Making a Statement- Shema
Taste of Talmud
“Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.” A Jew is obligated to recite these words daily. Is it sufficient to merely recite this declaration or are we expected to give some thought to what we are saying? There are three levels of intent which need to be clarified. The most basic level is, to focus on what you are doing, as opposed to doing it as an afterthought. In the case of Shema, this level of concentration would preclude a person from fulfilling his obligation while he happens to be proofreading a Torah in the section of Shema. The second level of intent is to intend to fulfill the positive commandment of reciting the Shema as was commanded to us by G-d in his Torah. There is a difference of opinion amongst our sages whether or not this is required. The opinion of the Ritva is that such intent is not necessary. The third level of intent is to have a keen understanding of the meaning of the words which are being recited. In regards to the recitation of the Shema, this requires one to be fully aware that he is accepting upon himself the yoke of heaven and the truth that the G-d of the Jews, who took us out of Egypt, is the One and Only true and everlasting G-d (Ritva to Berachos 13a).
Taste of Halacha
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 60:4) sides with the opinion of the Rosh and Baha”g who disagree with the Ritva. He says that a person must have specific intent prior to the performance or recitation of any Mitzvah. He must think to himself, “I am about to fulfill a command of G-d with my words and actions.” The Mishna Berura (ad. loc.) qualifies this halacha in a number of points. To begin with, the requirement to have specific intent is only true in regards to a Biblical commandment but not in regards to a Mitzvah instituted by our sages. In addition, when a person has come to shul to pray, this constitutes specific intent to fulfill the mitzvah of Shema. Furthermore, in the event that a Mitzvah must be repeated due to lack of intent, the accompanying blessing is not repeated. Finally, ideally, one should always focus and concentrate prior to performing a Mitzvah on what he is about to do.
Taste of Parasha
The Medrash teaches us, that as long as Yosef was lost, Yaakov was inconsolable. Yaakov knew that his mission on this world was to father the twelve tribes of Israel. Only when all of their varied strengths were unified would the divine presence be able to rest among the Jewish nation. With the loss of Yosef, Yaakov was worried that he had failed in founding the Jewish nation. When he meets Yosef, he immediately proclaims, “Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.” Rav Shlomo Wolbe explains that Yaakov was proclaiming the fact that now the Jewish nation was unified and able to be the catalyst for spiritual growth and connection to the One and only true G-d; the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The divine presence did not rest among the tribes of Jacob until this unity was achieved. The Medrash teaches us that after we call upon our fellow Jews to unite as one to proclaim G-d is one, we immediately mention G-d’s name. This is a level even greater than the angels who must say the word kadosh three times prior to enunciating the name of G-d. This may be why our sages teach us that in the merit of saying Shema Jews are victorious in battle. By saying Shema Yisroel with the proper intent, we draw together to serve G-d, as one.