We’ve been looking at Shema over the past number programs as we dig into the Hebrew roots of our faith. Shema is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. (“Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad. Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le’olam va’ed” (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.) Remember that Jesus was approached by a religious teacher of the Torah and asked Him what was the greatest commandment and Jesus responded with Shema.
Matthew 22:37-40, ‘And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. One these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”’
So far we’ve looked at the several elements mentioned in Shema; the command to ‘hear’ the command, which is not merely to hear an audible word but to actually obey it; we learned that God is ‘one’ or the ‘only God’ or ‘God alone’; we’ve looked at what it means to love God, which is far broader than simply referring to an emotional response which is very much a western thought, it’s really about expressing loving action and a solemn pledge of loyalty regardless of any feelings. And we also looked at the element of ‘with all your heart’ which incorporates as well as feelings our mind and thought processes as well. It’s in fact referring to all our inner life.
The next element of Shema that we’ll look at is ‘With all your soul’.
In our society we often say we love something with all our heart and soul which means we love with our emotions and our deepest intentions. But what we read as ‘soul’ in the Hebrew is ‘nephesh’ and this means more than just a person’s spirit, it means will all your life.
This is directly opposite to the usual mindset that says to set aside some time each day for God which leads to the conclusion that the rest of your day belongs to you. We might know that everything belongs to God but psychologically, we’ve given some time to God, now the rest of my day is just for me. The Hebrew mindset is that all of life is for the worship and love of God. Every action, every word, every thought, every emotion in the whole of life is to be done, said, thought and felt for God.
So you get up in the morning and your rise for God, you prepare yourself and you do that for God. You spend time in His Word for Him, you travel to your job for Him and your job is also for Him. When you interact with others you do so for Him and when you come home, you do it for Him. When you sleep, you commit that time to Him so you can get up the next day and do it all again…for Him. It’s the whole of our life not just portions and segments.
In an orthodox Jewish person’s life, they have prayers for waking up, prayers for receiving food, prayers for receiving drink, prayers before bathing, prayers when putting on their tzitzit (tasseled garment), prayers for putting on the prayer shawl, prayers for putting on their phylacteries, verses are recited before entering a synagogue, morning blessings, evening blessings, there are prayers and blessings for just about everything for the observant Jew.
We might think that’s just being caught up in religious dogma and I’m not suggesting that we suddenly develop a set of prayers or blessings every time we take a drink of water or go to the bathroom, but Judaism – despite the fact that it’s nothing like the Judaism that was delivered by Moses, has maintained the overwhelming focus that honour of God must pervade every moment of our daily lives.
On our next program we’ll keep looking at this element of Shema, in that we’re to love God with our soul…the whole of our life.
(These studies are based on the book ‘Walking In The Dust Of Rabbi Jesus: How The Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life’ by Lois Tverberg)