“Hear O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d, G‑d is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). The words of the Shema constitute the most basic statement of Judaism: that G‑d is our G‑d—a real presence in our lives; and that G‑d is one—the singular, absolute, all-embracing truth of our existence.

What do we do with these words? Many things.

1) Mind: We study them and contemplate them. As the verse enjoins, “Hear O Israel”—the Hebrew word for “hear,” shema, also means “comprehend.”

2) Heart: Study and contemplation give birth to emotion. Hence, “Hear O Israel” brings us to “You shall love G‑d with all your heart, all your soul and all your might” (6:5).

3) Speech: When “these words are upon your heart,” the next step is verbalization and communication—“You shall teach them diligently to your children; and you shall speak of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down and when you rise up” (6:7). The last words in this verse are the source of the mitzvah to recite the Shema every evening (“when you lie down”) and every morning (“when you rise up”).

4) Body: “You shall bind them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as tefillin between your eyes” (6:8). Like a marriage ring on a finger, the tefillin are a physically tangible bond on our bodies, embodying our bond with G‑d and our commitment to make G‑d’s oneness real in our world.

5) Environment: “You shall inscribe them on the doorposts of your home, and on your gates” (6:9). The last and ultimate phase is the mezuzah: a parchment scroll containing the verses of the Shema and affixed to the doorpost of the Jewish home—defining both the sanctity of the environment within and its influence on the environment without.

For more on the mezuzah—how it’s made, what it means and what it does—see the links below:

The What, Why and How of Mezuzah
by Tzvi Freeman

Rooms and Doorposts
by Alexander Poltorak

The Mystical Significance of the Mezuzah
by Alexander Poltorak

Mezuzah: A Story

The Laws of Mezuzah: A Handbook