Thursday, December 1, 2011

The power of the Hear oh Israel Prayer (called the Shama) and Nov 29, 1947

Rabbi Eliezer Silver, a leader in rescue efforts during the Holocaust, visited Europe after the war to help Jews. 

One of his missions was to recover Jewish children who were hidden during the war with non-Jewish families.  How was he able to discover which children were Jewish?  He would go into a church during the service and loudly and proudly say,   "Hear Oh Israel, the Lord your G-d is one"  In Hebrew that is { "Shema Yisroel Adonoy Eloheinu Adonoy Ehad!"}  Then he would look at the faces of the children for those with tears in their eyes -- those children who remembered their mothers and fathers who put them to bed each night and said the Shema with them.  What is the Shema that it has such power?

The Shema is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God.  It permeates the Jewish consciousness as it permeates the Jewish day.  It is one of the first things parents teach their children when they start to talk; it's recited in the morning and the evening prayers and, as mentioned, before going to sleep.

The second verse in the Shema is: "And you shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your resources" (Deut. 6:5).

What does it mean to love God with all your heart?  The Talmud explains that the word "heart" is metaphorical for "desires."  Even today we colloquially say, "I love chocolate," which means "I desire chocolate."  When the Shema says to "love God with all your heart," it means to use not only your "good traits" like kindness and compassion to do God's will, but also to use your more challenging traits to serve Him.

For example, when you go to a nice restaurant, don't go because you want to gorge.  Rather have in mind that you are eating in order to keep your body healthy, to be able to serve God.  Similarly, if you were buying a CD of music, you should buy it in order to help you relax and better appreciate the world that God created.

What does it mean to "love God with all your soul"?  It means even at the cost of your life.  For generations Jews have given up their lives rather than submit to conversion.  We knew and we know that there is something more important than life itself -- to live, and if necessary, to die with meaning.  There is no greater meaning than sanctifying God's name in both life and in death.

The final part of this verse says to "love God with all your resources."  This is difficult to understand, because typically the Torah presents a series as a progression from easiest to hardest. Here, the order is: Love God emotionally ("heart"), and even be willing to give up your life if necessary ("soul"), and even be willing to spend your money, too!

If this is a progression, are there really people who consider money more important than life itself?!  The answer is yes.  The Talmud (Brachot 54a) speaks about someone walking across a thorny field, and picks up his pants in order to avoid getting them ripped.  The person's legs get all cut up and scratched -- but at least the pants are saved!

In Parts of Nevada, where gambling is legal and nearly every hotel has a casino, (By the way I just got back from Las Vegas) hotel room windows are specially designed not to open more than a crack -- so people who lose money gambling won't be tempted to jump out the window.  Yes, for some, money is more important than life itself. Most people remember the famous Jack Benny joke about your Money or your life!!! The answer was "I'm thinking, I'm thinking!"

There is tremendous merit both personally and for the Jewish people (and remember when it says Jewish people --this means any spiritual seeker--not just Jews)  in saying the Shema -- with feeling, understanding and correct pronunciation.  Take a spiritual break each morning and evening and say the Shema.

It is important to understand and concentrate on the meaning of the words.  If you don't understand Hebrew, say it in English (or your native language).  Make it your goal to learn the pronunciation and meaning of the words to be able to say it in Hebrew as well.

It is customary for parents to say the Shema out loud with their children at bedtime.  It is comforting for children to have a nightly ritual of saying the Shema -- a prayer to the Almighty to protect them -- and a wonderful, bonding-experience.  Saying the Shema is a six-word formula to unite all peace-loving people and to bring more spiritual light into our world.


 A little more recent Jewish history from Nov 29, 1947

This is where the fate of the State of Israel  was decided:

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