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The Shema


This week’s Adult Bible Study Guide focuses on Deuteronomy 6, especially what in the Jewish religion is known as the Shema, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (NKJV). The Study Guide gives an overview:

[The Shema is] based on the first Hebrew word of the prayer, from the root, shama’, which means “to listen,” or even “to obey”—a word that appears again and again, not just in Deuteronomy but all through the Old Testament. The first line of the Shema reads like this: 

“Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai echad.” 

It means: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4, NKJV). Many times when Jews pray it, they cover their eyes, the idea being to let nothing distract them from thinking about God. This first line of the Shema is deemed an affirmation of the monotheistic nature of Adonai Elohenu, “the Lord our God,” and Israel’s loyalty to Him alone and to no other “god.” In fact, it also could be read as “the Lord is our God.”

This one line is part of the first speech that Moses gave to the children of Israel as they were about to enter the Promised Land. What follows that opening line, however, is a powerful expression of truth that remains as crucial now as it was then.

In the video below from 2017, Reform Rabbi Ron Berry explains the Shema during a visit to the Jewish Museum London. The Shema is written on kosher parchment scrolls and kept in small boxes called mezuzot, and Berry visited to check that all the museum’s mezuzot were still kosher.

“Mezuzot means ‘doorposts,’” the museum explains. “Mezuzot are small boxes that hang by the doors in many Jewish homes. These boxes can be made of many different materials. The mezuzah opens up and inside is the Shema prayer, written on a small piece of parchment. The Shema is the most important prayer in Judaism because it reminds Jewish people that there is only one God. Rabbi Ron Berry reads the prayer to check each word was readable, and then he explains what they mean.”

Watch the full video for Berry’s interesting and insightful commentary about the prayer.


Alexander Carpenter is executive editor elect of Spectrum

Image credit: Screenshot from Jewish Museum London


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