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Blessings of Shema: Transcribed Lecture

The blessings leading to the shema both of them even the evening are the preparation for saying shema, and remembering the key elements of what it is we hope to accomplish with the shema. The key to the opening sentence, “shema yisroel hashem elokanu hashem echad” its very strange because the way its written in the torah its written in a way as if god is speaking to us, “shema yisroel” listen Israel, and then it switches to hashem elokanu as if we’re speaking, as if moshe is speaking to the Jews its one of the rare times when you find a declaration for a statement that the Jews are making and they’re not making it to god such as naasai vinishma, but they’re making a broad declaration and that declaration becomes part of the torah meaning it has eternal truth to it. And then it switches back and forth, who is speaking to whom? When it says “shema yisroel” is god calling our attention, or are we calling attention to ourselves? So lets get first sound of shema. What’s the first sound you hear when you say shema? “sh”. There’s a reason for it, because in order to really hear you first have to “ssshhhhh”. You have to quiet down. The first thing is, it’s a wonderful exercise, it’s a wonderful meditative device that when you say the shema you first go “sshhh” to yourself because it’s a way of calming down, and knowing how to pay attention. Its also very important to know that when you say “hashem elokanu” although its translated in most siddurim as, “god is our lord” or “hashem is our god”, I believe in all my heart and being that’s wrong and it’s a major mistake. God is god, and god is everyone’s god. God is a definitive, he’s a definition, and he’s a noun. The lord is descriptive. So god is god for all people even those for who god is not the lord, not the authority or the boss. To lord over someone, that person is my lord and my master. Lord means that I must obey. That’s what you’re accepting when you say the first sentence of shema. That’s why I believe with all my heart and soul that when it says hashem elokanu what we’re saying is god is our lord not the lord is our god. And what you’re saying is by definition god is god, and that’s what we’ve been dealing with with the blessings until this point. Now that I have this awareness that god is god, I would like god to be my lord because by virtue of god being my lord he is concerned and involved with me and if god is god then gods being involved with me and concerned with what I do is a very important statement. Now if you look at the word, the Hebrew word we use for “adonai” it’s spelled a yud a hay a vuv a hay. Hebrew is not like any other language, Hebrew is much different and the language most similar to Hebrew is sign language. In herbew whenever you have a word the structure of that word tells you many things. If you look at the word youll actually find three words in this word and theyre all related one is “haya”, “god was”. The other is “hoye” “god is” and the other is “yihiye” “god always will be”, meaning god is infinite. It has nothing to do with lord lord is a position of power. This is not an expression of power. If youre going to translate it as lord because we pronounce it “adonay”, then the more appropriate way to translate it would be “ my master”. So therefore whenever you see gods name spelled this way and you think about it but what youre suppose to keep in mind is, god was, god is, and god will be, and that god is my master meaning god is the the source for my strength that’s what it means. Elokanu means that god is our lord and hashem echad is one. Now we went through numerous translations of the word “echai”. We said number one,echad the most basic translation is that there is one god there is no other. second level, translation of the word echad is divine simplicity, it’s the philosophical term. Divine simplicity means that whatever god wants god want with gods entire being,and its not that theres multiple personalities pulling god in dfferent directions. God is simple. It isnt that god is made up of many parts that’s another translation of echad. Theres another level of echad, and the other level of echad is that god is the only thing that is nothing else really is because we believe thatwe are recreated every second therefore none of us really exist we assume that we are going to live the next moment but the only thing that truly is by definition from moment to the next is god and the only reason that’s true is because god is infinite there are no boundaries to god and the two and associated to each other and we find this in multiple places in the teffilla. Look at the juxtaposition of this verse “my soul is utterly confounded (or confused), but you god how long” so the juxtaposition is between the confusion and not gods clarity but god being infinite. By definition once you’re limited you’re confused especially one who has a soul and the soul wants to attach to that which is unlimited, you’re torn in so many ways we live in the realities of this world and yet we’re pushed to the spiritual world as well. “There are many designs in a persons heart but the council of god that will prevail” so it doesn’t say that there are many thoughts in the heart of a person but god will prevail, it says but the council of god will prevail. Humans think that god is not expressed as thought but as processed thought.


Is it possible to function as a human being with that last definition of echad (that god is the only oneand the only thing that actually exists)? You cant function like that that’s why you have two sentences. “shema yisroel hashem elokanu hashem echad” is gods presentation of gods onesness. “baruch shaim kavod l’olam baed” is the presentation of the oneness, the maximum oneness that can be perceived by a human being. In kabbalistic terms that’s called “the higher sense of oneness” which is a sentence of shema and the second sentence which I oneness from the perspective of humanity is called “the lower sense of oneness” and that’s the functioning sense of oneness the only one we can use and that’s simplicity, and the sense that theres one god and not more. This is why when we say shema we cover our eyes because the gemara on berachos says that when you cover youre eyes and the world is cut off around you, youre counciling a certain part of your sense of reality.

“and you should love god your lord with all your hearts with all your souls and with all of your resources”. All your resources what do you think that means? Most people think it means charity, but that’s not loving god with your resources that’s using your resources to express your love. So how do you love god with your resources? There are three ways you can do it; one, imagine someone shows up at your door one day and says “ helo you have an anonymous friend who adores you and this friend has decided he’s watched you shlep cabs subways and buses for to long andd has decided that you should have a chauffeured limousine at your beck and call for 10 years and hell pay for the chauffeur for the limousine and all the gas and repairs. But there’s one condition you can never ask who your anonymous friend is. We have all these wonderful experiences in life made possible by an anonymous benefactor. So loving god with what you posses is wanting to find out who’s this anonymous benefactor. That’s what love means, learning about something. Two, the more we live with our gifts from god the more we should love and appreciate them. Why does it say with all your hearts? Mishna says that all your hearts mean with both your yetzer hara and your yetzer tov. How do you love god with your evil inclination? It means youre suppose to turn your evil inclination around and use it for good. There are those that explain that you have to realize what a human being wants deep deep down is part of a human being’s being. That more than a human being wants all the good things and all the bad things he wants to love god. So loving god with all your hearts is accepting that there’s nothing more meaningful or better for you or more rewarding than loving god. Another explaination is as follows; the chavitz chaim’s son died at a very young age he said “ you know god the minute I had children I loved you more because I was so grateful but there was always a part of my heart that was reserved for my children and now that you took this child away now there’s more of my heart to love you, because now I can use that room to love you.” So he explained at the eulogy that it means that our hearts go out in so many directions and usually we see that all this love you have for one takes up all this room in your heart how can you possibly have room for more, and “all your hearts” means to understand that any type of love you have doesn’t preclude love of god. Weather its love you have for a spouse for parents for a child it doesn’t mean that love is not directed to god, its there, and that’s a way of loving god. I remember when my wife was pregnant with our second child and our oldest was running around being very funny, we were just so overwhelmed with love and we were wondering is it possible to love two this much how are you gonna make room to love both of them, how will it feel to have two babies. We thought the only thing that was possible was to not love this baby so much because our whole being was wrapped up in this child, and low and behold as soon as our second child was born there was extra room there. It was an unbelievable thing, that love for one being doesn’t cut away from love of another is a fantastic feeling. And that’s what it means “with all your hearts”, the more hearts a person has the more a person learns how to love the more capable the person is of really loving, and of loving god because of it. What I do when i say “all your hearts, is go over all the people I love, and when you think about it that’s the greatest gift god has given you. And to understand that that’s how I experience gods love, not only that but by appreciating it that’s the way I love god back. So why does it say souls? If you remember there are five names for the soul you have the basic soul, which is called the “nefesh chaim” the soul of basic living and functioning which we share with animals. But we have an additional soul which is divided into five parts and that’s “ruach” ,“nefesh”, “nishama”, “yichida”, “?”. Nishama, which we usually hear as the most powerful soul, is the center one, its number three, and nishama is that which communicates between the upper two and the lower two. so when it says with all your soul it means to learn to be aware of the five different levels of your soul. So of course you first have to know what they are before youre aware of them. But I think its talking about something else beyond that. We experience many different things spiritually all the time and we realize that theres different parts of our spiritual lives that are touched at different times. So when youre in shul something is touched, when youre in a class something else is touched, and when youre watching a gorgeous sunset something else is touched, and when youre sailing crashing against the waves something else is touched, and when youre in the mountains and youre looking down something else is touched. Wherever we go theres a million different parts of our soul that are touched all the time. And learning how to say, no matter how much our soul is touched, and no matter what the context in which our soul is touched, and no matter why I felt my soul was being touched, to understand that’s still a way of connecting to god. Its very easy when youre davening and you have a great prayer which isn’t easy, but when you do have a great prayer it’s a religious experience. But lets say youre walking along and you see a gorgeous sunset it’s a very spiritual experience and you feel that your soul is being touched. So you say “well that obviously not the same thing as davening and feeling that my soul is talking to me and its directing me in a proper way” and it may not be the same thing but when it says “love god with all your souls” its to understand that that’s a way in which god touches our soul as well. Or you fall in love with somebody its definitely it’s a uniquely human experience, its your soul and its not the same thing as feeling great when youre davening and its not the same thing as walking a sunset, this is fireworks! So then it’s a different part of your soul. You have to understand that anywhere youre soul is touched its god, and we don’t do it. Its unbelievable how different our lives would be if we were to do that I think that’s what it means when it says “all your souls”. “and these words that I am commanding you today should be in your hearts”. When it says “I am commanding you TODAY” we learn that everyday we have to feel as if everything is new. this is one of the major concepts in Judaism, these to words “as if”. We pray east as if the temple was still standing, everyday should be “as if“ the torah was given today. There are numorous things we do that are as I, when you put up an aruv its as if there’s a wall in the city. We have great imaginations. You have to learn how to use your imagination in torah, and the more you learn how to use your imagination and you realize imagination plays an important role in torah the newer it will be.

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