Shema: As The Apple Of The Eye
The recitation of the Shema contains two hundred and forty-eight words, corresponding to the organs in a person. The Holy One, Blessed Is He, said:”If you keep what is Mine, to recite Shema properly, I will guard what is yours [i.e., all your organs].” Therefore, David praises: “Preserve me as the apple of the eye”. (Psalms: 17:8)
Rabbi Shimon bar Chalafta said: This can be compared to a person living in the Galil who has a vineyard in Yehudah, and another person who is living in Yehudah and has a vineyard in the Galil. The one from Galil goes to Yehudah to tend to his vineyard, and the one from Yehudah goes to the Galil to tend to his vineyard. The two got together and one said to the other, “Instead of you coming to my place, take care of what is mine in your region, and I will take care of what is yours in my region”. (Midrash Tanchuma, Kedoshim #6)
The agreement that the man from the Galil and the man from Yehudah come to is definitely convenient; they are not required to travel as much, and it is often easier to work in an area that one is familiar with. But beyond the sense of practicality, the contract that binds them to take care of each other’s property creates a strong bond between them. As each one of them tends to the vineyard that is geographically in his region, he is aware that he is not taking care of what is his own, but rather, he is toiling for the other, having in mind that the other is doing the same for him. Each one is reminded on a daily basis of the partnership they share in.
The Midrash is not telling us that the Shema is a magical formula that contains two hundred and forty-eight words, and that, if recited, will generate in response God’s protection for all our organs. It is not about “I do this, and You do that”. It is about realizing that we are indeed the apple of God’s Eye; we are His most precious vineyard. There is nothing He wants more than to tend to us with utmost love and care.
What the Shema reminds us of, is that God is giving us a chance to renew our commitment to a partnership with Him. Instead of it simply being about the give and take, we are privileged to participate in the relationship by keeping and tending to what is His. Not as an end in itself, but as a means to constantly feel our involvement in the most intense of relationships.