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Shema: Personal, United, and Special

In Parshas Va’eschanan we get the biggest hits. It’s like the Q night but Torah trivia for klal yisroel. Who was it that Moshe prayed for? What is it we have to not just remember but also guard? The list goes on. I’d like to dial into the mantra of the Jewish people – shema.

Shema Yisroel, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad.

There are a few parts to this pasuk that I really want to dive into and explore, so let’s get started.

I recently took my final bechina for issur v’heter. In the bechina, I had to break down all the sources and opinions in order to form the halacha. I think I only trief’d a few people, but the idea of bringing the opinions to form a position is a good method to use here too.

Rashi – “HaShem, who is presently our G-d and not the G-d of the other nations, will one day be HaShem, the only One, accepted by all, as it states, on that day HaShem will be One and His Name will be One.”

Ramban argues on Rashi. There’s an anomaly he sees that just doesn’t sit right. Why does Scripture change its usual language? Here, it is HaShem “our” G-d. Not, “your G-d,” as it says everywhere else. 

Today you cross the jordan…you know today that HaShem, your G-d…

Hear, O Israel, you are coming near to battle…for HaShem, your G-d…

Even Moshe addressing bnei yisroel, continually, “HaShem, your G-d…

It sounds like a convincing argument the Ramban brings. 

So what’s the nafka mina between “your” and “our?” One thing I see here is that there’s a collective ownership, a responsibility, versus assignment of duties or status. It’s something we claimed.

The Bobover Ruv teaches on this parsha, connecting it to the zemirah Yom Shabbosan. There’s a stanza that he brilliantly pulls out. 

Then they all joined together in a covenant –
‘We will do and we will listen,’
they said as one.
Then they opened their mouths and called out
‘HaShem is One!’

How does Na’aseh V’nishma connect to HaShem Echad?

The Bobover Ruv brings a Midrash Rabba on the pasuk:

By what right did the children of Israel merit to recite the shema? R’ Pinchas bar Chama answers, ‘from what occurred at the giving of the Torah, the children of Israel merited to recite the shema.’ How so? You find that HaShem opened His discourse at Sinai with none other than the phrase ‘shema yisroel anochi HaShem elokecha.’ Whereupon, they all answered HaShem elokeinu HaShem echad.

So we hear how our choosing of Torah changed the narrative from “your” to “our.” We claimed a communal obligation to Torah and mitzvos, to avodas HaShem, to deveikus HaShem. 

There’s another part of shema that stands out very strongly in my opinion, and it’s the statement of the unity of HaShem. As I shared in my kinnos keynote, a yid believing in the unity of HaShem acts as a land purifier to uplift the area around us and collect the sparks of kedusha.

Kabbalistic literature teaches us about the duality of creation itself. Everything is divided into two parts, the male and female. The male, the giver, the female, the receiver. Masculinity represents water and femininity represents the vessel to contain the water. The man learns and shares Torah and the woman receives it and raises her home, her vessel, in it.

The holy Apter Rav has a fascinating teaching on Adam and Chavah. The Torah tells us how HaShem took from Adam’s side to form Chavah. Chazal teach that Adam Harishon originally had two faces – a male and female. He was the physical embodiment of the unity of the duality. He was comprised of total kedusha and all of klal yisroel. The Apter Rav brings this up to make a point – that this is what we are to aim to achieve once again. 

We are to work on our Giving and our Receiving

Every mitzvah, connection to kedusha, spark we encounter, is giving to min shamayim. The receiving means enjoying the blessings HaShem has for us in a healthy and responsible manner. We are to draw down blessings through our actions, which creates within us the vessel to have blessings flow to others.

One prime example of this is brought by Rebbe Mendel of Linsk. We have tradition that teaches us that the study of Torah uplifts our prayers. Rebbe Mendel brings that this means we need to immerse ourselves in Torah before davening just as the earth was immersed in flood waters. 

The Arizal discusses how before we daven we need to renew our commitment to the mitzvah of ahavas yisroel. 

So what do we do? Torah study or focus on loving every Jew?

The answer is found in a Gemara in Kedushin: “two people learning Torah in one courtyard will become beloved to one another.” So it seems the answer Chazal gives is to fulfill both at the same time by learning with a chavrusa before davening.

This is a way we can fulfill mitzvos, double time, so to say, and bring it to HaShem with our tefillos for the spiritual work to result in a physical blessing upon our community. 

Shema Yisroel, HaShem Elokeinu, HaShem Echad.

So first we see an important realization – that our relationship with HaShem is ours. We have to own it. We can own it by building it and doing the work. 

Second we see that there needs to be a harmony between giving and receiving, to unify ourselves within HaShem’s unity. We can do this by learning with someone and engaging in other mitzvos.

And now a kashrus mashal…

There’s a concept regarding bitul in kashrus that I find both fascinating and quite relevant to our discussion. The davar chashuv. That piece that’s just geshmatch.  Nowadays, we generally measure 60 against something for it to have the status of batel. There are some things that doesn’t work for. Those things, like the davar chashuv, aren’t even batel in 1,000. Now just imagine that. Not even in 1,000. 

Let’s say I gave you a 999 brown M&Ms and in that pile is a whole fruit fly. That’s our mixture, our taaruvos. Now we stir it a bit, shake it up, and how easy is it to spot that fly? There are some things, like a bria, or a piece of meat that’s considered especially fitting to serve to guests, that in that situation, we don’t have bitul. The Torah tells us that it’s still clearly visible. 

When it comes to humankind, every yid is a davar chashuv. We are surrounded, a clear minority in this world, being less than .2%. But to HaShem’s perspective, we are all clearly visible and stand out so much that we aren’t absorbed, but clearly a unique item and prized in His metaphoric eyes. 

We are Klal Yisroel

We are a community that have taken on the responsibility of and for each other, as well as the yoke of Torah. HaShem sees each of us as something special and unique. We all have our role to play. That’s why we recite shema several times every day. Because it’s not someone else’s G-d, it’s our G-d. We continue the tradition of our forefathers to carry the torch of Torah, and we do it by engaging in a personal relationship with HaShem that involves us becoming davuk to Him – attached in such a way that we do our best to emulate HaShem’s unity in everything in our lives, by both giving and receiving.

And that brings us back to the Ramban’s point – the anomaly in this week’s text. HaShem is Our G-d.