The Shma — Attention, Please

(This week’s Torah portion contains the Shma Yisrael and the paragraph that immediately follows, V’ahavta (“You shall love…). Following is a teaching about these passages that I originally offered during Yom Kippur, 5769/2008. Shabbat Shalom, JK)

Shma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. (Deuteronomy 6:4)

Shma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad. Conventionally translated as “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One,” it is a declaration of the oneness, the unity of YHVH, the Source of All. Out of the literally thousands of verses in the Torah, our ancient sages chose to put this phrase at the center of our Jewish practice, and indeed that is where it has remained to this day. The framers of our tradition considered the Shma so important that it is marked in the Torah scroll with a special scribal flourish. In a scribal tradition more ancient than we know, the Torah text enlarges two letters in the Shma: the ayin in the word Shma, and the dalet at the end of the word echad. The entire phrase is framed by these two letters, writ large. Ayin and dalet spell “ed,” which means “witness.” Our sages want us to bear witness to the Oneness of God when we recite the Shma.

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