Shema – A Central Tenet

Six words found in Deuteronomy (6:4) ¬ shema yisrael, adonai elohaynu adonai ehad (Hear O Israel! The LORD our God, the LORD is one!) have become the central credo of Judaism. The Shema is the first prayer a child commits to memory, and believing Jews hope it will be the last words they utter before death. Jews recite the Shema in both the morning and evening prayers. The words are found in the mezuzot affixed to doorways throughout Jewish homes, and also placed inside the phylacteries (tefillin) worn during the morning prayer service.

The Shema articulates the fundamental principle of monotheism that differentiates Judaism from the pagan world. Shema Yisrael summons Israel to pay close attention to what follows. Attentiveness in this context requires more than listening; it requires one to comprehend the message. The word Shema is similar to the biblical expression naaseh ve’nishma (Exodus 24:7), we shall do and we shall understand. Shema is far more than a ritualistic invocation, but a commandment that requires action.

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