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July 19, 2002 - Image 71

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2002-07-19

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Torah Portion

The Shema Is 'For Real,' And So
Is Our Quest To Know God

Jewish connector that ties parent to
child.
The Shema is for real. That is
obviously and experientially true.
But God, knowing God, is another
matter altogether. We can never
"know" God; we can never touch
think that my earliest memory
the infinite with our finite minds.
of religious school is learning
We can never know what it means
the Shema for my consecra-
to say that God is "one," a unique
tion service.
singleness that defies the reality of
Not understanding what it
our complex and multifaceted
meant, I only knew that it was
world.
important for me to say it and be
The Shema, is, indeed,
part of the group saying it.
for real; it has a tangible
Our Torah reading for this
reality in my world and a
week contains both the Ten
measurable affect on my
Commandments and
Jewish existence. But
Shema-rAhavtah. We roll
Eloheinu? I can . never truly,
the Shema paragraph into
really, know "our God,"
the mezuzot on our door-
nor can I ever fully com-
posts, and into the leather
prehend what it means to
boxes of tefillin. We mark
say God is echad, is "one."
our homes with it; we bind
The Shema is a state-
it to our bodies when we
meat of the challenge that
RAB
BI
JOSEPH
pray. I knew, even as a
is the essence of the Jewish
KLEIN
child, that the Shema was
quest.
Ours is a constant
Sp ecial to the
supposed to be important
struggle to touch the
Je wish News
to me because of the
Infinite from within the
solemn reverence with
finite confines of our
which everyone regarded it.
hearts and minds and lives. We
From childhood on, we carry the
remind ourselves of that quest with
Shema like a verbal membership
words from our Reform siddur,
card — a reminder, whenever we
Gates of Prayer:
pull it out from its pocket-place,
"Days pass and the years vanish,
that we belong to a larger and very
and we walk sightless among mira-
special group. Because it was so
cles. Lord, fill our eyes with seeing,
early incorporated and integrated
and our minds with knowing; let
into the very soul of our Jewish
there be moments when Your
being, we tend to take it for grant-
Presence, like lightning, illumines
ed, knowing it for what it is, rather
the darkness in which we walk. Help
than for what it says or for what it
us to see, wherever we gaze, that the
means.
bush burns unconsumed. And we,
There is a story told about a stu-
clay touched by God, will reach out
dent who learned the Shema from
for holiness, and exclaim in wonder:
hearing it (as we all did), but never
How filled with awe is this place,
quite got the Hebrew words right.
and we did not know it!" 0
He recited "Shema is for real' I don't
know Eloheinu; I don't know
Echad." For all its childlike charm,
there is a lot of truth in that mis-
quote!
Something indeed tells us that
the Shema is "for real," that those
Is there a better way to translate
words we so easily repeat are intrin-
Shema than with the verb "to
sically important to our Jewish
hear"? We are, after all, asking
selves. It's "for real" because of its
our people to do more than sim-
effect on us personally and commu-
ply "hear." Perhaps the Shema
nally; because it has been our state-
should not be translated at all,
ment of faith for 3,000 years;
but left in Hebrew altogether. In
because it links each generation to
what ways might that be to our
the one that precedes it and to the
advantage? How is it that we can
one that comes after it; and because
come to "know" God, and where
it is the single most significant
might you suggest for someone
Joseph Klein is rabbi of Te7; --)le
to begin the search?

Shabbat Vaethanan:
Deuteronomy 3:23-
7. 11; Isaiah 40:1-26

I

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