What is the meaning of the words שמע ישראל ה’ אלקינו ה’ אחד Hear Yisrael! Why not a command of understanding, fathom, think, etc, which seems to be a better word usage in the formulating of this mitzvah?
Before we give an explanation to the above, let us present an observation in the difference between two rituals of accepting allegiances. The custom when one pledges his allegiance to the flag of the United States of America it is stated standing and while simultaneously placing one’s right hand over his heart. Our pledge to Hashem is during our recitation of the Shmah Yisrael which is stated while sitting as we place our right hand over our eyes.
Wow what a world of a difference. I surmise that the hand over the heart is a demonstration of deep feeling and passion that comes along with the pledge of allegiance to the United States. At first thought one might think how beautiful of a pledge allegiance they have. In fact why does our pledge to Hashem have the hand covering the eyes instead of the heart? What does covering the eyes have to do with demonstrating passion and heartfulness to what we are pledging?
The difference between the two, are light years away from each other. There are two different methods to arrive at the truth, one of seeing and the other of believing. There is a story told of a Rebbe whose Chassidim went to another town to visit the court of another tzaddik on Succos. When they returned home they were asked by their Rebbe Nu so what spectacular scene did you witness over there? Whereupon they responded that when the Rebbe invited the Uhshpizin into his Succah he actually was able to see them when they entered. Their Rebbe just smiled and said it is true that I don’t see them enter. I have the Emunas Chachamim that they do come in to visit. One should know that my emunah in the coming of the Ushpizin is greater reaching than that Rebbe’s seeing them come in. Emunah reaches a far higher level of light which enters and affects one’s neshama than what sight can achieve and attain. Using a physical tool of the body has its limitations in contrast to using the spiritual tool of emunah which possesses no boundaries.
The Meforshim explain that when we recite the Shemah we close our eyes because by this act we proclaim to the populace that it is not necessary for us to bring Empirical Evidence from our sensory experience gleaned from this world in order to prove that G-d exists. We heard the truth of Hashem’s existence and creation of the universe from our parents who heard it from their parents transmitted from generation to generation starting from the Sinai Revelation of Hashem at Matan Torah and even prior to this event by Avraham Avinu. The Torah says (Breishis 18,19) כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך ה’ that I know that Avraham will command his children after him to preserve the way of Hashem, one generation to the next to the point that Am Yisrael gained the historic title of People of the Book even in the eyes of many nations. The Baal Haturim says that the end letters of אשר יצוה את בניו spells the word תורה. This conveys that because of Avraham’s mesorah to his generations he caused that the Torah is always studied learned and expounded upon. The Jewish people were made the torch-bearers of Divine wisdom in the world, until the great day when “all the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters fill the ocean.”
It is from there that today we possess the emunah that is beyond any doubt. Shema Yisrael: Close your eyes but open your ears to the mesorah and believe that Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad. Listen to the message that has been passed down by millions of your ancestry, by those who stood at Har Sinai and witnessed personally the revelation of Hashem to every single Yid.
The enlarged letters of ayin and dalet in the passuk of Shmah Yisrael also allude to this concept. The letter ayin means eye and the letter dalet means remove. A poor person is called דל because he is removed from physical resources to obtain his needs. A bucket is called דלי because it removes water from its source. These two enlarged letters send the message “remove your eyes”. When it comes to accept the yoke of Hashem’s kingdom and unity, emunah is the conduit through which we pledge our allegiances to the cause. Reason can be wavering not so with emunah.
The enlarged letters also hint to emunah in a different fashion. The letters ע ד mean an ornament specifically crowns that are placed on the head. Chazal say that when Am Yisrael declared נעשה ונשמע the commitment of doing even before they heard the details of the obligation entailed, they were rewarded with two crowns on their head corresponding to preceding נעשה before נשמע. These crowns are called in the passuk עד (Shmos 33 6). The reason they merited to crowns as a reward is explained because their declaration was one of emunah and trust in Hashem. Crowns are placed above the head the organ of reason and rationale the opposite of emunah. So we see from this that עד alludes to emunah and therefore the enlarged letters of עד in the Shema also require one to accept Hashem’s Kingdom by possessing emunah in Hashem Elokainu Hashem Echad.
The acceptance of the Yoke of Shamayim upon oneself with emunah drastically changes one’s day and life if it is done properly. To merely place one’s hand on one’s heart is meaningless for it does not arouse any emotion or passion towards morality and virtuous conduct if your heart is already a living zoo full of wild animalistic cravings and undisciplined middos. After all, the US pledges allegiance to the flag that blows in the wind likened to a leaf, in all directions all according to the whim of the wind. Therefore in essence one is pledging allegiance to oneself, to the lobbyists, to decadence and lust, to a freedom that will eventually give you the lifestyle permitting perversion and addictions which most of the people of the world desire so badly. The allegiance to the flag in the “wind” will eventually “wind” you up with a רוח שטות (Sotah 3) a רוח קנאה (Bamidbar 5,14), a רוח שקר (Melachim 1,22,23), a wind of folly, chill, do as you please life.
Our allegiance, however, is to Hashem the creator of the universe in its entirety who is not a finite “object” to be worshiped but rather the sole “objective” of our life. In our allegiance, we long for the return of the original stature and dimensions of Man before the chait, and for a world that the Kingdom of Hashem will be revealed with a clarity never seen before. With Emunah we must believe in ourselves and our relationship with Hashem that we can grow and change and become bonded with Him. For we too blow with the wind except that the wind I am referring to is ויפח באפיו נשמת חיים and רוח אפינו משיח ה’. As the passuk in Yeshaya saysויראת ה’ ונחה עליו רוח ה’ רוח חכמה ובינה רוח עצה וגבורה רוח דעת.
In 1962 Reuven Zimmerman later to be popularly known as Bob Dylan produced a famous song that put him in the Hall of Fame of Music called Blowin in the Wind. It poses rhetorical questions about peace, war, and freedom and the refrain is The answer my friend is blowing in the wind, whose meaning is ambiguous. People have interpreted the refrain to mean either that the answer is so obvious like the wind right in your face or it is so intangible like the wind. My Rebbe ztl spent a short time with him at his home discussing life issues and Torah as presented in the Biography of Reb Shlomo Freifeld.
Many questions that concern Torah observance and commitment with which people grapple have answers for those who truly seek them. However, it really depends a lot on which wind is blowing you. If it is the wind of emunah there are no questions that can shake you away. If you are unfortunately blown by the other wind of the culture then no answer will ever leave you satisfied enough to join or to still hang in there nevertheless. רוחי אשר שמתי בפיך לא ימושו מפיך ומפי זרעך ומפי זרע זרעך מעתה ועד עולם. One has to bond to the רוחי the wind of Hashem that is already inside of us in order to be truly connected.
May we merit as soon as possible to the fulfillment of the words we recite in Musaf Rosh Hashana ויאמר כל אשר נשמה באפו ה’ אלקי ישראל מלך ומלכותו בכל משלה.