Discover more from Inner Judaism
What we don't talk about
How many of us, when asked which 'prayer' we memorized as a kid, respond with The Shema? Prayer is in quotes because the Shema is not really that, is it? Not formally anyway. It’s not a request, or an expression of appreciation or gratitude. Said on the lips of dying martyrs, the Shema was always more a defiant declaration than a prayer.
Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad
Listen, Israel! Hashem is our God, Hashem is One Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:4
Yet, something that we've repeated over and over again tends to become so familiar that we tend not to examine it any further. The declarative statement is directed to all who include themselves as being part of Am Yisrael, from the past to the future.
But the responsibility to live with the words and communicate them is upon us as individuals. And it’s not enough to just think it. We’re asked to be occupied with it:
V’dibarta bam, B’sheevt’cha B’veitecha, U’vlecht’cha Vaderech, U’vshachb’ch U’vkumecha
You are to speak of these words while dwelling in your house and while walking on the way, in your lying down and in your rising up. Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:7
We say it, but I’m not sure we take it its meaning. We may be used to the idea of saying the Shema in the morning and before bed, but really….while going about our day? For many of us, our personal beliefs stay that way. Better not to offend. Better to keep private things private. In polite circles, 'religion' is something to steer clear of in any conversation with others, like politics.
But here, we're told that this message is not to be kept to ourselves. So how do we begin to think about this? No, there's no need to be a "Bible-thumping" lay preacher, but perhaps if you're experiencing joy in your Judaism, you might want to share it. Or if doing a particular practice is helpful, you might want to let others know. I’ve heard many people talk about the value of ‘unplugging’ for Friday and Saturday, though without the word “Shabbat”. I’ve also heard people talk about the wonderful closeness that occurs when a family experiences a meal together, weekly on Shabbat. We’re not talking big things here, but the small little things that make Judaism unique for you.
And if even those little joyful things don’t apply to you, then of course it's hard to share something that is not a source of happiness. And if there’s some pain and resentment underneath that all, that’s hard also.
In that case, perhaps you’ll have the motivation to change things up for yourself.
But if you have found a happy place, can you take these words to heart, as we're told a couple of verses later:
V’hayu Hadevarim Ha’Eleh, Asher Anochi M’tzav’cha Hayom Al Levavecha
And these words, which I myself command you today, are to be upon your heart. Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:6
For sure, it's not the common experience to hear words of Torah as we go about our usual business. For that we go to synagogue, listen to a podcast, or maybe even watch a video...if that. But this is about making meaning of these words today, Hayom [ הַיּ֖וֹם ]that were said thousands of years ago?
What does it mean that the words are on our heart? This tells us that we have to be emotionally involved. They’re not just words. They’re way beyond and often, what’s on the heart can’t even be described. So what’s up with that?
Okay…so I don't have the answer, and I'm not even sure there is a one-size-fits-all response. I've worked in Jewish non-profits for most of my professional career, and even there, words of Torah were most often not included in our daily goings on or even given as the context in which major decisions were made.
So, why am I writing this then? Well, because I want you to think about how you might embed these words on/in your heart. Perhaps you can hold yourself to a different standard. And, asking even more of you, you would benefit if the gift of Torah that we’ve been given could be part of your life and learning.
Now, what small, tiny thing can you do to make the words of the Shema relevant for you?
I would love to hear from you: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading this post from Inner Judaism. Subscribe for free and you’ll receive all my new posts and let me know that you support my work.