Torah Fax

Friday, July 30, 2004 - 12 Menachem Av, 5764

Torah Reading:  VaEtchanan (Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11)
Candle Lighting Time:  7:55 PM
Shabbat Ends: 8:59 PM
Shabbat Nachamu

Grammatically Incorrect 

This week's Parshah contains one of the most well known Jewish prayers of all times, the Shema. The Shema, the affirmation of the oneness of G‑d, is one of the first prayers a Jewish child is taught and, sadly, often the last words a dying person utters, G‑d forbid. We are Biblically commanded to recite the Shema twice a day, morning and evening, and the rabbis instituted saying the Shema before we go to bed as well.

To better appreciate the Shema, let us analyze each of its six Hebrew words.

Shema - the Hebrew words Shema is usually translated as "hear," but can be better translated as "understand." This underscores the idea that it does not suffice to believe (or claim to believe) that G‑d is our G‑d and that He is One - we must try to rationally comprehend it, reflect and meditate on it.

Yisrael - the word Yisrael is the second name given to our Patriarch Jacob. Our sages tell us that the two names, Jacob and Yisrael represent two different spiritual levels. The name Jacob, which is derived from the word "heel," describes our state of being when we are constrained by conditions that are set upon us by the outside world. Yisrael, made up of the words "master" and "head," describes the mindset that allows us to be the masters over our environment rather than being led or controlled by it.

Thus, the combined words, Shema Yisrael, Hear o Israel, can now be interpreted to mean that one must reflect on the concepts (contained within the Shema prayer) in order to rise to level of Yisrael, one who is not a victim of his environment, but a controller of it.

Hashem - the name Hashem means "the name" and is used in place of G‑d's unique name known as the Tetragramaton. Contained within this name are the three words Haya, past, Hoveh, present and Yih'yeh, future. Our sages say that this name describes G‑d as a power that transcends the boundaries of time. From G‑d's perspective, past, present and future are experienced all at once, because G‑d is essentially beyond the limitations of time. The Shema zeroes in on this concept and informs of us of the reality that G‑d is beyond the boundaries of any part of nature, even the limitations of time.

Elokeinu - this word is loosely translated as "our G‑d," but a more precise, Chasidic translation would yield the following: "G‑d is our internal force and power."

Combined with the aforementioned concepts, we can now translate this portion of the Shema in the following sentence, run-on though it may be: "In order to achieve the status of Yisrael and gain mastery over one's environment, one must reflect on the notion that G‑d's transcendent essence is not detached from us, but is our very strength and power.  We must realize that our life is not a natural one, but one that derives from the aspect of G‑d that transcends the boundaries of time and space."

By realizing that our power is not just divine but that it is beyond all parameters that are associated with creation, we will not be intimidated by the natural barriers that sometimes seem to inhibit our spiritual growth.

Hashem Echad - these last two words teach us an even deeper lesson.  Not only do we have to recognize that the transcendent aspect of G‑d is the life source of our souls as Jews, we must realize that that is the essence of the entire universe. Though we may look at the world around us and sometimes view it as a distraction, an obstacle to overcome in our spiritual struggle, we must realize that G‑d is the source of everything in creation and therefore, ultimately, creation can only help us in our understanding of G‑d - and never hinder us.

True, the world around us doesn't always comprehend G‑dliness, and not every aspect of creation understands or is even aware of G‑d as its - or his/her - creator.  The world will eventually come to recognize G‑d as the creator, and as the very core of its existence, when Moshiach comes. Indeed, Rashi - the most basic of all commentators - tells us that this is the most simple meaning of the Shema. He translates it this way: "Hear O Israel, the L-rd who is right now only our G‑d (only recognized and appreciated by the Jewish people) will eventually (through Moshaich) be recognized as the One and only G‑d, by all."

Let us sum up the Shema in its entirety with one more run on sentence: "For a Jew to attain mastery over the world of nature, s/he must reflect on the transcendent G‑dly nature that is the core of one's existence. By focusing on this we will ultimately hasten the time when the whole world will declare that there is one G‑d who is the essence of all existence. The Messianic Age will usher in a time when all will recognize that G‑d is truly one."

Moshiach Matters

The Chatam Sofer (Responsa on Choshen Mishpat, Vol. 6, Responsum 98) explained that in each generation, there is an individual who is fit to be Moshiach and "when the time comes, G‑d will reveal Himself to him and send him." What is required of us at present is thus to be prepared to actually accept Moshiach and create a climate in which he can accomplish his mission and redeem Israel from the exile. (The Rebbe, 25 Cheshvan, 5752—1991)
Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit

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