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When Christ was teaching in the temple, a Scribe approached and, noticing that He had answered the Pharisees and Sadducees well, asked Him which commandment is greatest. Christ replied, quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5, “Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind , and with all your strength.” (Mark 12:29-30; see also Matthew 22:37; Luke 10:27).

To the Jewish people listening to Jesus, this would have been instantly recognisable as The Shema. Shema (שְׁמַע) is Hebrew for the opening word of the command, hear. The command was first given to the Israelites during their exodus out of Egypt, just prior to them entering the promised land. Moses had returned from his encounter with God at Mount Sinai and he delivered the command with the following instructions:

And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

Taking heed of this call to devotion, observant Jews would sing The Shema every morning and evening and it became a central part of the Jewish prayer book, the Siddur [1]. To minimise distraction and encourage contemplation, the worshiper would recite the prayer aloud with care taken to enunciate each word. He would also cover his eyes with his hand when reciting the first verse of the prayer to focus fully on God [2].
Listen to the Shema being recited in Hebrew here.  

From the times of Moses to modern day, the Shema has been – and continues to be – fundamental to practising devotion to God. Jesus not only affirmed the Shema as the “first and greatest commandment” (Matthew 22:38), but embellished it with an additional command for us to love the LORD with all of our minds. The importance of the shema cannot be doubted…. but what does it really mean? How can we love the LORD our God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strengths? In this series, we will study the Shema in detail, paying particular attention to the Hebrew words in which the command was first recorded, recited and understood. 

 


References

[1] Parsons, J. J., 2020. The Shema – Introduction. [Online]  Available at: https://hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Torah/The_Shema/shemaIntro.pdf [Accessed 11 June 2020].

[2] Chabad, 2013. An Overview of the Shema: Declare Your Belief. [Online] Available at: https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/862695/jewish/An-Overview.htm [Accessed 13 June 2020].

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