Shema Yisroel Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad… Listen Israel, G‑d is our L‑rd, G‑d is One. (Deut. 6:4)

These words, a highlight of our daily prayers, express powerful pearls of faith. But I didn't expect to read them in a timeless best-selling classic.

In Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes his experiences in the Nazi concentration camps.

Shortly after arriving at Auschwitz, Frankl was stripped of his most precious possession—a manuscript that was his life's work, hidden in his coat pocket. He then had “perhaps his deepest experience in the concentration camps.”

“I had to undergo and overcome the loss of my mental child. And now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a mental child of my own. So I found myself confronted with the question whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of meaning.

“An answer to this question with which I was wrestling so passionately was already in store for me…This was the case when I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had already been sent to the gas chamber…Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in a pocket of the newly acquired coat one single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, containing the most important Jewish prayer, Shema Yisroel.

“How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?”


Why has the Shema Yisroel prayer inspired so many through the most trying times?

Aside from its simple assertion of belief, I think there are four key psychological elements:

1) Relevance: Listen, Israel—Religion cannot start and end with theories; it must address our humanness. The Shema does not begin with a depersonalized statement of faith. It addresses each one of us. Listen, Israel, listen to this message, and make it a part of your being

2) Belonging: The Shema is in plural ("our G‑d" and not "my G‑d"), spoken to a collective group. We gain strength from one another and fortitude from being a part of something greater than ourselves. That sense of community is one of our strongest assets.

3) Personalization: G‑d is our G‑d. G‑d, who is transcendental and infinite, is also our personal G‑d, holding us in times of celebration and despair. G‑d is not just an objective ruler, creating and regulating the cosmos. He is "ours," near us, understanding the deepest part of us, more than we do.

4) Individuality: As much as we need a sense of belonging and community, we must not negate our individual differences. The Shema ends with the words "G‑d is one" (rather than G‑d is "singular" or "alone"). One, the first of the numbers, teaches that G‑d is present within the diversity of the world. While conformity stunts growth, the "oneness of G‑d" should empower us to discover and cultivate the G‑dly oneness and uniqueness within each of us.