Updated: Feb 16
Shema in Hebrew means “to hear”. It denotes not just hearing but hearing and obeying.
In Deuteronomy 6:4 we have the command, “Hear O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (NKJV) A better translation of this scripture would be, "Hear Israel - YHVH is our Elohim, YHVH is one!"
Any time in the Old Testament (TaNaKh) when the word LORD is written with all capital letters it is the personal name of God, YHVH. No one knows for sure how YHVH is pronounced, it could be close to Yahweh.
At any rate, "The Shema" is the central prayer of all believing Jews. It is one of the first portions of scripture that a Jewish child memorizes. Traditionally, it is recited at least twice a day, in the morning and in the evening. "The Shema" is rolled up into a tiny scroll and placed in a Mezuzah which is placed on the threshold of believing Jewish homes. They do this in obedience to the command given in the same chapter, verse 9, as well as in Deuteronomy 11:20.
"The Shema" is not limited just to this verse but it also includes verses 5-9. Notice that verse 5 includes the command that “you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” (NKJV)
In addition, in Rabbinic Judaism today The Shema includes additional scriptures from
Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41.
While this has only been a brief overview of "The Shema" and its importance to the Jewish life, one could ask, what does all of this have to do with me as a follower of Jesus today, after all I am not Jewish?
Well, in the New Testament Jesus was asked the question, what is the greatest commandment of all? Jesus quoted "The Shema" (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and stated that this was indeed the first and greatest commandment of all.
Mark 12:28-31 - "And one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, and perceiving that he had answered them well, asked him, Which is the first commandment of all? And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment. And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these." (KJV)
Matthew 22:36-40 - "Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." (KJV)
That being said, if a person considers themself to be a follower of Jesus, and He by His own words, states that "The Shema" is the greatest commandment, then I would venture to say that it should be of importance to His followers. I find it amazing that most all true Christians can quote and teach about John 3:16 but they can't quote Deuteronomy 6:4-5, much less do they understand its deep and very penetrating meaning. All followers of Yeshua should memorize "The Shema"- the watch word of our faith!
Why did Jesus say that the Torah (law) and Prophets hung on these two commandments? Because all of the "teachings and instructions" of YHVH and all of the words of the prophets centered on the way we serve/worship our God (first four commandments) and the way we relate to fellow human beings (the last 6 commandments). Please see my teaching on The Ten Commandments.
"The Shema" in Hebrew is – "Shema Yisrael Yahweh Eloheinu, Yahweh Echad."
Be blessed as you memorize and start reciting this commandment of all commandments.