If you were to ask anyone who knows what the Shema is, they would probably think such a statement is ridiculous. But it has changed. Along with the Ten Commandments The Shema is prominent in this weeks Torah Portion:
4. Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; 5. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. 6. And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart; 7. And you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house, and on your gates.[Deuteronomy 6]
One morning this week, while filling out a survey about Jewish leadership, I thought of that. One of the question was about moments when your Jewish life changed. As I've written before, While in Rome in July 1995 I had a dream, and the dream had a lot to do with the Shema. A bearded rabbi told me to fresco the words above in Hebrew on the walls of a blank room. When I was halfway done, the letters spun around me up into the sky. It was then I started to my journey back to Judaism.
Before the Dream, the Shema was another route prayer I had to learn. Given its fundamental nature in Jewish thought and liturgy, Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is in any Jewish prayer book you pick up. The problem with the Judaism I grew up in was the hypocrisy of people practicing. The Shema was said cold and emotionless as a robot by the students in my Orthodox Hebrew School I used to prepare for my Bar Mitzvah. Congregations would say it, but would rarely actually take the words of education and practice to heart. While it buried itself in my psyche, it had little meaning. So I went looking else where, mostly in Taoism for spiritual meaning.
The dream changed my thoughts about the Shema, and thus changed the Shema. It was no longer a mere set of rote Hebrew words I could recite without reading. It was something else. The Shema, for lack of a better word, lived. There was something more to teaching and reciting and putting on tefillin and putting up mezuzot. There was deeper meaning to these words.
In the ensuing years I would learn Hebrew and begin to recite the Shema at least twice a day. The first minyan I would attend as an adult taught me to chant the Shema, and I saw even more possibilities. But time and circumstance once again changed the Shema. I was also in grad school for my Master's in Jewish Studies, and in doing too much I lost the Shema, and stopped reciting it every day.
Then this year, something happened, and the Shema changed again. With Sweetie in my life, the Shema has returned. We are diligent in our observance of "talk of them...when you lie down" and as part of our own goodnight ritual, making God a part of it as well. We are still in a distance relationship for a few more days, but for many months in cities over a thousand miles apart on our nightly phone calls to each other, we end with the Shema, and then say good night to each other. We just begun a ritual to find a way to say it together every morning as well.
As we got closer to living under the same roof, Sweetie, who is not yet Jewish, asked me a question that was to floor me. She asked that since we would have more doorposts once we moved in together, could we shop for a mezuzah together? We're still trying to find the one we want on our bedroom door, since all the cute ones seem to be missing the letter Shin on them required by Halakah. We both insist on it being prominent. But when we put up my apartment Mezuzah on our new home's front doorpost, I cried. While I expected to find a mate, I never expected one who would share the Shema and its mitzvot quite like this.
There is wonderful midrash about the words for man and woman by Rabbi Akiba. Ish, the word for man is spelled Aleph-Yud-Shin (איש). The word for Woman is Isha, spelled Aleph Shin Hei (אשה). Take away God in the Yud and the Hei of God's name and you are left only with Aleph-Shin (אש) Aish, Fire. There always needs to be a spiritual component in every relationship. Sweetie and I get that every day in our joint recitation.
The Shema changed. When I once said, "God is one" I thought it an obvious statement of monotheism. When we now say "God is one" Sweetie and I are one, for God is part of both of us. May it be the will of Hashem for many years to come that every night before I turn off the light, Sweetie and I will look into each others eyes and say "Shema Yisrael..."