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“Watchword” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

August 12, 2022 | 15 Av 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we move toward Shabbat. You can listen to it as a podcast here.

When you were younger, did you learn that the Sh’ma is the “watchword of our faith?” Taken from this week’s Torah portion in Deuteronomy (6:4) and utilized in the liturgical context, it is a declaration and an instruction combined. But what do these six words even mean?

We have said and sung them so many times that we might have become inured to the significance of their meaning. So, let’s take it apart. The 15th/16th century Italian Biblical commentator Obavia ben Jacob Sforno lifted its significance and offered deeper meaning as presented here:

Sh’ma Yisrael, Listen Israel, with your open mind.

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד

Adonai, God is the one who is responsible for the existence of a physical universe and our globe, the only part of it on which physical life exists.

Eloheinu, our God is the choicest of all the abstract forces assigned to supervise the conduct of all human beings, and even inert creatures. From God we yearn for assistance in helping us to achieve our purpose on earth. We do not turn to any intermediary. To God, we offer prayer.

Adonai Echad, God is one. Seeing that God created all phenomena in this universe, celestial or terrestrial out of a total void, it is logically impossible for there to be another phenomenon representing an existence independent of God. It also makes God basically different, unique, for all things created by God are by definition potentially terminal, transient existences. God is absolutely unique in the world…

Sforno and other commentators recognize the centrality of the Divine in the expression of faith. For many of us, it is difficult to acknowledge God, let alone describe or pray to God. And yet, in every service, we recite these words. Their meaning washes over us and sometimes moves through us. Gaining awareness that there may be more to the universe than us as mere mortals places our existence in a grander context. We are but one piece of a much larger universe. And yet, within the world of the sacred, we, too, have the potential for great impact.

We continue to offer this Biblical verse as part of our liturgy as we watch each word emerge from our lips quietly and in a whisper to remind ourselves that faith is as accessible as these six important words we offer in prayer.

שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֶחָֽד

Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad

(originally shared August 16, 2019)

Shabbat Shalom!

What does the Sh’ma evoke for you? Connect with me here.

  • If you are in town, come celebrate Shabbat together and join us for Qabbalat Shabbat with plenty of singing, learning, praying, thinking, and some treats to eat and drink before and after services. If you’re unable to join onsite, please join on Zoom, on Facebook Live, or stream on our website. Let’s celebrate together.
  • Tot Rock Shabbat gathers online at 5:00 p.m.
  • Riverway Shabbat for people in their 20s/30s. Register to join us onsite or online for a relaxed, musical, Qabbalat Shabbat service led by Rabbi Andrew Oberstein and our incredible Riverway Musicians! For those joining us onsite. we’ll enjoy a schmooze and a nosh before services starts at 7pm, services will begin at 7:30, and we’ll have dinner & drinks & schmooze after. Our evening ends at 10:00p.m.
  • A delightful Torah Study begins at 9:00 a.m. We begin with a short service and Torah reading and then jump into a provocative discussion. To join the conversation interactively, access Zoom. You can also watch on Temple Israel’s website or Facebook page.
  • TGIS will gather at Temple Israel at 10:00 a.m. No registration necessary.

Rabbi Elaine Zecher