The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit
Yeshivat Har Etzion
37#: Siman 61
Rav Asher Meir
SIMAN 61: TO BE METICULOUS
IN THE RECITING OF SHEMA
61:1 - WHAT DOES KRI'AT
Kri'at Shema (KS) - in particular the first verse - is the "motto" of the
Jewish people. The Torah requires us to proclaim God's unity through KS in the
morning and evening every day of our lives. In addition, it is the last thing we say
each day before we go to sleep, and the last thing we say in this world before
our souls return to the World of Truth.
Yet, the exact meaning of this verse is not perfectly clear. For instance, two possible emphases are
possible in the phrase "Hashem Elokeinu."
We could translate it: "Hashem is OUR God" - Hashem, Whose name is the
sacred four-letter appellation, is specifically the God of Israel. This is similar to the approach of
Rashi, who explains that the verse emphasizes that (at this stage of history)
Hashem is specifically the God of Israel.
Or perhaps we should render: "HASHEM is God," since "Elokeinu" could be
translated "God" and not "Our God."
Specifically Hashem, the God of Israel Who identified Himself with this
name to the Patriarchs and the Prophets, is God.
The message of these two translations is similar: other nations also
believe in a Supreme Being, but they may reject the idea that He could have a
name or that He could designate a specific people as His.
The next phrase is clear - "Hashem is one" - there is only one God. Other nations may indeed recognize
Hashem, and they may even view Him as supreme - "the God of gods" - but not as
unique (see Menachot 110a).
We affirm that God has a particular connection to us - He communicates to
us with a specific "identity" or name which is revealed especially to us, and He
is our God - and that there are no other gods.
One could conceivably render: "Hashem - i.e., God - Hashem is One" - a
poetic way of saying "Hashem God is One."
Here there is only one message - the verse does not identify Hashem but
merely affirms His unity. According
to this translation there is no special reference to Hashem being the God of
Israel - neither by emphasizing that specifically Hashem is the name of God, nor
by translating "Elokeinu" as specifically our God. It is not surprising that non-Jews prefer
this rendering. The King James
version translates tendentiously "The Lord God is one Lord."
Jewish translations, however, take the first approach. The Rema (se'if 14) specifically
instructs us to say KS in a way which emphasizes that there are two
messages. In the following section,
we will see that the Rashba construes both of the above understandings of
INTENTIONS) DURING KS
A great deal has been written about what a Jew's more profound thoughts
should be during KS. Here we will
partially translate and partially summarize a particular profound and beautiful
discussion from the responsa of Rashba V:55.
"You have asked me to
explain the meaning of KS. I have
already said that we do not occupy ourselves with esoterica. In fact, every thinking person should
know that it [KS] is a unique passage, containing the ideas of unity and
faith. In fact, it alludes to great
secrets and principles, which are the foundations of the entire building which
is the house of Israel.
[The Rashba means that the
passage of KS is filled with esoteric secrets, but since we do not occupy
ourselves with mysticism, we can not fully fathom its
However, we are permitted to contemplate the simple meaning of the
matter, for the entire Torah is thus;
it both alludes and
explicates. I will tell you
certain ideas which occurred
to me regarding the plain
meaning of the subject, which we should reflect on when we recite [KS].
Namely, all of us, as we
read this passage, should not intend only to read, as one who reads portions of
the Torah in order to fulfill the duty of mere recitation. Rather, we should direct our thoughts to
the realization, that He - may He be exalted - is one, and that He is our
God. We are compelled to surrender
our desires, and all of our
strength, to His blessed Name. We
should agree to this decisively and conclusively, and not just move our
May Hashem save us from
those of whom it is written "With his mouth and his lips he honors Me, but his
heart is far from Me."
We should accept this upon
ourselves - not through concern and worry, as a person who decides to act out of
fear of one who rules over him, whose commands can not be evaded by escaping
from his dominance, but rather as a loving friend and devotee, who is devoted to
carrying out the desires of his beloved master. Our love should be directed to Him; the
delight of our soul should be in Him, and we should glory in whatever comes our
way through the pursuit of His commandments."
The Rashba then goes on to explain the verses as
"Shema Yisrael" commands us
not only to listen, but also to make an independent examination of the
foundations of belief so that we will come to believe in God through our own
conclusions, and not merely through habit and instruction.
"Hashem Elokeinu": First,
that God is "elohim" - supervisor, ruler, and judge, as opposed to the view of
the self-styled philosophers who suppose that there is no earthly Divine
providence. Second, that He is
specifically our God, and designated us as His special portion among
"Hashem Echad": that there is no god besides Him.
And only after we understand and affirm all this, will we be truly able
to love Him with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our might, as
the first paragraph commands.
"With all your heart" - the sages learn "with both hearts," meaning "even
with your yetzer ha-ra." This is
the attribute of Avraham Avinu, who performed God's will even when it went
against his "better" nature, his yetzer ha-tov, as in the case of the Akeida,
which went against his basic trait of lovingkindness.
"With all your souls" - the sages learn "even if you have to give up your
soul." This is the attribute of
Yitzchak, who was willing to sacrifice his life at the
"With all you might" - the sages learn "with all your possessions." This is the attribute of Yaakov, who
shunned earthly possessions, promising to give tithes to God at Beit El and,
according to the Midrash, giving away all of his possessions in order to secure
his place in Ma'arat Ha-Makhpela.
"And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart" -
the acceptance of God's yoke, with our heart, soul, and possessions, should be
engraved in our hearts, that is, we must do them whole-heartedly, without any
Repeating the message of KS to our children and speaking of it at all
times demonstrates that it is beloved to us, and not accepted merely as a
burden. And putting these words
between on our hearts and between our eyes (tefillin) and on our gates (mezuza)
has two purposes: to be a constant reminder to us, and also to demonstrate to
others that we are proud to accept God's yoke. [It is not enough that we accept God's
service wholeheartedly - we must also demonstrate to the world that we do so, by
teaching and discussing God's word and by displaying it prominently on our
selves and on our houses.]
61:3 - COMPLETING 248
"Rav Nehorai said in the name of Rav Nechemia: KS has 248 words,
corresponding to the 248 organs of man. When one says KS properly, every single
organ takes one word and is healed thereby, as it is written 'They (the words of
Torah) will be healing for your navel, and fat on your bones' (Mishlei 3:8) ...
But are there not only 245 words in KS?! ... How was this corrected? It was established that the shaliach
tzibbur should repeat three words, 'Hashem Elokeikhem Emet,' in order to reach
248 words for the congregation. ... But someone who says KS without the
congregation has not consummated his organs, since he lacks the three words
repeated by the shaliach tzibbur!
His alternative is to direct his thoughts properly to the fifteen
appearances of the letter vav in 'Emet ve-yatziv.' Even so, Abba used to say that this is a
case of 'The crooked which can not be made straight, and the deficiency which
can not be made up' (Mishlei 1:15).
The missing three words are a deficiency which can not be made up."
(Midrash Ne'elam, Zohar Chadash Ruth 95a, as cited in MB s.k.
This passage is the source of the custom, mentioned in se'if 3, for the
Shatz to repeat aloud the three words "Hashem Elokeikhem Emet." This in effect appends three words to
the tally for the members of the congregation, bringing them up to
What about the Shatz himself?
If he follows the usual practice of an individual, and appends the word
"emet" to the end of KS, then his own tally of words will be off. Omitting "emet" also seems
improper. We will see in 66:5 that
one should not interrupt between the end of KS and the "emet" of the first
blessing following KS. See the MB
(s.k. 8) who quotes two customs; one is "customary," the other is preferred by
the Gra. Today the first custom is
the most common, and the second one is followed (in my experience) by those
congregations who follow the customs of the Gra.
E-L MELEKH NE'EMAN
The Rema mentions the custom that one who prays without a congregation
precedes KS with the words "E-l Melekh Ne'eman." The Rema quotes this custom as a
solution to the problem posed in the Zohar: how can a solitary individual make
up the "missing" three words? Yet
the Zohar itself claims that there is no adequate solution to the problem. The Bach writes that the custom of
saying "E-l Melekh Ne'eman" - an ancient custom which predates the revelation of
the Zohar (it is mentioned in Rashi, as quoted by the Bet Yosef) - was actually
abolished according to the passage in the Zohar!
The MB explains that a person who says KS "yechidi" - usually meaning
without a minyan - should add these three words to his KS to complete the sum of
248 words, whereas in a minyan, the Shatz bridges the gap by saying the three
words "Hashem Elokeikhem Emet."
According to this reason, even someone who is with a minyan should say
EMN if he did not hear the leader add the appropriate words. Even someone without a minyan should not
have to add them if he heard the recitation of the leader when there was a
In practice, the Shatz's repetition of "Hashem Elokeikhem Emet" seems to
complete one's KS only if it is heard while the individual is saying KS. If a person was saying KS together with
a minyan, but heard the three words from the Shatz before he started KS, he
should say EMN since the Shatz's words cannot complete the individual's KS if it
was not recited concurrently (Mishneh Halakhot 4:11).
61:5 - COVERING THE
"Rav said to Rav Chiya: I didn't see that Rabbi [Rav Yehuda Ha-Nasi]
accepted upon himself the Yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven!? He replied: Foolish one, when he passes
his hands over his eyes, that is when he accepts on himself ol malkhut shamayim." (Berakhot
According to Rashi, Rabbi used to do this when he read KS in the middle
of teaching shiur so that he would recite KS on time. Covering his eyes helped him to avoid
distractions (see the Rosh).
Certainly the ability of Rabbenu Ha-kadosh to avoid distraction, even
during shiur, is greater than ours when we say KS. It is appropriate to learn from his
custom that we should cover our eyes whenever we say KS. See MB s.k. 17 for the accepted way of
61:9 - DEAD
We learned in last week's shiur even though mitzvot in general require
one's intention to fulfill the Torah's commandments, there are only two mitzvot
that require an intrinsic intention such that the act is performed with a
specific consciousness. These are
prayer and KS. Even in these two
obligations, the principal requirement, to be conscious of the words and their
meaning, is only at the beginning of the act: during the first blessing of Amida
and during the first verse of KS (SA 60:5, 101:1; MB 60:7). Only in these two instances can a person
perform an act with the intention of fulfilling a commandment and yet, since he
was distracted, be obligated to start over again.
It is a bit ironic that these are exactly the two instances in which the
Halakha tells us that we may NOT in general start over again, even if we
performed the mitzva in a way in which our obligation was not fulfilled!
Regarding Amida, the SA writes: "If one did not say 'Avot' with intention
... he must start over and pray again."
The Rema comments: "Nowadays we do not start over, since even if he
starts over he will almost certainly fail to have the intention" (OC
In our siman we learn: "It is forbidden to say 'Shema' twice, whether we
merely repeat the word 'shema' or whether we repeat the entire first verse" (OC
61:9). "Shema" is our principal
declaration of God's unity; its recitation must also be
It seems that a person who inadvertently begins his KS or his Amida
inattentively (hardly an unusual situation) finds himself in a one-way dead
end! Exactly in these instances his
negligence is fatal to his mitzva, and exactly in these two situations his false
start is irreparable!
Actually, the situation is not so grave. The MB gives us two different solutions
for Amida: one can fulfill one's obligation through the shaliach tzibbur (BH at
the beginning of 101).
Alternatively, if there was a particular distraction which is now gone,
even the Rema admits we can start over (Sha'ar Ha-Tziun 97:2). The distraction discussed is a material
one, but there is no reason that a psychological distraction should be any
different, assuming that it has been removed. There are likewise two solutions for KS
- see MB s.k. 22
in our siman.
61:13 - BARUKH SHEM KEVOD
"How did they 'squash' the
Shema [in Jericho, and even so the Sages did not see fit to protest]? They recited 'Shema Yisrael' and did not
pause [before 've-ahavta'] - so says R. Meir. R. Yehuda says: They paused, but
they did not say 'Barukh shem kevod
malkhuto le-olam va'ed.'
And why is it that we do say
it? According to what R. Shimon Ben
Lakish used to interpret: 'And Yaakov called to his sons and said, Gather about
and I will tell you' - Yaakov sought to reveal to his sons the end of days, but
the Holy Spirit deserted him. He
said to himself, Perhaps it is because there is a blemish in my lineage, just as
Avraham begat Yishmael and my father, Yitzchak, begat Esav? His sons said to him: Hear, Israel -
Hashem is our God, Hashem is One!
Just as there is only One in your heart, so there is only One in our
hearts. Then Yaakov Avinu
proclaimed: 'Blessed be His glorious Name for ever and
The sages asked, How should
we conduct ourselves? Shall we also
say so? Moshe Rabeinu did not say
it! [Therefore it would be improper
to interrupt KS - which is a passage in the Torah - to say it.] Shall we omit it? Yaakov said it! They established that it should be said
quietly [literally "secretly"].
R. Yitzchak said in the name
of the students of R. Ami: This can be likened to a princess who smelled some
leftovers [and had a craving for them].
For her to request them would be unseemly, but if she won't request them
she will suffer, so her servants started bringing them to her in secret." (Pesachim 56a, partially cited in MB
See how the BH (s.v. Achar) uses this passage to resolve the dispute
whether one's KS is valid if "Barukh Shem" is omitted. (Compare this with the ruling in MB
The allegory suggests even though our formal status and obligations as
Jews began only with the giving of the Torah, we still have an inner urge to
base our conduct on that of the Patriarchs. They founded our lineage and, most
importantly, our special relationship and covenant with God. (Compare the explanation in Rav Kook's
"Olat Reiya" siddur.) Their worship
of God was based on their understanding according to their inner holiness, and
not according to defined commandments.