and with all your souls: I will give the rain of your land in its due season, the early rain and the late rain, and you shall gather your grain, your wine and your oil. I will give grass in your fields for your cattle, and you shall eat and be sated. Take heed for yourselves, lest your heart be led astray, and you turn away and worship alien gods and bow down to them. G‑d’s anger will then be inflamed against you, and He will stop up the heavens so that there be no rain, and that the earth not yield its produce; and you will swiftly perish from the good land that G‑d is giving you. You shall place these words of Mine upon your hearts and upon your souls; you shall bind them as a sign upon your hands, and they shall be tefillin between your eyes. You shall teach them to your children to speak of them when sitting in your home and walking on the road, when you lie down and when you arise. You shall write them upon the doorposts of your home and gates. In order that your days be multiplied, and the days of your children, upon the land that G‑d vowed to your fathers to give to them for as long as the heavens are above the earth.

The most obvious difference between the two sections is that the first simply instructs the Jew to pursue his or her relationship with G‑d, without promising reward or threatening punishment. The second section, while enjoining us to do the very same things as the first, informs us of the benefits of doing so (“I will give the rain of your land in its due season . . . and you shall eat and be sated”; “In order that your days be multiplied . . . upon the land”) and warns us of the consequences of transgression (“He will stop up the heavens”; “You will soon perish from the good land”). Other than that, however, the second section seems a repetition of the first, with only minor differences in wording and syntax.

Rashi, in his commentary on these verses, cites several further examples of how the second section introduces a concept or injunction not included in the first. These include:

2) In the second section, the commandment to love G‑d is given in the plural (“with all your hearts and with all your souls”) rather than the singular (“with all your heart, with all your soul”) employed by the first section. The first section, explains Rashi, is an injunction to the individual, while the second is an injunction to the community. (This difference is repeated throughout the two sections. The Hebrew language distinguishes between second-person singular and second-person plural, as Old English does with “thou” and “you.” The entire first section speaks in second-person singular, the second section in second-person plural.)

3) In the second section, the commandments to don tefillin, study and teach Torah and affix mezuzot immediately follow the warning that “you will swiftly perish from the good land that G‑d is giving you.” This, says Rashi (citing Sifri), is to teach us that also after you are exiled, you must distinguish yourselves with the mitzvot: put on tefillin, make mezuzot, so that these not be new to you when you return.

(There are many instances in which the Torah speaks of the mitzvot as laws to be observed in the Holy Land—most notably in Deuteronomy 6:1–3, the verses preceding the first section of the Shema. Hence the need for the Torah to reiterate them here, after alluding to a time when the people of Israel will be exiled from their land.)

An examination of the two sections reveals more differences between them:

4) The first section enjoins one to love G‑d “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.” The second speaks only of “hearts” and “souls,” omitting “might.”

5) In the first section, the commandment to study and teach Torah precedes the commandment to don tefillin. In the second section, the order is reversed.

Gift of Sight, Creation of Sound

These five differences, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe, all stem from a deeper and more basic difference between the first and second sections of the Shema. This difference is also reflected in the two Torah portions—Va’etchanan and Eikev—in which they appear.

There are two basic ways in which a person may acquire something: it may be granted to him as a gift, or he may earn it by his own toil and achievement. Each mode of acquisition has its advantages and disadvantages. An attainment—whether material or spiritual—that is based on a person’s unaided efforts will always be limited by the extent of his talents and resources; only a grant from someone wealthier, wiser or greater then himself can bestow upon him something that transcends his own inherent limitations.

On the other hand, nothing is a person’s own as something he has pieced together by the sweat of his brow, mind or heart. A person would rather one bushel of his own grain, says the Talmud, than nine of his fellow’s. The home he himself built, the idea he himself conceived, the feeling he himself developed, are far more precious to him than an inherited mansion, or the knowledge and inspiration imparted by his superiors.

And more enduring. His own one bushel may be less, both in quantity and quality, than the gifted nine, but it is unequivocally his. What is given may be taken, what is revealed may be concealed, and feelings roused by a charismatic master or an overwhelming experience may fade when the inspiring mentor or event recedes; but what a person has himself created is his forever, real to him under all and any circumstances.

The difference between the granted and the earned is also the difference between two of our major senses, sight and hearing. Sight gives the mind the information all at once, conveying a scene, with its thousands if not millions of details, as a single imprint upon the retina. The eye sees it all simultaneously; the mind then proceeds to process all this information, drawing from the all-embracing image imparted by the eye.

Our faculty of hearing functions in the very opposite manner: we hear but one sound at a time. We cannot grasp the entire idea at once: we can hear it only sentence by sentence, word by word, syllable by syllable. We cannot see the entire concerto as a whole: we can hear it only bar by bar, note by note. Each of these particulars is virtually meaningless on its own; we must recreate the idea or the score in our minds, piecing it together bit by bit.

Two Parshiot and Their Names

The difference between sight and hearing, between what is received as a gift and what is pieced together by the person himself, is the difference between the two Torah portions of Va’etchanan and Eikev.

The Torah is divided into 54 portions, known as Parshiot or Sidrot. Each portion is assigned to a another week of the year—each day during that week the Jew lives with this particular section of Torah, studying it and applying it to his daily life; on Shabbat, the entire Parshah is read from the Torah scroll in the synagogue.

This is not an arbitrary division of Torah into weekly readings: each Parshah is a self-contained unit, its many subsections expressing various aspects of the Parshah’s basic theme. At times, this theme is obvious; but often the surface of the Parshah consists of seemingly unconnected laws and events, and one must delve into their deeper significance to uncover their underlying unity.

The key to unlocking a Parshah’s theme is its name. The name of a Parshah is taken from its opening words; yet, upon closer examination, the name always expresses the essence of a Parshah’s many particulars.

The same is true of the two Parshiot that contain the first and second sections of Shema.

Va’etchanan means “and I beseeched.” This is the opening word of the Parshah. Moses is telling the Jewish people of how he implored the Almighty to be allowed to enter the Holy Land: “And I beseeched G‑d at that time, saying: ‘. . . Please, let me cross over and see the good land . . .’”

To beseech is to ask to be granted something that is beyond one’s own power and deservedness. As Rashi points out, Moses specifically uses the word va’etchanan (instead of other, more common words for “request” or “prayer”) to imply that he saw his prayer as a request for an undeserved gift. Indeed, va’etchanan is related to the Hebrew word for “undeserved” (chinam). As Rashi states in his commentary on this verse, “The verb chinun (the root of va’etchanan) always implies an undeserved gift.”

The gift that Moses is asking for is the gift of sight: “Let me cross over and see the good land.” What Moses wanted was not merely the fulfillment of a personal desire to enter the Holy Land; he wanted that the land be given to the people of Israel as an instantaneous, unrestricted bestowal from above.

Our sages tell us that had Moses’ request been granted and he had led the people of Israel into the land, there would have been no need for the many battles fought under Joshua; instead of conquering the land city by city, province by province (as with the piecemeal assembly of hearing), the Canaanites would have melted away before their advance. The Land of Israel would have been granted them as a supernatural gift, instead of their having to earn it by their earthly efforts. (Indeed, Moses was, in a certain sense, granted his wish: G‑d told him to ascend Mount Nebo and “see with your eyes” the entire land; and it was Moses’ sighting of the land that empowered the people of Israel to conquer it.)

Following Va’etchanan comes the Torah portion of Eikev. The name derives from the Parshah’s opening verse: “And it shall come to pass, because (eikev) you hearken to these laws, observe them and do them . . .” Many of the commentaries puzzle over the use of the unusual word eikev instead of other, far more common Hebrew idioms meaning “because.” These commentaries look to another meaning of the word to uncover a deeper layer of meaning to the verse. Eikev can also be pronounced akeiv, which means “heel.” Rashi interprets this as an allusion to those mitzvot that a person tramples with his heels: the Torah is telling us to be equally diligent with all G‑d’s commandments, no less with those that seem less significant to our finite minds.

Chassidic teaching offers another interpretation. The heel is both the lowest and the most lifeless part of the body. But a Jew’s commitment to Torah must be such that it permeates him entirely: that also his heels hearken to these laws, observe them and do them. That his relationship with G‑d not be confined to the holy days of the year or to the daily hours he devotes to prayer and study, but embrace also his most material endeavors. Indeed, this lowly and spiritually lifeless part of his life is the foundation of his relationship with the Almighty, in the same way that the lowly and lifeless heel is the base upon which the entire body stands and moves.

Thus the heel is told to “hearken” to G‑d’s commandments. If Va’etchanan is the Parshah of sight, of revelatory gifts from above, Eikev is the Parshah of hearing. Eikev is the methodical building of a relationship from the bottom up, of a person’s humanly finite efforts to connect to the divine. It my be a relationship less glorious, less brilliant, less absolute than one that is bestowed from on high, but it is the person’s own, more real to him than the most unbounded gift.

The Needs of the Developing Soul

Now we can understand the difference between the first two sections of the Shema in the context of their respective Parshiot.

Both sections describe the Jew’s relationship with the Almighty on the emotional (loving G‑d), intellectual (Torah study) and concrete (tefillin, mezuzah) levels. But the first section, appearing in Va’etchanan, deals with this relationship from the standpoint of one who is privileged to see G‑d, who has been granted the gift of relating to G‑d on G‑d’s terms. The second section, part of the Torah portion of Eikev, relates man’s struggle to create with the finite ingredients of self.

Thus, there is no mention of reward or punishment in the first section of the Shema. Indeed, what do “rains in their due season,” “grass for your cattle,” or even the multiplication of “your days and the days of your children” have to do with one’s love and service of the Almighty? When a person sees the divine truth, there is no need to point out the benefits of a virtuous life or the tragic results of a nation’s abandonment of G‑d; he does the truth because it is true (as Maimonides puts it), regardless of personal gain. But when man approaches G‑d on his own finite and subjective terms, reward and punishment play an important role in his development. In building his moral and spiritual self from the heel up, he must base his relationship with G‑d on what he is, including that aspect of himself that has yet to outgrow the immaturity of ego and self-interest.

This also explains the difference between the two sections in the order of the verses that speak of Torah study and tefillin.

Our connection with G‑d is realized by two general means: our study of Torah and our observance of the mitzvot. Torah is our experience of G‑d. Torah is what G‑d revealed of Himself to us, allowing us a glimpse of His wisdom and a glimmer of insight into the essence of His creation and His relationship with us. The mitzvot are the actualization of our relationship with Him in our physical lives, in blind obedience to His unfathomable will.

In building our relationship from the bottom up, deed precedes experience: first must come a firm grounding of commitment, upon which can be based the more intellectual aspects of the relationship. Hence, in the second section, tefillin, representing concrete action (“Tefillin is equivalent to all mitzvot”—Talmud, Kiddushin 35a), precedes Torah. In the first section, where the relationship is granted to us from the top down, the order is reversed: we begin with the revelation of His truth in Torah, to which we respond by applying this truth to our daily lives.

Man and More

This difference is also reflected by the omission of the words uve-chol me’odecha in the second section.

Uve-chol me’odecha is usually translated as “and with all your might.” But “might” is only an approximate rendition of the Hebrew word me’od. This translation is also inconsistent with the logic of the verse: If we are being told to sacrifice all our desires (“with all your heart”) and even our very lives (“with all your soul”) for the sake of G‑d, what is added by the words “and with all your might”? Indeed, what more can be said?

The precise meaning of the word me’od is “very” or “more so.” Uve-chol me’odecha could therefore be understood as “with all your veryness” or “with all your beyondness”—that is, above and beyond your currently defined self. The Torah is saying: after you have attained your personal ultimate (with all your heart and with all your soul) in your love of G‑d, reach higher yet. Relate to Him on His terms, surmounting the finiteness of your own being.

Uve-chol me’odecha, then, applies only to the Va’etchanan element of the Shema, to that aspect of our relationship with G‑d that is granted us from above. In the second section of the Shema, where the Torah discusses the human dimension to the relationship, we are told to love G‑d “with all your hearts and with all your souls.” Here the objective is a love that is built wholly on what we are, not one that is overwhelmed by a revelation of the infinite beyond.

Our Many Selves

Another difference: in the first section of the Shema, the Torah addresses us in the second-person singular; in the second section, in the plural. This, too, is connected with the difference between a seeing and hearing relationship with the Almighty.

What, indeed, is the difference between an injunction to the individual and an injunction to the community? If we are each individually commanded to love G‑d, study His Torah and teach it to our children, don tefillin and affix mezuzot, what is added by reiterating these commandments as communal duties? Various explanations are offered by the commentaries. Chassidic teaching, however, explains Rashi’s words by applying them to the individual and community within the miniature universe that is man.

Man is a virtual community of convictions, states of mind, feelings and character traits. Yet underlying it all is his singular “I”—the subject of all these diverse faces and expressions.

The sight aspect of the Shema is addressed to the individual in man, to his singular essence. It is this core self that bonds with the divine essence, receiving and embracing the gift of truth from above. But to create a piecemeal, details-first appreciation of the divine, we employ the diverse community of our more external self. Thus the second, hearing section of the Shema is addressed to the plural in us, to the many senses, talents and traits with which we assemble our self-generated relationship with the Almighty.

Sounding The Darkness

As we pointed out earlier, a gift from on high may be superior in every way to a finite creation of man; but what we receive from above endures only as long as the divine giver gives. As something that comes from outside the self, it is conditional upon the continuing effect upon us by the outside source. On the other hand, what we ourselves generate from within remains significant to us under all conditions and in all circumstances.

This brings us to another difference between the Shema’s first two sections. Taken on its own, the first section implies a connection to G‑d only through the Torah and its mitzvot as observed in the Holy Land. We need the second section to tell that all this is equally applicable in exile.

The first section describes a relationship whose relevance we can assume only under conditions of closeness to G‑d: when we dwell secure in the land that “G‑d’s eyes are constantly upon,” and when He manifests His presence amongst us in His holy home in Jerusalem. But when He hides His face from us and banishes us like children exiled from their father’s table, our ability to love Him, to comprehend His truth and to implement His will can be questioned. Indeed, we cannot even assume that these precepts are meant to apply to such conditions of spiritual darkness.

Not so the second section. Because the relationship is one of our making, because it stems from within, it becomes ingrained in our very essence. Integrally us, it persists wherever and whenever we persist.

Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson; adapted by Yanki Tauber.
Originally published in Week in Review.
Republished with the permission of MeaningfulLife.com. If you wish to republish this article in a periodical, book, or website, please email permissions@meaningfullife.com.
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Pam Houston August 12, 2017

Yes Reply

David A Fairman Shilo, Israel July 24, 2013

Teaching our children Note that while the second paragraph is in the plural, when it comes to teaching our children, Torah reverts back to the singular - b'shivteCHA ... when you (thou) sit in your house,,,,, The life of man is in the family and the community, but education is really dependant on the personal example we set for our children in our every day lives! Reply

Pam Texas August 12, 2017
in response to David A Fairman:

True Reply

Anonymous PA, USA July 23, 2013

The word 'heel' in English when referring to a person is always a negative description. In Hebrew, the very opposite is true. Our 'heel' is what allows us to stand upright, solidly grounded. Without our heel, we lose our balance.
Wish that this concept was made more clear. Would that the Jewish People have more regard for the heel, that part of our physical being we may rarely see but 'all ways' use. To be referred to as a heel in Hebrew is a compliment! Reply

Anonymous Karmiel, Israel August 6, 2009

The Lord is G-d instead G-d is G-d The phrase: "Hear O Israel, G-d is our G-d, G-d is one", will be rightly to traslate in this way: "Hear O Israel, the Lord is our G-d, The Lord is one." Adon in English - Lord, and "G-d is G-d" - little stange phrase. Reply

josh August 22, 2008

tremendous Reply

Duv Buriram, Thailand August 2, 2007

Eikev Deeper!! I was just getting warmed up when the bottom of the page hit me.. I feel so lucky to get this teaching where I live!!! Reply

Anonymous Milwaukee, WI August 11, 2006

Insightful, yet long winded. I wish Chabad.org used the KISS. Keep up the good work. Reply

Israel Biafra August 15, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Very helpful to me Reply

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