What is the Shema?
Shema Israel, Yahweh, Eloheinu, Yahweh Echad!
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:
The Sh’ma or the Shema is the call phrase for the people set apart to the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. We are told to say this when we lie down and when we rise up. Morning and evening we quote this and declare that The Great and Awesome God of Israel is One and that He says that He is One. But what does that really mean to a people that do not necessarily understand or know what it means to Sh’ma. In a nutshell Sh’ma is the first Command given to Israel that calls their attention and identifies Who is speaking to them and then tells them to prepare for instruction so they can make an informed decision and walk in obedience. The word Sh’ma (H8085) from the Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon is pronounced Sha-ma (with a breath sound on the end) and is a verb which means in its simplest term ‘to hear,’ but in its fullest literal meaning is: to hear, listen to, obey (verb) that is why it is a verb; it is clearly an action word. The interesting thing about the word Sh’ma is that it also means to understand, yield, grant a request, to give heed to, to summon and to proclaim. So when you say “Shema” to a Hebrew believer you are saying much more than listen to me, you are saying:
“Listen to me and after you hear what I’ve said please reiterate it to me so that I know that you understand what I am asking of you and then think about it, and after you have thought about it, and if you make a decision to accept what I have said then I expect for you to do it or follow through and complete what I have asked you to do.”
The Shema is a great example of what I like to call ‘One Word Hebrew, Many Words English.’ There is no possible way to give you a one word meaning or definition for this word, especially if there is something that has to be done in conjunction with it and if there are consequences if the task is not carried out. This is why the Messiah is so explicit in telling us, “If any man has an ear let him hear (sh’ma).” The Sh’ma is the bottom line to the entire Scripture; Hear and Obey, that’s what Yahweh wants us to do. When the Father tells us to do something we have the choice to listen, decipher intelligently and then to walk it out as He says (not as we want) or the choice to walk in disobedience and reap the repercussions of our actions.
The hearing goes back to the garden in Genesis 2:17 when Adam and Hav’vah (Eva) heard The Father’s command that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Now this command was given before Adam and Hav’vah were separated, but was still expected for both to keep after separation; they chose to listen and decipher, but they fell short in walking it out. According to the book of Enoch, they were in the garden a whole five and one half hours when they fell.
The next very interesting thing about the Sh’ma is that it can also refer to hearing a ‘sound’ as in a musical term, such as, to sound a shofar or to sound the alarm. This is why on Sabbath we sound (blow) the Shofar to alert everyone that it is Shabbat and it’s time to Worship. During the Scriptural days and even now in parts of the world where there are Semitic people you will hear the sound of rams horns to acknowledge special times of the week (Sabbath), month (New Moon) and year (Feasts/Holy Days). They are saying to Sh’ma; when hearing it we are supposed to straightened and strengthened to walk Righteous. Hearing the shofar is supposed to call us to remembrance and therefore making us accountable for our actions and realize where we are and that we may need to make a choice to ‘Right’ our lives to mirror Messiah Yahshuah’s, but even at the hearing of the shofar we have a choice.
In Genesis 3:8 they ‘heard’ Father walking in the garden and Adam and Hav’vah made a decision; they took leaves from the fig tree and covered their bodies, so now they have added insult to injury because not only have they sinned, but they have tried to cover up their sin by using another piece of Father’s creation to hid what they had done (Wonder why Messiah cursed the fig tree…this is another teaching). All together they listened but did not hear because the most important part of keeping the Sh’ma is walking it out. Obedience is always the crucial part to walking out the Commands of The Father, because obedience is what makes the blessings/curses work. When Adam and Hav’vah heard the sound of Father walking in the garden they made a decision and found themselves caught in deception by sewing together leaves and hiding from the Creator. The sound of Him in the garden caused them to make a decision and to act on the decision that they had made.
Finally, in Mark 12:29-30 Messiah is asked by a scribe what is the first commandment of them all. Messiah answered,
“The first of all the commands is, ‘Hear, O Yisra’ĕl, יהוה our Elohim, יהוה is one. ‘And you shall love יהוה your Elohim with all your heart, and with all your being, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first command.
Messiah quotes Deuteronomy 6:4-6 which tells us that we are first, to pay attention, decipher intellectually and to walk out the instructions that are to follow; second, to identify Who is the Speaker and third, receive instructions. This is the perfect answer to the scribe’s question, but he adds that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself, there is no other command greater than these.” Messiah adds the second great command which is not found written that way in the Scriptures per say, but it covers the last six commandments which govern our relationship with others. The first four govern our relationship with our Creator. So it is true that all the commands of the Father hinge upon these: To love Father with all our being, mind and strength and to love each other as we love ourselves, for if we do, we will not put other gods up in His Face, we will not create and go after other gods, we will not make His Name common and we will strive to keep and guard His Sabbath day of rest. In that same thought process we will not murder, steal from, commitment adultery against, covet, lie on and disrespect our neighbor. Thus, we will fulfill the Ten Commandments (or categories) that Father commanded of us at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Sh’ma is telling us to take heed to these things and do them and Messiah was reiterating that to us.
In closing, the Sh’ma is not just a word, but it also is a sound, which is calling to us to listen, intellectually decipher and obey by walking out what was said. Notice in the Renewed Covenant Messiah Yahshuah constantly says, “He who has ears let him hear.” Sh’ma!