The Jewish Pledge of Allegiance: the Shema
By Avi Lazerson
We do not have that many mitzvot that the Torah has actually commanded us to perform. Most of the mitzvot that the Torah commanded us to do are based on life as it was lived over three thousand years ago when the Jews came into the Land of Israel. They are 'land based' mitzvot based on agriculture, (such as tithes, first fruits, etc) animal raising (first born, animal tithes) and sacrifices (both animals and fruits and grains) for the holy Temple.
Today many mitzvot that we perform are those that the rabbis of the Talmud have told us to do (such as Chanuka and Purim, various aspect of the prayer ceremony) and let us not make light of them since G-d told us to listen to the rabbis. But still, these are not the mitzvot that G-d Himself had commanded us in the Torah. Besides the Shabbat and the holiday festivals, there is the mitzva of tephilin and of blessing after eating bread and a few others.
The one mitzva from the Torah that does stand out from the others is the mitzvah of reciting the 'Shema'. The sea of learning called the Oral Torah, which is the Mishna and Talmud begin with the tractate of Brachot, and the tractate of Brachot begins with the mitzvah of reciting of the Shema.
What is the importance of this mitzvah that it has become the beginning of the learning of the order of the Mishna and the Talmud?
The Shema is not like the other mitzvot. The Shema is similar to the American Pledge of Allegiance that was (and perhaps is still) recited in the public school system by the children and teachers each morning. In the recital of the Shema we affirm our belief in G-d as not only the Master of the World, but more so, that he is one with the world.
We do not view G-d as an outside deity who exercises his powers over his subjects and over the world. We view G-d as an integral part of the world; that there is no part of the world or universe that is void of His presence. When we say Shema we are brought back to the realization that the world and all that is in the world and that all that happens in the world is not just a manifestation of G-d's will but also a manifestation of G-d Himself.
Before we begin the day we must prepare ourselves to see G-d's presence in the world. We must remind ourselves that the world and all that exists in it can only exist because G-d's active will has caused it to be so. Even more so, all that exists is an external manifestation of G-d; in the midst of all being is G-d. Once we have said the Shema and reminded ourselves of the essential truth of existence then we are ready to descend into the materialism of this world.
As the day closes, we recite the Shema again. We recite it once in the morning and once in the evening. We need to say it before we go into the world so that we may remember to see G-d in all of what happens and that all that happens is his will and manifestation. But we also need to say it at the conclusion of the day that we can review the day's events and see in our mind and memory G-d's hand in all that has transpired.
The Shema is the Jewish pledge of allegiance to G-d. Through this we pledge our being to seeing and thereby revealing G-d's manifestation and presence in the world and in all that we do.
Unlike those who view the world as separate from their god, we Jews see the world as an external manifestation of G-d's existence in the world. The materialistic aspect of the world is so great that we must constantly remind ourselves that G-d is not just the master of the world but he is the external manifestation of everything that happens in the world lest we become snagged by the externalities of the world and think that things just 'happen'.
Start off the day today by saying the Shema and then finish it tonight by saying it one more time. As you do it, recall everything that happened during the day and see how it was G-d's manifestation and will. By doing so you will have brought spirituality into your life.
from the December 2011 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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