Hear - Why does G-d command us specifically to hear, as opposed to reading silently? We learn out from here (I think) that the obligation is to recite the Shema, and not just to think about it. Something about the verbalization takes the text out of the realm of abstract concept and makes it real, today, just as it was when the Torah was first given. Note also that the Torah was given verbally; G-d did not simply hand us a scroll with commandments written on it and say, "Okay, go study this."
But why tell us this in the context of a verse mentioning G-d's Oneness? Perhaps the intent is to warn us that denial of the Oral Law, which is learned verbally from a rabbi, will ultimately lead, G-d forbid, to idolatry, as in fact happened with Christianity.
The Talmud (Tractate Megillah) learns out from the word "Hear" that the Shema need not be recited in Hebrew, but may be recited in the individual's native language ("any language one hears"). It is preferable, however, to recite it in Hebrew, because (1) one thereby discharges his obligation even if he does not speak Hebrew, because the soul understands on a subconscious level; and (2) many subtleties, such as concepts derived from extra or missing letters, are lost in translation.
Rabbi Ginsberg says that "Shema" - shin mem ayin - stands for "se'u marom eineikhem", "lift up your eyes" and see that everything, whether it appears good or bad from our vantage point, comes from G-d and is to be accepted as such. Rabbi Wilson says that, backwards, the letters stand for "ol malkhus shamayim", the yoke of the kingdom of heaven. I infer, from the fact that the acronym is backwards, that we must be faithful to G-d's commandments even when things appear backwards and things are going poorly for the Jewish people.
Each Hebrew letter has a numerical value associated with it; aleph is 1, beis is 2, etc. up through yud (10), kaph (20), etc. up through qoph (100), resh (200), shin (300), and tav (400). The word "shema" has numerical value 410. Other words with the same numerical value are "mishkan" ("dwelling place"), indicating that we should make ourselves a dwelling place for G-d's presence; "dror" ("freedom"), since without submission to G-d's Torah, we would be slaves to our passions; "kadosh" ("holy"), since G-d set us apart from the nations to be His people; and "yeshimon" ("wilderness" [spelled in the Torah with a missing vav: yud shin yud mem nun]), because G-d led us through the wilderness of Sinai and provided for our every need in a hostile environment.
Israel - The name Israel was given to Jacob after he wrestled with an angel (Genesis 32:24-29), whom the Midrash identifies as Satan, the ministering angel of the children of Esau. The name, as mentioned in the Biblical passage, alludes to Jacob's triumph over the Divine. Like Jacob, we can triumph in our own personal battles with the devil within us. Judaism teaches that life in this world is about striving to improve ourselves and become better people. Negative habits and compulsions, however strong, can be beaten.
There is an interesting relationship among numerical values here. The name Jacob has numerical value 182; Satan, 359; and Israel, 541. Note that 541 is exactly 182 plus 359. Thus we, the Jewish people, attain our most exalted status, symbolized by the name Israel, when we not only suppress our base inclinations, but actually make use of them in the service of G-d, for instance by eating better food on the Sabbath and holidays.
A famous passage of Gemara in Tractate Shabbos states that the letters of the word "emes" ("truth") all stand, because they are supported on two sides, whereas the letters of the word "sheker" ("falsehood") all fall, because they are only supported at one point. Look at the name Israel - yud sin resh aleph lamed. Each and every one of these letters, except the aleph, is supported at only one point and will fall. The aleph has numerical value 1; and structurally it can be visualized as a vav on a slant with a yud on each side, having a total numerical value of 26, the same as Hashem (yud and hey and vav and hey). Thus, Israel stands on the notion of one G-d.
Note also that 541, the numerical value of "Israel", is a prime number. (A prime number is a number which cannot be divided evenly by anything except itself and 1.) This teaches us that the Jewish people are indivisible, and healthy ideological debate must not be allowed to give way to hatred and mudslinging. The digits of 541 also add up to 10, the number of completion. Other numbers which are prime numbers whose digits add up to 10 include 613 (the number of commandments), 433 ("mishpakhah", "family"), and 1153 ("Torah umitzvos", "teaching and commandments"). 541 is the twelfth such number, alluding to the twelve tribes.
The attribute of G-d associated with Jacob is that of truth. 182, the numerical value of Jacob, factors as 7 times 26. The number 7 is associated with nature and G-d in His role as the prime mover behind the forces of nature; 26 is, as noted, the numerical value of Hashem, the name of G-d associated with kindness. Jacob realized that even when things appear to be happening in a natural, "random" way, the observed natural pattern is really Hashem guiding the world from behind a veil; and everything that happens to us is the kindest thing G-d could have done for us, even if we ourselves cannot comprehend it.
Rabbi Avraham Carmel, of the Bostoner Hassidic kollel in Jerusalem, once told me that the name Israel could be read midrashically as "yashar (straight) e-l (a name of G-d)". This, he said, alludes to the fact that G-d bestows His providence upon us directly, without the mediation of a ministering angel.
"Hashem is our G-d" - As noted, the name Hashem connotes the attribute of kindness; "elokeinu" (our G-d) comes from "elokim", the name associated with strict justice. This cannot mean merely that G-d judges us with kindness, because G-d judges all humanity with kindness. Rather, since Divine providence is more direct with the Jewish people, it is easier for us than for the Gentiles to examine good and bad events over the course of history and glean the appropriate lessons. It is worth noting that Germany was the place where, in the late 1800's, Jewish leaders first said, "Berlin is our Jerusalem", and began to encourage compromise on matters of Jewish law for the sake of fitting in with non-Jewish society. The Nazis were also the first persecutors to kill Jews indiscriminately, without regard for religious affiliation; other persecutors, such as the Crusaders, would have happily spared any Jew who renounced his faith. (A complete discussion of the Holocaust and all its possible causes is beyond the scope of this work, and I freely grant that there were many pious Jews, as well as children too young to be responsible for their actions, among those murdered by the Nazis.) The terrible drought that we in Israel suffered during the 1990's occurred during a time of ideological mudslinging between advocates of "land for peace" and those who distrusted the Palestinians; the abundant rainfall we have been experiencing recently (I write this in 2005/5765) comes at a time when the peace process has been largely discredited and there is consequently much less to fight over.
The numerical value of the entire verse, "Hear, O Israel: Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one", is 1,118. As I mentioned above, the Torah commands us to recite the verse twice daily; thus doubling the numerical value yields 2,236. This factors as 26 times 86. 26 is the numerical value of "Hashem", denoting the attribute of kindness; 86 is "Elokim", denoting strict justice. What is the connection to the verse? We proclaim that there is only one G-d. How might someone think otherwise? A person who sees good and bad in the world might conclude that there is a good G-d doing kindness and a bad G-d doing justice. We proclaim, rather, that kindness and justice are flipsides of the same coin. At one extreme, when a formerly wicked person turns over a new leaf and begins doing good deeds, his sins are washed away, and he merits the World to Come. This appears to be complete kindness, without a trace of judgement; however, once he is no longer identified with the old sins, even justice would allow him entry into the World to Come. Conversely, if someone, G-d forbid, does not merit the World to Come, you might think that is pure justice, without a trace of kindness. But if someone is that self-centered, and hardens his heart against any notions of changing himself, then the World to Come - where G-d's will is done, and truth reigns supreme - would be nothing short of eternal hell for the person. The kindest thing G-d could do for him would be to leave him in the ground.
In Torah scrolls, the letter ayin from "Shema" ("Hear") and the letter dalet from "echad" ("one") are enlarged. Together they spell the word "eid" ("witness"). The ArtScroll prayer book cites Rokeach, Kol Bo, and Abudraham that the enlarged letters allude to the fact that we, by reciting the Shema, bear witness to Hashem's unity and proclaim it to the world. In like manner, my friend Kalman Gordon from kollel heard (I forget where) that the dalet, which has numerical value 4, corresponds to G-d's kingship over the four directions. Ba'al HaTurim states that the ayin, which has numerical value 70, corresponds to the 70 Gentile ethnic groups, to whom we bear witness of G-d's unity, as well as the 70 interpretations of each point made in the Torah. Rabbi Shlomo Ashkenasy (also of the Bostoner kollel in Jerusalem) says that the letter khes in "ekhad" (having numerical value 8) refers to G-d's mastery over the seven heavens and one earth.
My friend Hanan Solomon from kollel pointed out to me that if you omit the enlarged ayin from "shema" and the enlarged dalet from "ekhad", the remaining letters spell out "esmakh" ("I will rejoice"). That the letters are out of order - as opposed to forwards or even backwards - indicates to me that we should rejoice in whatever G-d does, regardless of our ability to understand it as either a blessing or a curse.
The ArtScroll cites Rashi and Aruch HaShulchan 61:4 that, at present, Hashem is only "our G-d", but ultimately all the world will proclaim, "Hashem is one!" The ArtScroll also notes that the name Hashem also refers to G-d as the master of all, who always was, now is, and always will be. Rabbi Carmel says that G-d created the heavens with the letter yud and the earth with the letter hey; the vav connects the two; and the final hey represents G-d's Presence on Earth, with an opening at the bottom for the wicked to fall through, and another opening at the top left for penitents to climb back in.
The word for "I" here is "anochi", as opposed to the somewhat more common "ani". The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos) says that the word is an Aramaic acronym; according to one opinion, it stands for "ana nafshi kasvis yahavis" ("I myself have written and given"), while another opinion says it stands for "amirah ne'imah k'sivnah yehivnah" ("A sweet saying I have written and given"). This ties in with the above paragraph: we should serve G-d with our good inclination, because G-d has spoken, and also with our base motives, because the Torah is pleasant.
The verse says "today"; the ArtScroll cites Sifre that we are to regard the commandments with as much freshness and enthusiasm as if they were being given today. I notice that the word "you" (the "kha" at the end of the word "m'tzav'kha") is in the singular tense, addressing each of us individually; if there were only one Jew on Planet Earth, the Torah would have been given just for him/her.
As I understand it, the prohibition is taught here, in the context of the command to teach our children Torah, because it is sometimes helpful to discuss extraneous subject matter to grab and hold a child's attention; we are thus cautioned against going overboard and discussing extraneous matters purely for their own sake.
The word "bam", here translated "of them", is spelled beis mem. My friend Hanan Solomon pointed out to me that the letter beis is the first letter in the Written Torah ("Bereishis", "In the beginning"), and mem is the first letter in the Talmud, the Oral Torah ("Me'eimasai", "From when may we recite the evening Shema?").
The words "when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way" are actually literally translated "in your sitting in your house, and in your walking on the way". The Talmud (Tractate Sukkos) thus learns that the commandments are incumbent upon us when what we are doing is for our own sake; but if we are already engaged in a good deed, we are exempt from beginning another good deed. Thus, if two people are available to visit a sick person in the hospital, and one of the people would otherwise be learning Torah during that time, whereas the other would not, the other one should visit the sick person.
The Talmud (Tractate Berakhos) learns out from "and when you lie down, and when you rise up" the obligation to recite the Shema in the morning (the first quarter of the day) and at night (after three stars come out), because that is when most people wake up and go to sleep. Note that the qualifier in the above paragraph does not exist here; I suspect that this is to teach us that obligations which cannot be done by others, such as one's own recitation of Shema, must be performed even if it means interrupting the performance of other commandments. Thus we find in the Passover Hagaddah that a certain gathering of Sages in B'nei Barak were discussing the Exodus from Egypt (which, being Torah, is certainly meritorious to discuss) all night, yet interrupted their discussion at dawn so they could recite the Shema. Likewise, if the only person who can visit a sick person, raise money for a particular charity, etc. is someone who would otherwise be studying Torah, he should interrupt his study to do the mitzvah.
Customs vary on how to wind the strap of the arm-tefillin, but all agree that it should be wound seven times around the lower arm, and another three times (to form the letter shin) on the hand (Lubavitch Hassidim form the shin on the upper arm). Seven is, as noted, the number corresponding to G-d as He operates through the forces of nature. The shin corresponds to Shakai, the name of G-d associated with divine providence and G-d's moment-by-moment involvement in world events (as opposed to the Deist heresy, which holds that G-d set the world in motion at Creation and has let it go by itself ever since). Thus there are a total of ten windings, ten being the number of completion. Our purpose as G-d's chosen people is to show the world that what seem to be random natural occurrences are really Divine providence, concealed to allow for free will.
I forget where, but I read once that the repetition "shamoa tishme'u" (literally, "hearing you will hear") means that if we diligently review the Torah we have already learned, G-d will give us the ability to learn more. I learn out from the apparently extra word "v'hayah" ("and it will be") - which has the same letters as "Hashem", denoting the attribute of kindness - that someone who is presently ignorant of certain laws, but keeps such laws as he/she is aware of and strives to learn more, will be judged favorably for his/her unintentional transgressions. Note that "your heart" here is "l'vav'chem", which comes from "l'vav". Applying Rashi's commentary from Deuteronomy 6:5 above, this is a reference to service of G-d with both good and evil inclinations. Grammatically, however, the word is singular ("your heart", as opposed to "your hearts"); I thus learn that the blessing promised in this paragraph is conditioned on a certain degree of unity among the Jewish people.
The verse mentions service of G-d "with all your heart and with all your soul", but omits the phrase "with all your resources" (which indeed appears in Deuteronomy 6:5). This is because, while some individuals may love their money more than their lives, this trait is sufficiently rare to warrant omission from a verse addressed in the plural form to the entire Jewish nation.
The verse singles out grain, wine, and oil for mention, though plentiful and timely rain would seem to benefit all crops. I believe that this is intended to teach that grain, wine, and oil are especially desirable, and perhaps this is why the Sages enacted that we eat bread on the Sabbath, sanctify the day over a cup of wine (or grape juice), and kindle lights (for which olive oil is preferable but not essential). The order, however, appears reversed: first we kindle the lights, then we sanctify the day, then we eat bread. Rabbi Carmel explained to me that the order specified is that in which the crops are harvested: first the grain ripens, then the grapes, and finally the olives.
Why does the verse have to mention that we will be full? If G-d is blessing our food supply, isn't it obvious that we will be full? Rather, it is human nature to be avaricious. Someone who has a million dollars wants two billion; someone who has ten million dollars wants a hundred million; and thus even the fabulously wealthy are not truly happy with what they have. G-d herre promises us freedom from the money chase: He will give us the peace of mind to recognize that whatever He gives us is the greatest kindness He could possibly bestow. Free of anxiety, we will be better able to study and to do good deeds.
The word translated "worship" is "v'hishtakhavisem", which has the connotation of prostrating oneself in submission. I suspect the verse is a warning to people doing outreach to non-observant Jews. Having the best of intentions, they might think to compromise on matters of Jewish law in an effort to make Judaism appear less imposing. This person does not, G-d forbid, actually worship idols, and may be strictly observant in normal daily life. But his/her hypocrisy will ultimately become known, with the result that Judaism will become ridiculous in the eyes of the people he/she is trying to reach out to.
The Torah emphasizes the fact that the land is "good" at a time when it is not yielding its crops. In what sense, then, is it good? The sense must rather be spiritual. Even when we are so wicked that we are on the brink of being dispersed, the Land of Israel is, by its nature, a place which is conducive to keeping Torah. The Talmud (Kesubos 110b) says it is better to live in a city in Israel with a Gentile majority than a city elsewhere with a Jewish majority. Ramban goes so far as to say that Torah observance outside the Land of Israel is merely practice for when the Messiah comes and gathers us in, at which point we can perform the commandments for real.
Recall that in verse 14, the Torah referred simply to "your land". Only now, when the Torah mentions exile, does it call the land "good". Too often, we fail to appreciate what we have until it is taken away from us.
The Torah repeats the commandment of tefillin in this verse, this time in the plural voice. I suspect, but cannot prove, that this is why tefillin are worn during communal prayers in the morning. Symbolically, the Jewish nation as a whole must ensure that proper codes of conduct are inculcated in society. In a community where people are left to do whatever "feels right", all too often the result is anarchy, and even murder can be justified.
The words "when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise" are ripped verbatim from Deuteronomy 6:7 (see above). There, we saw that someone who is engaged in the performance of a mitzvah is exempt from beginning another mitzvah, unless the second mitzvah cannot be done by anyone else. Why is this concept repeated here?
I believe the answer lies in the switch of context. Deuteronomy 6:7 refers to teaching one's own children, whereas 11:19, if I'm right, speaks of a broader public education system. If we only had 6:7, we might have thought that only with regard to teaching one's own children did the Torah give a leniency to someone already engaged in a mitzvah, because they live in your house and you can teach them another time; whereas other children, whose parents may be unlearned, are not always with us, so we might think (wrongly) that even someone involved in a mitzvah should drop what he is doing for the sake of public education. Likewise, if we only had 11:19, we might think that only with regard to educating others' children was the Torah lenient, but regarding our own children, whom G-d entrusted to our personal care, we might thing (wrongly) that we should interrupt even a mitzvah to teach them. Thus we need both verses.
Why, however, should we put aside so vital a mitzvah as educating one's children while we do random acts of kindness? Because children do not learn merely from instruction, but also from example. If they see us doing good deeds - and enjoying it - they will want to do likewise. (Care must be taken, however, not to devote so much time to other mitzvos, important as they are, that we have insufficient time left in the day to show our children we love them.)
In 6:9, the word "mezuzot" is missing a vav (between the two zayins), whereas here in 11:20, the word is intact; otherwise, the two verses are identical, right down to the cantillation marks that tell you how to sing the verse for the public Torah reading. I don't have a clue what is being taught thereby; any suggestions are of course welcome.
This paragraph, dealing with tzitzit, is appended to the daily recitation of Shema because it closes with a mention of the Exodus from Egypt, which the Torah requires us to recall day and night.
My wife notes that the phrase "throughout their generations" is said regarding the tzitzit, but not regarding the techeilet thread. I believe it is from here that we learn that the commandment of tzitzit applies even when the techeilet dye is unavailable.
There is, however, a fly in Rashi's ointment: in this passage, the word "tzitzit" is missing its second yodh all three times it appears (though the yodh is intact elsewhere). It thus has numerical value 590, and adding 5 for the knots and 8 for the strings gives us only 603. Why?
There are several reasons. For starters, 603 is also the numerical value of "Moses, our teacher" ("Moshe Rabeinu" in Hebrew, mem shin hey, reish beit nun vav).
Moreover, the word "tzitzit" appears three times in this passage (the only three times in the entire Five Books of Moses). Adding three to 603 yields 606, the number of commandments we have that non-Jews do not have. (Non-Jews are only obligated to obey the seven laws of the children of Noah.
590, the numerical value of "tzitzit" as written here, is also the numerical value of "sheretz", reptile, often used in the Talmud as a case example of ritual defilement. Wearing tzitzit helps keep a person from becoming spiritually defiled like a dead reptile. It is also the numerical value of "edut pikha", "the witness of Your mouth" (ayin dalet vav tav, peh yodh kaf), and "ed'ah eidotekha", "let me know Your testimonies" (alef dalet ayin hey, ayin dalet vav tav yodh kaf sofit).
Rabbi Rosmarin of Yeshivat Ohr Somayach notes that the word translated "for a fringe" is "l'tzitzit", with a lamed prefix stuck in front of the word "tzitzit". This compound word has numerical value 620. This is (1) the number of letters in the first occurrence of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20); (2) the 613 Torah laws plus the 7 positive rabbinic enactments (washing the hands upon arising in the morning, wasning the hands before eating a bread meal, Chanukah, Purim, lighting candles just before sunset on Friday afternoons and before holidays, wearing a four-cornered garment with tzitzit, and one other which escapes me at the moment); (3) the numerical value of "keter", "crown" (kaf tav reish) (this ties in with another midrash in Tractate Shabbat, that the letters on the Tablets of the Ten Commandments were bored all the way through and could be read from the back; and another midrash that we were given two crowns, one for saying, "We will do" and the other for saying, "We will hear", since by saying, "We will do" first, we committed ourselves to keep the Torah even before we knew what was in it); (4) the numerical value of "karet", "spiritual excision" (kaf reish tav), since a sin which is grave enough to incur this penalty, such as adultery, is tantamount to denying the 620 letters of the Ten Commandments; (5)the numerical value of "esrim", "twenty" (ayin sin reish yodh mem sofit), the age at which a person is held liable in Heaven for his/her transgressions (this is learned out from the episode of the spies [Numbers 14], wherein the only people punished with premature death were those over age 20; interestingly, the word "khayav", "liable" [khet yodh veit], has numerical value 20); and the numerical value of "khokhmah, binah, v'da'at", "wisdom, insight, and knowledge" (khet khaf mem hey, beit yodh nun hey, vav dalet ayin tav).
(As an aside, the word "Torah" has numerical value 611, not 613 as we might expect. Rabbi Avraham Carmel of the Bostoner Chasidic kollel in Har Nof, Jerusalem, says this is because of the midrash (legend), in Tractate Shabbat of the Talmud, that we heard the first two of the Ten Commandments directly from G-d. We were overawed by the magnitude of the revelation, and we begged Moses to intercede for us; it was he who taught us the other 611 laws, making up the total of 613. 611 is also the numerical value of "gemilut hasadim", "acts of kindness" [gimel mem yodh lamed vav tav, khet samekh dalet yodh mem sofit], because even a non-Jew can tell you G-d wants us to be kind to one another, but the Torah tells us how to do so.)
We are warned in this verse that our hearts and eyes can lead us astray. Doing what "feels right" has led people to contradictory opinions on such controversial issues as abortion and homosexuality; clearly either one camp or the other have been deceived by their hearts and eyes. Only withprayerful study of the Torah, as interpreted by our Sages, can we hope to resolve the ethical quandaries that life gives us.
The word translated "you" here is "etkhem", alef tav khaf mem sofit, which has numerical value 461, and "the land of Egypt", "eretz mitzraim" (alef reish tsade, mem tsade reish yodh mem sofit), has numerical value 671. Thus, taking "you" out of "the land of Egypt" yields 671-461, or 210, the number of years we were in Egypt.
671 is also the numerical value of "Yisrael amekha", "Israel Your people" (yodh sin reish alef lamed, ayin mem khaf sofit), because we became G-d's people when He took us out of Egypt. And if you take the name alef dalet nun yodh and write out the alef as alef lamed fe sofit, the dalet as dalet lamed tav, the nun as nun vav nun, and the yodh as yodh vav dalet, this also has numerical value 671, because G-d proved Himself to the world through the miracles He performed in Egypt.
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