In this week’s episode of my podcast, Wrestling and Dreaming, I discuss the Sh’ma which is found in this week’s Torah portion of Va-etchanan.
I bring up several issues relating to the Sh’ma, noting that it is not technically a prayer in Jewish tradition but a statement of witnessing, a declaration of faith.
I also raise an intriguing issue. While the Sh’ma is an affirmation of belonging to the Jewish people, what do you do if you don’t believe in God and can’t bring yourself to say something you don’t believe in but still want to affirm your connection to the people? I made some comments on that question but left it up to the individual to consider what one could say or do if one truly can’t tolerate the God-language of the Sh’ma.
I also discussed another question: Who are talking to when we say the Sh’ma? There are several answers to that question and they are all legitimate but I shared one that you might not have thought about.
There is a beautiful legend that the first people to say the Sh’ma were the sons of Jacob. As Jacob lay dying, he was worried that one or more of his sons would not remain loyal to the covenant. When he expressed this concern, his sons said together: Sh’ma Yisrael, Listen Israel (Jacob’s other name), Adonai is our God, Adonai is one. Jacob was relieved and responded: Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto, Blessed be God’s glorious kingdom for ever and ever.
I love that legend and believe that one way we can look at the saying of the Sh’ma is to consider that we are in fact talking to Jacob as a symbol of all of his descendants- our ancestors- assuring them that we are still upholding the covenant of Israel. In addition to being a statement to those around us and a commitment to the future, the Sh’ma can be seen as addressed to those who came before us, assuring their souls that we are still perpetuating the tradition.
I invite you to listen to the entire podcast at wrestlinganddreaming.podbean.com