Hear, O Israel
Jesus answered him and said, “the first of all the commandments is:
‘Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.’”
Mark 12:29


      When Yeshua was asked by one of the Scribes; “which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28), He answered in what might be considered a rather unusual way. Yeshua did not begin by repeating the first of the Ten Commandments; “I am the LORD your God, ... you shall have no other gods before Me.” (Ex. 20:2-3). He did not begin by telling the Scribe to; “...love your neighbor as yourself.” He began with what every Jewish person of that day (and this) recognized as the Shema (Sheh-mah’).

      The Shema is not a prayer, it is a statement of faith. It is the core of Jewish belief. Every faithful Jew desires to die with the Shema on his lips. Except for the second sentence, the entire Shema is taken directly from scripture. It is common for the Shema to be sung rather than recited or read.
      The Hebrew word Shema means “to hear intelligently.” Shema is the very first word found in this great statement of faith, and it is quoted directly from Deut. 6:4. It is common practice for Hebrew scriptures to be named by the first word of the passage or book. In Hebrew, the Shema is said in the following manner: “Shema Yisrael, Adonai eloheinu, Adonai echad.” (The translation is: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.) Thus, the title for this statement of faith is simply; Shema.

      Why would Yeshua respond to a direct question about the ‘first commandment of all’ with a Jewish statement of faith? Because it is not just a ‘Jewish’ statement of faith. Rather, it is intended to be the statement of faith for all those who believe in YHVH, (the LORD) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since Yeshua was born into a traditional Jewish home, He too was a human descendant of those great patriarchs and a follower of their one true God. Please remember that Yeshua Himself was, in the flesh, Jewish. He had a Jewish mother and step-father, and lived as a Jewish citizen in the Jewish area of Galilee. Although He did speak out strongly against some of the traditions of the Jews, Yeshua was fully observant of those traditions which truly had their roots in the scriptures and did not contradict the commandments of God. In that respect, Yeshua was the teacher of the true religion which God had revealed to the children of Israel after He brought them out of the land of Egypt, and which had become corrupted by the additions of men. However, to say that Yeshua followed none of the customs and traditions of the Jews is just as incorrect as to say that He observed them all. One major task for Believers today is to discern, through study, which of those practices are truly Biblical and which are the ‘traditions of men.’ Be careful not to throw out the baby with the bath water!

~ An Ancient Practice ~

      The practice of reciting the Shema goes back to the time of the Temple service. Each day in the Temple, part of the opening day’s ritual included the recitation, by the priests, of the Ten Commandments and the Shema. All three paragraphs of the Shema were recited aloud by the priests following the daily morning offering. The worshippers assembling at the Temple did not recite the Shema itself but responded only to the first sentence with:
      “Baruach shem kvod malkhuto l’olam va-ed. (Blessed is the name of His Glorious Majesty forever and ever.)

      After the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E., the reciting of the Shema was brought into the synagogue as a part of the worship service. At first, the Ten Commandments were also included in the synagogue service, however later on the reading of the Ten Commandments was removed from the synagogue. This was done because the ‘Christians’ had adopted them as a part of their worship, with some Gentile Believers claiming they were the only commandments from the Torah that still had relevance and needed to be obeyed.
      It must be remembered that many of the customs that have become traditions in both modern Christianity and modern Rabbinic Judaism, are a result of each group not wanting to be associated, in any way shape or form, with the other. Therefore, it behooves us to throw off all of those past prejudices and look to the scriptures (made more understandable through knowledge of the historical customs of both parties) as the final source of true religion and worship.

~ The Shema Text ~

      The Shema can be recited in either a short form or a long form. The short form is as follows:

      “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Blessed is the name of His Glorious Majesty forever and ever.”

      The first sentence of the Shema is a direct quote from Deuteronomy 6:4. The second sentence is not a direct quote of any scripture, however it does bear a very close resemblance to Psalm 72:19a: “And blessed be His glorious name forever!” According to Jewish tradition the second sentence was written by the patriarch, Ya’akov (Yah-ah’-cove = Jacob) however, Moses did not include it in the Scriptures.

      In the Jewish prayer book (commonly called the siddur = sid-dooer), the Shema is preceded by three Hebrew words; El melekh ne’eman, which translated is; ‘God, Faithful King.” The first letters of these three Hebrew words spell the Hebrew word amen (ah-main’), which means; “firm, faithful, truly, verily,” and is used as a confirmation that one agrees with what has just be stated.

      The full or long form of the Shema is as follows:

      “Hear, O Israel The LORD our God, the LORD is one! Blessed is the Name of His Glorious Majesty forever and ever.

      “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might.
      “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart; you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
      “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
      “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
(Deut. 6:4-9)

      “And it shall be that if you diligently obey My commandments which I command you today, to love the LORD your God and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul, then I will give you the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the latter rain, that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.
      “And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled,
      “Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the LORD’s anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the Land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the LORD is giving you.
      “Therefore you shall lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
      “You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.
      “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multi plied in the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers to give them, like the days of the heavens above the earth.”
(Deut. 11:13-21)

      “Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the chit dren of Israel Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their gar ments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners.
      “‘And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon h and remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and that you
may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.
am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God I am the LORD your God.’”
(Num. 15:37-41)

~ The Message of the Shema ~

* The Oneness of God *

      The first and foremost understanding that one should receive from this beautiful statement of faith is that YHVH is our God and that YHVH is one. Today, western society is very familiar with the concept of monotheism, that there is only one God who is the Creator of all things. In Moses’ day this was a highly unusual concept, for the pagan religions had whole pantheons of gods and goddesses . For the Israelites to come along and worship only one God was, in the opinion of the pagans, a very foolish thing to do. What if that God was unable to effect a desired change for the worshipper? They thought it far better to have a whole smorgasbord of gods and goddesses so one could call on the appropriate one to intervene in a particular situation. Then when the pagans learned that the Israelites were not allowed to make any kind of image of their God, they really thought it was wacko.
      The first century Greeks, being more highly educated than many of their neighbors, did perceive that the universe needed some kind of “first cause,” some god or power that was the creator and ruler of all the other lesser gods and goddesses. Some called this being the “Unknown God.”

      “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD.” “‘therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.
      “‘God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshipped with men’s hands, as though He needed any thing, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for
in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, “For we are also His offspring.
      “‘Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising. Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.’”
(Acts 17:22-31)

      This “Unknown God” that Paul proclaimed to the Greeks, was the God of the Israelite patriarchs. He was not a multitude of gods, rather He was One God. He was not a god that warred with others of equal rank, He was the Creator of all things and therefore above all things. Now, Paul proclaimed, that great God had sent His only begotten Son (the Man) to die for the sins of the world and be resurrected from the dead. And now that Father and Son are united as one.

      “I and My Father are one.”
(John 10:30)

      The Hebrew word translated one in the Shema, is echad (ekh-hahd’). Space does not permit a full exploration of this word, however, a brief reference is appropriate here:

      “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one (echad) flesh.”
(Gen. 2:24)

      This passage contains the very first use of the word echad in a context that does not denote a single item. Rather, the context makes it apparent that the Hebrew language allows echad to be used to proclaim a unity of at least two things as well as a single item. (God willing, this issue will be explored at length in a future issue of Hebrew Roots.)

* Love God *

      The second positive declaration of the Shema is that a true believer is to love God. Yeshua confirmed this when He quoted the Shema to the scribe:

      “Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceiving that He had answered them well, asked Him, ‘Which is the first commandment of all?’
      “Jesus answered him, ‘The first of all the commandments is: Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This
is the first commandment.”
(Mark 12:28-30)

      Believers are to have a deep abiding love for God that surpasses their love for anyone or anything else. God must be put first and foremost in all things. But just how does one express their love for God? Is it by saying “I love you Lord?” Certainly there is nothing wrong with saying those particular words. In fact, if you have never actually said them, you have missed a wonderful part of your relationship with your Father in heaven. However, the Torah is a book of instruction, so surely God must have instructed His children on the proper way in which to express their love for Him.
      The text from the Shema says that God’s people are to love Him with all of their heart, soul and might. Yeshua expands this instruction slightly by telling us to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength.

      Man’s love for God must be absolutely unconditional. We must learn to love God so much that our love continues through both good times and bad, in times of great blessings as well as times of great suffering. Love is characterized by one great quality; the willingness of a person to sacrifice for the good of another. In terms of loving God, this manifests itself through one’s willingness to sanctify the name of God no matter what the cost. Never forget that many early Believers, as well as many non-believing Jews, have gone to early graves because of their unwillingness to desecrate the name of God before those who would require them to do so.

* Teaching Others *

      The third great principle taught by the Shema is that one is to teach the ways of God to others. We must do everything in our power to show God beloved, just and righteous in the sight of others, whether they are Believers or not.
      This begins with the teaching of our own children. The Word of God needs to be so intimately bound up in everyday life that we just cannot help but discuss these things with other people. Many of us do not have children, or our children are grown up. But all of us have contact with other people, whether within the Body of Messiah or without. If called upon would you be able to teach the ways of God to others?

      “...always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.”
(I Pet. 3:15-16)

      Are you ready to be a teacher? If not, why not? If you are new in the Faith that is understandable, but if you have been in the faith for a long while, isn’t it time that you helped others to come to a correct knowledge of their Saviour?

      “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.”
(Heb. 5:12)

      The command to teach does not give a person license to go around teaching their pet theories. People, especially those new to the Faith, need to see and learn by loving examples and right application the principles found in the instruction book of God (the Torah).

* God’s Blessings *

      The second paragraph of the Shema promises the blessings that will flow from God as a result of obedience. Remember that obedience is the result that should be evident in a Believer’s life, upon the receipt of the earnest payment of the Holy Spirit, given to those who believe and are walking the path called salvation. It is not the other way around; salvation does not come as a result of obedience. However, there are positive results that will accrue to the Believer who chooses to obey God rather than the traditions of men. There are also negative results that will accrue to those who choose to disobey God’s instructions. This is the Biblical principle of reward and punishment.

* Reminders *

      The last principle taught by the Shema is that it is good to have physical reminders around us to help us stay on the straight path.

      “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”
(Matt. 7:13-14)

      Believers are still physical people with physical pulls. It is possible for someone who has dedicated the entirety of their adult life in the service of God, to find themselves in a seriously compromising situation. Under such circumstances a physical reminder could possibly be the trigger that awakens them to an approaching sin and thereby aids them to stand firm in the way that leads to life.

~ A Righteous Addition ~

      When Yeshua answered the scribe He stated the first line of the Shema (the LORD is one) and the first principle of the Shema (to love God). Then He amplified the instruction to teach others into a much greater and broader principle.

      “‘And the second, like it, is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”
(Mark 12:31)

      However, this great principle also comes directly out of the Torah, the instruction book from God. You will find it at the very end of a rather lengthy list of instructions concerning how to treat other people.

      “You shall not take vengeance, not bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”
(Lev. 19:18)

      One cannot truly love God unless they first learn how to love their neighbor.

      “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? And this commandment we have from Him; that he who loves God must love his brother also.”
(I John 4:20-21)

      This is the final test as to whether one truly loves God or if he is just paying lip service to Him. It is easy to love God when one’s life is going along fairly well, but it is very difficult to love one’s brother in a total and consistent manner.

~ The Shema Today ~

      Does the Shema have relevance in the lives of Believers today? Is it appropriate for us to recite or sing the Shema? Why not just read it each morning silently? Or, better yet, why not just meditate on it? For as the scripture says:

“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight
is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he
meditates day and night.”
(Psalm 1:1-2)

      These are valid questions that need to be answered by each and every Believer. One problem here concerns a correct understanding of the word ‘meditate.’ The current concept of that word is to sit quietly and listen to one s inner thoughts or to think deeply upon some subject, idea or emotion. However, this is not the meaning of the Hebrew word hagah (hah-gah’). Hagah means to murmur, to mutter, to growl. Biblical meditation is a very active response to the Scriptures. It means to recite a passage, to pray in a low voice, or to muse upon the meaning of the scripture to one’s self Singing or reciting the Shema is an example of this type of ‘meditation.’
      It is interesting to note that modern psychology has determined that if a person reads a passage aloud, even if it is in a very quiet voice, the chances of retaining and acting upon what was read is ten times greater then if they merely read the words. Apparently the physical act of moving ones lips causes a profound difference in the depth of understanding that takes place.
      Now one should not jump into singing the Shema just because the Jews do it, even though Yeshua was a Jew. On the other hand, neither should one refuse to do something just because the Jews make a practice of it.

      There are two extreme ways of looking at this dilemma. The first involves the ‘spiritualizing’ approach. It is easy to look at the passages of the Shema and say; “Well, these are broad spiritual principles. Therefore, I need to develop a proper sense of these principles and incorporate them into my life, but I do not need to be concerned with the details.”
      The second approach is the “detail method.” Here is the person who learns all of the traditions that are a part of the Shema and then scrupulously incorporates them into a lifestyle but misses the broad principle.
      There are dangers in both approaches. The first, says that physical reminders and daily remembrances of the Shema (in this case) are not really important. But will this individual really remember the instructions of God at a crucial time in his life, if he has not reminded himself and his family of them each and every day, by both speaking them and seeing symbols that remind him of them?

“Now consider this, you who forget God,
Lest I tear
you in pieces,
there be none to deliver;
Whoever offers praise glorifies Me;
And to him who orders
his conduct aright
I will show the salvation of God.”
(Psalm 50:22-23)

      The second approach runs the risk of becoming so involved in the doing of the ritual, that the person forgets to obey the very commands they are making all this effort to remember. This would be like one who failed to respond to a car accident in front of their home because it was time to recite the Shema.
      Man is a ditch laden being. He tends to go to extremes, from one ditch to the other. Somewhere in between lies the true path. Yes, the great principles concerning loving God, teaching our children (and others) to obey the Torah, and loving our neighbors, are the real goals that God wants His people to achieve. But it is not wrong (in fact it may be a great aid in achieving those goals) to have some physical reminders around so that we never forget what it is that God wants us to do.

      What is wrong with writing something on our doorposts to remind us each time we enter that our home is dedicated to God and His way of life? What is wrong with carrying something on our person that causes us to have the instruction (Torah) of God always in our mind and heart? Just do not let the method be-come a replacement for the desired end result, and do not allow your person to become a vehicle for pagan symbols.
      There is much prayer and study that needs to be done concerning these issues. Our instruction book is the Holy Scriptures. Each individual Believer needs go before God in a proper spirit and ask Him to show them what is fitting and proper for them in this age. Only then will we “grow in grace and knowledge.”

~ A Suggestion ~

      A friend of ours has told us that when he and his wife began singing the Shema each morning and evening, it made a profound improvement in their life by giving the day a God centered focus.
      While Hebrew Roots does not intend to place itself in the position of telling people they must do something, we do ask that you consider trying this, for we believe it is scriptural and will be a benefit to each one of you if you practice it. The Shema says that one is to:

      “...teach them (these words or commandments) diligently ... (to) talk of them .. when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
(Deut. 6:7)

      Jewish tradition interprets this verse to mean that one should recite the Shema upon rising in the morning and again upon retiring in the evening. The recitation is usually the short form and it is preferable that it be sung rather than read. Music for the Shema can be found in various Jewish or Messianic Jewish song-books. Also, some Messianic Jewish singers have recorded the Shema. We challenge you to begin and end each day with the singing or reciting of the Shema and see if you are not blessed as a result.



~ Sources ~

Bloch, Abraham, P., The Biblical and Historical Background of Jewish Customs and Ceremonies, Ktav Publishing House, Inc. New York, 1960.
Donin, Hayim Halevy, To Pray As A Jew, Basic Books, U.S.A., 1960.
Hertz, Dr. J.H., The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Soncino Press, London, 1966.
The Jewish Encyclopedia, 12 vols., Funk & Wagnalls Co., New York & London, 1901
The Open Bible, The New King James Version, Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, 1965.
Strong, James, S.T.D., L.L.D., Strong’s New Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, World Bible Publishers, Inc., Iowa Falls, 1966.
Tregelles, Samuel Prideaux, LL.D., Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1979.
Trepp, Leo, The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, Behrman House/Summit Books, New York, 1960.
Wigram. George V., The Englishman’s Hebrew and Chaldee Concordance of the Old Testament, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1960.