Rabbi Raymond Apple
Rabbi Raymond AppleLarry Brandt

THE "K'RI'AT SHEMA" SECRET

The "K’ri’at Shema", the twice-daily Proclamation of the Shema, emanates from this week’s Torah portion. It is the basic statement of Jewish identity and belief. JH Hertz called it "the keynote of all Judaism".

The first line is often translated as "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One". A better translation is "Listen, Israel: HaShem (the four-letter Divine Name) is our God, the One HaShem".

It is telling us three things –
1. The existence of God is the chief fact of Jewish identity.
2. The name of God is the four-letter Hebrew word symbolised by HaShem.
3. HaShem is Unique (not just mathematically one as against any other number but totally distinct from anything or anyone else).

Saying these things in one sentence answers the common questions,
- Who made God?
- What is God?
- Are there any other gods?

According to Israel Abrahams, the Shema is "the fundamental dogma (monotheism), the fundamental duty (love), the fundamental discipline (the study of Torah) and the fundamental method (the union of ‘letter’ and ‘spirit’) of the Jewish religion". At least twice a day the believer says the Shema and thus daily proclaims: "I am a Jew!"

Some Jews who only visit shule yearly, only say the Shema once a year at the end of Yom Kippur, implying, "Wherever I have been this year, today I am with my people!"

Some only say the Shema once in their lives, just before they die: this proclaims, "Even if I have strayed, I die as a Jew!"


CHANGING THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

The sidra contains a second version of the Ten Commandments, but the wording does not entirely accord with the more common version found in Parashat Yitro in the 20th chapter of Sh’mot. Check one version against the other and you will see the differences as well as the commonalities.

We wonder what gave Moses the right to alter the wording. The answer is that what he wrote in both versions is not on his own initiative but at the command of the Divine Lawgiver.

The basic content of the Commandments is the same in both places, but here the emphasis is a little different because alternative interpretations – all emanating from God - needed to be brought to the people’s attention.

Rabbi Raymond Apple was for many years Australia’s highest profile rabbi and the leading spokesman on Judaism. After serving congregations in London, Rabbi Apple was chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, for 32 years. He also held many public roles, particularly in the fields of chaplaincy, interfaith dialogue and Freemasonry, and is the recipient of several national and civic honours. Now retired, he lives in Jerusalem and blogs at http://www.oztorah.com