Shema Yisrael: Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad

Excerpt from CD recorded at Makom Ohr Shalom called “Reb Zalman Prays” © 2008 ShareWonder Media, transcribed and edited by Gabbai Seth Fishman.

Reb Zalman, a’h:

One of the things that makes parenting a joy is to put children to bed at night and they don’t want to fall asleep. At that time they come up with wonderful questions to engage you in such a way that you can’t say no. For instance, five-year-old Yotam asked me:

Abba, what happens to people when they die?”

“What do YOU think,” I asked and he says:

“Well we sort of have  two lives: There’s an awake life and a dream life. And I think the awake life stops and the dream life continues.”

And how wonderful an answer that was.

And Shalvi one time said:

Abba, when you’re asleep you can wake up. When you’re awake can you wake up even more?”

These are the kinds of questions that come when you sit next to a child on the bed and you sing:

B’shem Hashem B’shem Hashem Elokei Yisrael. And then you say the Shema with them.

Or imagine a different scene: You are visiting someone in hospice.

This past erev Rosh HaShannah, one of our friends, who had been suffering from ALS, died. We had visited her in hospice and, we sang to her. And then, we said the Shema with her; that was a very important thing.

So the Shema is when you start out. And the Shema is when you leave. There’s something remarkable about this.

When I used to do a retreat with people, I would ask them to say the Shema several times. Why? Well first, because it’s not a prayer really; it’s Moses talking to Israel and saying, ‘Listen, you Jews, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad.’

Sometimes people don’t quite understand; they ask what is meant by Hashem, Yod Hey Vav Hey, Adonay. Who is that?

When I was in Bombay, they had a Siddur there with one side in Hebrew and the other in Marathi written in Devanagari, that wonderful Indian script.

And I asked the person to do me a favor:  ‘I can’t read that. Would you tell me, what’s the word used on the Marathi side for Yod Hey Vav Hey, for Adonay?

So he says, “Rameshwar.” (Now if you know what that is, it means, ‘The highest is my chosen deity.’ That’s how they translated that. That’s not bad, huh? Rameshwar.)

[Here is the Marathi translation of the Shema text with the word for YHVH hi-lighted]

[NOTE: from The Open Siddur Project: This Siddur was scanned by the National Library of Israel and now shared on the Internet Archive and Wikisource, ספר תפילת החדש (Sefer Tefilot Heḥadash) is a complete siddur with a Marathi translation made by Joseph Ezekiel Rajpurkar for the use of the Bene Israel community according to Sepharadi liturgical custom. Printed by Aaron Jacob Divekar at the Anglo-Jewish and Vernacular Press in 1889 (5649)]

We have become very shy in speaking with others about God. If you first of all dedicate yourself then say the Shema to  other people… let me spell this out.

Imagine you are sitting in an airplane next to another person. The person starts out to find out if you are Jewish. How? They drop a phrase like: ‘Are you a maven on the design of this aircraft?’ using the word ‘maven‘ to say, in effect, ‘I’m Jewish.’

In this situation, would you have the chutzpah to then say to him or her, ‘Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad?’ saying, in effect, ‘Brother! How are you? Sister! How are you? Where are you in your relation to this Adonai Eloheinu? Can you talk about that? I wish you could.’

This is the first level, where you represent Moses, and say ‘Shema Yisrael, listen, you fellow Jew.’

It’s also important to be able to use your own name: Sometimes I say, ‘Shema Meshulam Zalman Hiyya, Adonay Eloheinu Adonay echad.’

Listen! I have to listen myself because, when I hear it, then my heart is open, and then I can really say it to another person.

This is the second level where I say it to myself.

And then there is a time when I’m thinking of someone else and I want to say it to him or her. For example, my son is in Chicago tonight and he is going to the Chabad to davven Kol Nidrei there.

And I want to say, ‘Shema Yotam, Adonay Eloheinu Adonay Echad‘ to send a care package of a kind of thought that is non-local, that touches soul-to-soul. That’s important.

And then, for the fourth level of the Shema, I like to think of making a collection of all the Shema Yisroels I have said in my life.

When my time comes to go and I say my last Shema, I would like all the Shema Yisraels of my lifetime to line up there at that time.

Imagine this were my last Shema and I looked around and saw that all the other people are saying Shema Yisrael at the same. It would be a glorious way of saying goodbye to this world. Can you visualize what I’m saying?

So now, when we say the Shema at this time, (we will be saying it standing up, and we will have the ark open), you will then have an opportunity to make a deposit in the Shema Yisrael bank for yourself.

And you will also keep in mind someone you want to send it to.

And you will get the chutzpah that next time you’re with another Jewish person you’ll be able to say, ‘Listen! How about you? Is God your God too? He’s mine!’ That kind of a witnessing is very important.

One Response to “Shema Yisrael: Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”

  1. Elizheva R Hurvich Says:

    My abba put me to bed saying the Shema. Once my son was born, I started to say it with him every night. One day it occurred to me to ask my dad why he did this. His answer? “I suppose my parents tucked me in and sang it to me, too.”

    I love the idea of singing my son’s name in the “yisrael” place… and letting him sing in names of others as well. Sometimes we sing together. Sometimes he wants to do it quickly and have me repeat. Sometimes he talks like a robot or a monster. My favorite was the night he said to me, “Mom– I don’t want to say Shema Yisrael Adonoi Elohaynu Adonai Echad tonight.” And I replied, with a big smile on my heart, “that’s fine, my love.”

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