Tuesday, December 18, 2007
CENTRALITY OF THE SHEMA
The Shema- a blessing we learn as children. It is the prayer that I assume I will recite as I leave this earth (I certainly say it enough times when I am in an airplane- just in case!!!). Perhaps the Shema's nearness to my heart encouraged me to create this mixed media piece... It is composed of woven paper: one sheet contains the words of the Shema and the second is watercolored. Atop these intertwined pieces I embossed SHEMA.
Jews say two especially important prayers every day: the Shema and the Amidah. We fulfill the biblical commandment (mitzvah) to say the Shema every morning and evening when we say its first verse, "Hear, Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." The rabbis, however, required us to add three additional paragraphs, drawn from the books of Deuteronomy and Numbers. Besides our reciting the Shema daily, we also say it before going to sleep, over a baby boy the night before his ritual circumcision (brit milah), and before we die.
The commandments to which the Shema refers - tefillin (leather boxes containing parchments that are put on a man's head and arm), mezuzah (a parchment with Torah verses that we put on our doorposts), Tzitzit (fringes that are put on a four-cornered garment), and remembering the Exodus from Egypt - are also part of our daily lives.
Thus, the Shema literally accompanies us from cradle to grave. The Minchat Chinuch explains why the Shema and its mitzvot (commandments) "surround" us: People tend to be drawn to materialism and give in to their lusts by following foolish, worldly pleasures. We need constant reminders that we are part of God's Cabinet and have responsibilities to Him. Without these reminders, we can't keep focused on what God put us here to do. His lovingkindness determined that we should say the Shema twice a day to help us stay on track spiritually.
The general purpose of any mitzvah is to preserve and heighten our spiritual wholesomeness and to attach us to God. Saying the Shema reminds us that our thoughts, speech, and actions affect the entire universe. That, in turn, encourages us to live with ongoing devotion and fervor in our service to the Almighty.
The Shema also refocuses us at least twice a day so that we are not derailed by constant exposure to forces that negate our spirituality. The Shema can help us regain our spiritual bearings and infuse us with tremendous spiritual energy only if we appreciate and concentrate on what we are saying. From Rabbi Lisa AIken... more of this essay can be found here.