The Shema is one of the most important prayers in Judaism, often considered the centerpiece of Jewish liturgy. It is a declaration of faith, affirming the oneness of God and the commitment of Jewish people to love and serve God with all their heart, soul, and strength. The Shema is derived from a passage in the Torah found in the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 6, verses 4-9.
The full text of the Shema consists of three paragraphs. The first paragraph is the core declaration and is known as the Shema itself. It begins with the famous words, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.” This verse emphasizes the monotheistic belief in the singularity of God. The Shema continues by commanding Jews to love God with all their heart, soul, and strength, and to keep God’s commandments diligently. This paragraph highlights the importance of wholehearted devotion to God and the observance of Jewish laws.
The second paragraph of the Shema expands on the commandment to love God. It instructs Jews to internalize and teach these commandments to their children, to speak of them daily in their homes and when they are on the road, and to bind them as a sign on their hands and between their eyes. These instructions emphasize the continuous and pervasive nature of the Jewish faith and the need to transmit it from generation to generation.
The third paragraph is sourced from the book of Numbers, chapter 15, verses 37-41. It introduces the mitzvah (commandment) of wearing tzitzit, fringes or tassels on the corners of a four-cornered garment. This paragraph connects the act of wearing tzitzit to the remembrance of God’s commandments and the exodus from Egypt, which serves as a visual reminder of Jewish obligations and identity.
The Shema has been recited by Jews for thousands of years and holds deep historical and religious significance. It reflects the core principles of Jewish faith, emphasizing the belief in one God, the love and devotion to God, and the commitment to live a life in accordance with God’s commandments. The Shema is recited in daily prayers, at important life events such as weddings and funerals, and is considered a unifying force among Jews worldwide, binding them together through a shared declaration of faith.