Jeff Kupferberg

Oleh from Montreal, friend of Torah MiTzion

Shema Yisrael

In this week’s Parsha we have the second chapter of the daily Shema.
The Talmud Sotah 42a states;
"And Hashem said “Shemah Yisrael”. What is the meaning of Shema Yisrael? Rabbi Yochanan states in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai; Hashem, blessed be he, said to Bnei Yisrael, Even if you did not keep any Mitzvah except Shema at Shachrit and Maariv you will not fall into their hands; i.e. I will protect you.
Sotah 42b continues
And the 'Plishti', referring to Goliath, would approach at waking and evening, Rabbi Yochanan explains – in order to distract and frighten Bnei Yisrael so that they should not say Kriyat Shema for Shacharit or Maariv., For if Bnei Yisrael didn’t daven Shema they would be able to be beaten in battle.

The Rambam explains the reason the 3 paragraphs of Shemah were chosen as follows;
The first paragraph is because it includes the singularity of Hashem and the love of Hashem and Torah. This is the foundation that everything rests upon..
The second paragraph because it includes the commandment to remember the other Mitzvot.
The third paragraph the Parsha of Tzizit because it also has the commandment to remember all the Mitzvot.

The Shemah song is so ingrained into our souls that it has been used to wake the Jewish spark of our lost children. It is clear from the Talmud and the Rambam the importance of the recitation of Shemah, however Shemah is so profound that the proper understanding cannot be explained in one Dvar Torah. Instead I will like to focus on six words, that we too often read without paying appropriate attention to (Devarim, 11; 15)
וְנָתַתִּ֛י עֵ֥שֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ וְשָׂבָֽעְתָּ
"I shall provide grass in your field for your animal, and you will eat and you will be satisfied".
I believe this verse is one of the most beautiful ones in the Torah, each word a blessing and adds to the previous words.

The first word וְנָתַתִּ֛י; “I will give” or “I will provide”
This word has multiple meanings. The first is the most fundamental and is the building block of our relationship with Hashem. We must accept and understand that Hashem is the source of everything. It is only through Hashem’s desire that we receive anything. Our responsibility is to realize this at all times, through the good and especially through what we perceive as the bad. The other idea is the more specific aspect. While we may theoretically accept Hashem’s mastery of the world and everything in it, too often we attribute our successes to our own efforts and our failures to other people’s shortcomings. Hashem will and is providing.

עֵ֥שֶׂב – grass; The Torah uses a singular tense. The grass symbolizes the fruit of our labor.  This comes to teach us that even one blade of grass is provided by Hashem. Hashem’s blessing range from the smallest to the largest items.

בְּשָׂדְךָ֖ – in your field; this is a blessing that our “grass” the fruit of our labor will come from our own fields. Too often people’s daily commute to work can be hours. We have found novel ways of using this time by having Minyanim and Shiurim on trains, or we listen to shiur on our smartphones. However this is time that we can put to better use. Hashem is giving us the blessing that our work should be close to home.

לִבְהֶמְתֶּ֑ךָ – to our animals; The Talmud in Brachot learns from this verse that we have an obligation to feed our animals before eating ourselves. This word is again a blessing. We see from this the kindness of Hashem when we should compassion to others. Hashem has deigned it that first the fodder grows which is food for the animals and then the edible food for people grows. What we benefit from doesn’t diminish because we fed our animals first, actually the opposite happens, and our produce grows better when we remove the fodder. While this is a blessing that we do not have to travel far to feed our animals, it is also a message on how to do kindness and the potential reward. If we behave in this manner then we are emulating Hashem’s ways.

וְאָכַלְתָּ֖ – and you will eat. The ability to eat what we produce is an enormous blessing. Unfortunately many of us may have struggles and we do not have the ability to eat from what we produce. The message of the “eating” is not just literal – it is symbolic as well. The blessing of this eating is that we should be able to partake and consume of that which we produce. This blessing is that we should spend our earnings on things we are able to consume and not G-d forbid on other things.

וְשָׂבָֽעְתּ – and you will be satisfied; this last blessing is the perfect blessing to end this verse of blessings. This is the blessing of being satisfied with what we receive. We must look at all we have and realize the kindness that Hashem is bestowing on us. With that perspective then we will be satisfied with what Hashem has given us. When we are satisfied with what we have we will never be jealous of others. With this as a foundation of our satisfaction, thinking that I have what I need, then we will be able to look beyond ourselves to others and assist them with their needs. 

We should all merit to receive all of the blessings in this verse and may our enemies never prevail over us.