The Shema prayer is not simply the Jewish declaration of faith that G‑d exists. It is an affirmation that G‑d is the only true existence. One G‑d is the essence of everything (more on this later). We are commanded to accept the kingship of Heaven twice daily by reciting the Shema.

1. The Shema Consists of Three Paragraphs From the Torah

Shema is technically not a prayer. It consists of three biblical paragraphs: Deuteronomy 6:4–9, 11:13–21, and Numbers 15:37–41. The first two sections (Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21) declare the oneness of G‑d and our duty as Jews to love Him, to study the Torah and teach it to our children, to follow his mitzvot, including binding tefillin on our arms and heads and affixing mezuzot to the doorposts of our homes. The third section (Numbers 15:37–41) speaks of the mitzvah of tzitzit and of the Exodus from Egypt.

Read the Three Paragraphs of Shema.

2. We Say Shema Twice Daily

In the first paragraph, the fourth verse tells us:1 “And you shall teach them to your children... when you lie down and when you rise up.” From this verse, we learn to recite the Shema twice daily, in the morning and in the evening. In order to fulfill one’s obligation of saying Shema, ideally one should say all three paragraphs. In a pinch, there are varying views among the rabbis as to what one can do to fulfill the minimal obligation; but certainly, one should at least recite the first paragraph.

Read: An Overview of the Shema

3. We Cover Our Eyes For the First Verse

While reciting the first verse, we cover our eyes with our right hand. The basic reason2 is to eliminate distractions during this essential prayer. There is yet a deeper reason: during the Shema prayer we declare that everything is G‑d, so that when we uncover our eyes we discover a new reality. A reality that centers on G‑dliness. The physical world that we see is not all that exists; there is a greater reality above the mundane.

Read: Why Do We Cover Our Eyes for Shema?

4. The Shema Is One of the First Things We Teach Our Children

In the Laws of Torah study, in the Code of Jewish Law3, we are told that when a child starts to talk we should teach them two verses: “The Torah that Moses commanded us is a heritage for the congregation of Jacob” (Deuteronomy 33:4). And the second is: “Hear, O Israel: The L‑rd is our G‑d; the L‑rd is One”(Deuteronomy 6:4, the first verse of Shema). These two verses are the fundamentals of our faith.

Read: Jewish Education 101

5. The Second Line of Shema

The second sentence of this prayer, which is said quietly, reads: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” This verse does not appear anywhere in the bible, and there are differing views as to its origin. One source is a discussion and story in the Talmud, tractate Pesachim4 , where this very question is asked: Jacob is on his deathbed, questioning his sons’ allegiance to the one G‑d. His sons respond with the first verse of the shema which led Jacob to exclaim: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” The Talmud concludes, since it is not a Biblical verse it is said quietly.

Read: What Is the Origin of the Second Line of Shema?

6. A Deeper Meaning, More Than Monotheism

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 actually one. 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 perpetually recreates its existence. The Sages speak of a stream of energy emanating from the infinite essence of G‑d, recreating the universe at every moment. Were He to remove this life-giving force, the universe and all therein would cease to exist.

7. The Shema Expresses Two Levels of Unity

Rabbi Schneur Zalman was a Chassidic luminary and the first Rebbe of Chabad, whose seminal work is titled, Tanya. In the second section of Tanya, The Gate of Unity and Faith, he explains how the first two sentences of Shema refer to two levels of divine unity. The first verse describes how G‑d relates to the world from G‑d’s perspective, how in truth everything is G‑d. The second sentence employs the word ‘kingship,’ referring to the lower level of unity, the perspective of His creations. For there cannot be a king without a nation. From our perspective, we are dependent on G‑d to sustain our existence.

8. The Shema Is About Love

In the first paragraph of the Shema we are commanded to “[L]ove G‑d with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” This means that we must harness our human desires, (i.e., animalistic passions) to serve Him—developing a love for G‑d to the point that we are excited to fulfill His wishes. We must dedicate our very life-force, our soul to Him. We must be prepared to sanctify His name, as many Jews have done so to the extent of putting their lives on the line. And lastly we must use our entire strength to serve G‑d, with at least the same energy we generally use to make a living.

Read: The Miracle Within

9. Crying Out Shema Is the Climax of Yom Kippur

At the height of the holiest day of the year is the Neilah prayer, the fifth prayer recited as the day slips away. The climax of this prayer happens just before the shofar blast, and includes three verses. The first, said once, is the opening verse of Shema: “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” The next, said three times, is the second sentence of the Shema: “Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever.” And the third verse, said seven times, is: “G‑d - He is the Only G‑d.” At this moment we are taught that we must be willing to give up our very lives for the sake of heaven.

Read: Neilah, The Closing Service Of Yom Kippur

10. We Say Shema at Bedtime

Before settling down for the night, many have the custom (that derives from the Talmud5) to recite an order of prayers that includes the Shema (this is in addition to the evening service which also includes the Shema). Many reasons are given for this custom. The end of the day is an ideal time for introspection, a chance to look back at our day and see what can be improved, so these prayers can help us grow in the right direction. The Talmud also tells us that it is proper to go to sleep with words of Torah on one’s lips; therefore, we recite the Shema again.

Read: The Many Benefits of the Bedtime Shema