Halacha L’Moshe MiSinai
Volume 2: Number 10
December 12, 2005
Mitzvah 11: Reciting the Shema Twice a Day
It is a positive commandment to recite the Shema morning and evening.
Hafetz Hayim: Scripture states, “and you shall speak of them… when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:7). This means at the time you lie down and the time you rise up. Reciting the Shema consists of three sections of Scripture: Deut 6:4-9; Deut. 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. The first section is about love of G-d and the study of Torah, which is the peg upon which everything depends. The second section is the acceptance of the yoke of the other commandments while in the third section, there is the mention of the Tzitzit, the command to remember all the commandments and the religious duty to remember the Exodus. It is in force everywhere and at every time, for men but not for women.
While the Hafetz Hayim is correct in his understanding of why we recite the Shema, it is not really very helpful in explaining why these three sections are recited. We have an entire Torah of verse, why are these three so important. We know that they were not randomly selected since they are listed out of order, implying that there must be a reason not only for their selection, but also as to why they are in the order in which they are.
The first paragraph is about love. If you look it up, however, you will see that it does not say that we “Should” love the Lord our G-d” rather it is the command that we must “Love G-d”. How is it possible to command someone to love another? Well, we do it every day when we love our parents. We don’t get to choose our parents; we just have to love them (and there is a whole lot of mental illness when we try to love parents who are not worthy of that love). This “parental” kind of love of G-d is the result of G-d being our creator (the same source of our love for our parents.) The theme of this paragraph, therefore, is Creation.
The second paragraph, talks about reward and punishment for the commandments, but the only reference to which commandments are rewarded is the phrase, “which I command you this day”. What day is referred to? The day the commandments were given at Sinai. Thus we need to do all the commandments given at Sinai. This is a very difficult passage since the punishments listed are all communal punishments for the sins of an individual. Some Reform Congregations thus leave this passage out, but if we look at it from an Ecological point of view, that when one person pollutes this world, the entire planet suffers, we may understand what the point of the paragraph is all about. Because it deals with the events at Mt. Sinai, we say it refers to Revelation.
The third paragraph, as noted by the Hafetz Hayim, is about the Exodus from Egypt. This is the biggest event in Jewish History. We say that it refers to redemption.
According the Tradition, G-d creates the world; G-d reveals to Humanity the Torah and thru the Torah, Humanity redeems the world. Thus the three paragraphs about Creation, Revelation and Redemption, are also about the relationship between G-d, Humanity and the World. If each triad is charted as a triangle, than if you intersect the two triangles, you get the Star of David. (This was first explained by Franz Rozenweig in the 1800’s in his book “Star of Redemption”)
In short, these six concepts are the core of what Judaism is all about. Saying the Shema is similar to saying “This is what I believe about the world” and is an appropriate “pledge of allegiance” to the Jewish People and to Judaism. This is why this prayer is so very important and why it is recited twice a day.
I have some questions from last week’s lesson on Tallit and Tzitzit:
J. Weiss writes: I met someone a few weeks ago who told me that he came to Sinai one Shabbat morning to see what our shul is like. He follows this custom that you mentioned, (about not wearing a Tallit until one is married) and he told me that the ushers at Sinai insisted he wear a Tallit despite his personal practice. Is this a custom that would be kept by individuals/families or is it more community wide?
I respond: The usher was in error. Alas sometimes we all get too involved with the rules. No, a person with the custom of not wearing a Tallit until married does not have to wear a Tallit to shul unless he is called to the bima. On the bima, he should wear a Tallit. It should also be understood that such a man would also be wearing a Tallit katan. If he does not wear a Tallit katan, than he is in violation of the mitzvah of Tzitzit
I wrote last week: Scripture makes this commandment the equal of all the other commandments when it says; “you shall see it and remember all the commandments of G-d”. It is in force everywhere and at every time, for men but not for women.
Marjut Herzog writes: I have read that historically women wore tefillin, but historically did women also have the option of placing Tzitzit on their robes/dresses? Is it possible to take this mitzvah on by wearing the Tallit katan so that even though I cannot come to the synagogue and pray easily (with a small child) I can fulfill this mitzvah at home (while I am doing the spiritual duties of raising a child and keeping a home also supposedly equal to men’s Mitzvot). I really think this may be a lovely way to feel more connected – have other women considered this – I am not so thrilled with that last sentence because it sounds like man is putting word’s into Hashem’s commandment…
I respond: I have not seen anywhere that women put fringes on the corner of their garments. There is an article on mens and womens garments in Yigdal Yadin’s book on Massada. There is no reason in Jewish law that prevents a woman from wearing the Tallit Katan but I have not ever seen it done. If it is meaningful to you, than by all means you should give it a try. As for the men vs. women at the end of each Mitzvah, This is a reflection of the Rabbinic law that states women are excused from most Mitzvot that are positive and time bound. That is all positive commandments that must be performed at a set time. (There are exceptions, however, like candle lighting) “Excused” does not mean “prohibited”, so if you wish, the Mitzvah is open to you and to other women.
Finally, an item sent to me by R.diCapua that I will share with you without comment because, honestly, it is interesting but not relevant to the Mitzvot. I should note that the dye from the Murex snail is traditionally the source of the blue that was used in making Tzitzit in ancient times. There is a movement today to bring the dye back into use and you can see Tzitzit today with a blue thread (I myself wear them on weekdays)
A recent article by two Belgian scientists has revealed a fascinating “coincidence.” J. Wouters and A. Verhecken studied the characteristics of the different dye molecules obtained from the Murex trunculus snail. One of the measurements was the absorption spectrum of the molecule. Light is made up of many colors (the spectrum) measured in units of nanometers (nm). Our eyes perceive color in a complex fashion based on the various combinations of colors of light that strike it. For example, gold absorbs blue light and reflects the rest. When our eye sees all the colors of the spectrum with blue taken out, it perceives the color as gold. Ultimately, however, the color we see is determined entirely by what colors something absorbs and what is reflected. The tekhelet molecule (indigotin) gets its color from a strong absorption peak centered at 613 nanometers!
Next week: Mitzvah 12: Affixing a Mezuzah on the Door