The Shema

The Shema

Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone!
Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
and with all your soul,
and with all your strength.
Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.

Not only are these words Moses's proclamation from today's 1st Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, but they comprise the first portion of the Shema, a Jewish daily prayer. "Shema" means "hear," mirroring the first words of the prayer, "Hear, O Israel!" or "Shema Yisrael!" The Shema is comprised of three passages from the Bible: Deuteronomy 6:4 – 9; Deuteronomy 11:13-21, and Numbers 15:37-41. These passages instruct us that the Lord God is the one and only God, that we should love Him with our entire being, and that if we do so, we will be rewarded. The Shema is so important that pious Jews recite it in the morning, evening, before bedtime, as the final prayer of Yom Kippur services, and just before death.


"Deuteronomy" means "copy of the law" or "second law." It is the last of the five books of the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible) and it restates or summarizes the laws in the first four books, in addition to adding several laws of its own. In fact, the Jews have discerned 613 commandments from the first five books of the Bible; 248 of which are positive commandments ("thou shalt") and 365 of which are negative ("thou shalt not"). Can you imagine trying to comply with all 613 commandments? It is no wonder then that the scribe in today's Gospel passage from Mark asks Jesus which is the greatest commandment.


And how does Jesus respond? He confirms the greatest commandment from Deuteronomy incorporated in the Shema: only one God exists, and we are to love Him with our entire being. Jesus' response clarifies for the scribe and for us that we are to focus on loving God. If we do so with our entire being, we will have no room for evil in our lives. As we embark on the year of prayer at St. Josaphat, you might want to try praying the Shema. A translation can be found here. Praying the Shema will enable us to focus our attention on the one and only God.

Deacon Pat Casey


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