The Shema (shmah) consisted of three Biblical passages recited morning and evening by Jews, since before the time of Jesus. These passages are Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21 and Numbers 15:37-41. The first word of Deuteronomy 6:4 “hear” is the word shema and it implies appropriate action and obedience. To pray the Shema was to commit oneself to loving God and obeying His laws. It is not a statement of belief as much as it is an oath of loyalty and a declaration of devotion. This would have been part of Jesus’ everyday experience.
When a teacher of the law asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment, He responded by quoting from the Shema (Matthew 22:34-38, Mark 12:28-30). Knowing about the history of the Shema also helps us to understand why Jesus often concluded His teaching with the words, “whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” In other words, if you heard the truth He proclaimed, you were to respond in obedience.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks states that, “the word shema itself means ‘listen’, and the recital of the Shema is the supreme act of faith-as-listening: to the voice that brought the universe into being, created us in love, and guides us through our lives.”
Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad!
Ve’ahavta et Adonai elohekha
uv khol nafshekha
uv khol me’odekha!