The Shema is the central prayer in the Jewish prayer book (Siddur) and is often the first verse of scripture that a Jewish child learns. During it's recitation in the synagogue, Orthodox Jews pronounce each word very carefully and cover their eyes with their right hand. Many Jews recite the Shema at least twice daily: once in the morning and once in the evening. It is also sometimes said as a bedtime prayer ("the bedtime Shema"). Sometimes the Shema is thought of as the cornerstone prayer of Judaism.
The complete Shema is actually composed of three parts linked together in a unity:
1. Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (Shema): The core Hebrew prayer. Special emphasis is given to the first six Hebrew words of this passage (Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad) and a six-word response is said in an undertone (barukh shem kevod malkhuto le'olam va'ed). After a pause, Deuteronomy 6:5-9 is then recited, which stresses the commandment to love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, and might.
2. Deuteronomy 11:13-21 (Vehayah): This moving passage stresses the blessings that come through obedience to Adonai and the consequences that come through disobedience.
3. Numbers 15:37-41 (Vaiyomer): This passage concerns the use of a the Tallit, a rectangular prayer shawl with four fringes (called tsitsit). One tsitsit is attached to each corner of the tallit. The reason for wearing the tsitsit is to remind oneself to observe all of the commandments of the Lord.
The Shema marks the declaration that God is One. If someone doesn't understand Hebrew they might read this verse "Here, O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one (Deu.6:4) and think that God cannot exist as a tri-unity or “three in one.” This however is not the case.
Interestingly, the hebrew word echad (one) in Hebrew can imply a unity in diversity. The word for one and only one, i.e., unique, is more often rendered as yachid. Yachid always means a simple and indivisible unity, or a singularity, or an absolute one. In modern Hebrew, it means “single” such as one car or one child.
The word echad, or “one” as it appears in the Hebrew text of Deuteronomy 6:4, doesn't always signify a simple one. It can also mean a compound one, or a complex unity.
For example, in Exodus 26:6 the various parts of the Tabernacle (mishcan) are to be constructed so that "it shall be one (echad) tabernacle," and Ezekiel spoke of two "sticks" (representing fragmented Israel) as being reunited into one: "and they shall be one (echad) stick in My hand" (Ezekiel 37:19).
Echadappears in Numbers 13:23, for instance, where it says that the spies came to the Valley of Eshcol and cut down a branch with “one” (echad) cluster of grapes. Obviously, the cluster of grapes was a compound unity: It was one cluster consisting of many grapes.
Echad also appears in Genesis 2:24, which says that Adam and Eve became “one flesh.” Adam and Eve were still two individuals, of course, but the Bible says that they had become labasar echad, or “one flesh.” So here, too, echad signifies a compound unity rather than a simply unity. That means the Shema does not exclude the possibility that God could exist as a tri-unity.
Moses, while writing this passage in Deuteronomy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, chose this word (Echad) to show God is a compound unity.
The writings of a great medieval scholar Moses Maimonides (The Rambam) reflect the way Judaism is guarded against accepting the idea of God being a compound unity. In Rambam's famous 13 articles of faith, a writing that declares what every Jew should believe, concerning article two which relates to the unity of God, Rambam removed the words Moses wrote in the Deuteronomy 6:4 passage (the Shema) and replaced Echad (plural) with Yachid (Singular).
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John J. Parsons: Published by Zola Levitt Ministries (January 2004) Re-posted with permission.