Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center
Parashat Ekev 5762/ July 27, 2002
Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty
of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel.
A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies,
Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center,
and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet
under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's
International Center for Jewish Identity.
Prepared for Internet
Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.
Inquiries and comments to:
Dr. Isaac Gottlieb, Department of Bible,
Parashat Ekev 5762/ July 27, 2002
First Principles: The Shema
The three passages comprising the Recitation of the
Shema appear in the Torah as follows:
- In Parshat Shelah, the passage of "Va-yomer," from
Numbers 15:37-41, commanding fringes on the corners of our garments, and
appearing third in the Shema.
- In Parshat Ve-Ethanan, the passage of
"Shema," from Deuteronmy 6:4-9, commanding us to love the
Lord our G-d, and appearing first in the Shema.
- In this week's
reading, Parashat Ekev, the passage of "Ve-haya im shamoa,"
from Deuteronomy 11:13-21, commanding us to fear the Lord and worship Him, and
situated in the prayer between the above two
The following questions have been raised
regarding these passages that comprise the Shema:
- What special merit did these passages have, to be included in the Jewish
prayer book as part of the prayer which we are obliged to recite morning and
evening, as it is written, "reciting them ... when you lie down and when
you get up" (Deut. 11:19).
- How are these three passages that have been
connected into a single prayer related, and why do they appear in this
Analyzing the substance of each passage will
help us understand why they were established as part of this prayer.
- "Va-yomer," the passage on
fringes, as its name implies, concerns the commandment to make fringes on the
four corners of one's garment. This action itself has further
ramifications, following as a chain reaction, each action leading to the next in
a causal relationship: "that shall be your fringe" --> "look
at it" --> "recall all the commandments of the Lord" -->
"and observe them" --> "thus you shall ... be holy to your
G-d." The gemara in Tractate Menahot (43b) summarizes the
basic idea: "Seeing leads to recalling, and recalling leads to
observing," which we complete by saying that observing leads to being
- "Shema," the passage on
devotion, deals with the instruction to love the Lord and accept his sovereignty
- "Ve-haya im shamoa,"
the passage on fear, deals with the requirement that we observe all the
Lord's commandments - a demand that is accompanied by a promise of
reward for those who uphold the commandments and a threat of punishment for
those who do not.
It should be noted that both passages,
Shema and Ve-haya im shamoa, have something in common: both
mention the commandments of tefillin, of teaching one's children,
of constant concern with the Torah, and of mezuzah. Perhaps this is one
reason why, when the Sages began to establish the liturgy, they chose these two
passages as part of the obligatory prayers morning and evening, later also
adding the passage on fringes.
Now, in view of the content of these passages, we can answer
our first question. The commandment of fringes has a unique
significance, namely the causal relationships that follow from observing this
commandment. The duty of Jews to observe this commandment stems from the
beneficence disposed upon them by the Lord, choosing them as His people and
delivering them from Egypt: "I the Lord am your G-d, who brought you out
of the land of Egypt to be your G-d: I, the Lord your G-d."
The passage of Shema deals with commandments of
monotheism, acknowledging the Creator, being devoted to Him and accepting His
sovereignty; He and none other is our G-d. In other words, the servant accepts
the rule of his Master, undertaking devotion to Him and awe of Him.
The passage of Ve-haya im shamoa deals with the
instruction to observe all His commandments. In other words, the servant must
carry out all that his Lord instructs him to do.
Next, if we examine the order of these passages, we can
appreciate their importance and the connection between them:
The gemara in Tractate Berakhot (14b) explains
the order of the passages as follows:
Shema should rightfully precede Ve-haya im
shamoa, since it concerns learning, instructing, and performing
("impress them upon your children...recite them ... bind them ... inscribe
them"). Ve-haya im shamoa [precedes] Va-yomer, since it
contains a reference to instructing and performing ("bind them, ... teach
them to your children, ... inscribe them"). Va-yomer has only the
element of performing ("instruct them to make for themselves
fringes"). ... [Another reason for Shema to precede Ve-haya im
shamoa is] that first the Lord's sovereignty is accepted, and then,
obeisance to His commandments.
According to this gemara, the order of the passages
accords with their scope. Shema subsumes three areas of activity:
learning, teaching, and doing. Ve-haya im shamoa only covers two:
teaching and doing. Va-yomer only pertains to one: doing. Regarding
the relationship between the former two, the gemara says they are ordered
according to important stages in faith: first a person must accept the
Lord's sovereignty, and only after that can obeisance to His commandments
According to the gemara in Tractate Berakhot
(12b), the passage on fringes was added to the prayer as part of the recitation
of Shema because of five additional elements that specifically relate to
the commandment of fringes. We quote:
Why was the passage on fringes instituted as part of the
prayer? Rabbi Judah bar Haviva said because it contains reference to five
things: the commandment of fringes, the exodus from Egypt, obeisance to the
Lord's commandments, heresy, wayward thoughts, and idolatrous thoughts.
Obeisance to the commandments, as it is said: "look at it and recall all
the commandments of the Lord." Fringes, as it is said: "make for
themselves fringes." The exodus from Egypt, as it is said: "who
brought you out of the land of Egypt." "[Do not] follow your
heart" refers to heresy, for it is said: "The benighted man thinks,
'G-d does not care'" (Ps. 14:1). "[Do not follow] ...
your eyes" refers to wayward thoughts, as it is said: "But Samson
answered his father, 'Get me that one, for she is the one that finds favor
in my eyes" (Judges 14:3). "In your lustful urge" refers to
thoughts of idolatry, as it is said: "the Israelites went astray [the
Hebrew verb, znh, is the same as 'lustful urge'] after the
Baalim" (Judges 8:33).
In Yad Ha-Hazakah Maimonides set the order of the
passages, giving the following reasons:
What is one to recite? These are the three passages:
Shema, Ve-haya im shamoa, Va-yomer. The first passage that
should be read is Shema because it refers to the principle of monotheism,
love of the Lord and His teachings, which is the great principle on which all
else depends. Next one recites Ve-haya im shamoa, which contains the
command to recall all the other commandments. Last is the passage on fringes,
which also contains a command to recall the commandments. Even though the
commandment of fringes is not observed at night, the passage is read at night
because it contains a reference to the exodus from Egypt, and we are commanded
to recall the exodus from Egypt at night as well as in the morning, as it is
said: "so that you may remember the day of your departure from the land
of Egypt as long as you live" (Deut. 16:3). These three passages, read in
the order specified here, constitute Recitation of the Shema.
According to Maimonides, what we have here are three stages in
accepting the Lord's sovereignty. The first is to love the Lord
altruistically, which means accepting His sovereignty and believing in the
Creator as the one and only Lord, there being none other than Him. The second:
loving the Lord non-altruistically, or fearing Him in the hope of receiving a
reward or for fear of punishment; accepting the burden of performing the
commandments, which means being willing to do all that He instructs and
worshipping Him truly and wholeheartedly. The third: performing the
Lord's commandments, meaning practical acceptance of His sovereignty by
wearing the garment that uniquely defines us as His servants, the way piercing a
slave's ear serves as incontrovertible evidence that he belongs forever to
one master. This garment, which is like the earring worn by the slave, serves
as a constant reminder to us that we are the servants of the Creator and
proclaims to all creatures that we are the Lord's chosen and His servants.
Proudly we wrap ourselves in this garment.
In conclusion, these three passages were made part of the
morning and evening prayers since they form a solid foundation for faith in the
Creator and His providence over His creatures, in that He rewards those loyal to
Him and punishes those who rebel against Him. These passages are concrete
evidence of the reciprocity of chosenness between the Jewish people and G-d,
showing that we love Him and He loves us: "I the Lord am your G-d who has
set you apart from other peoples... You shall be holy to Me, for I the Lord am
holy, and I have set you apart from other people to be Mine" (Lev.
The reciprocity in choosing finds expression in Deuteronomy:
"You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your G-d, that you will walk
in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that
you will obey Him. And the Lord has affirmed this day that you are, as He
promised you, His treasured people ..., and that He will set you, in fame and
renown and glory, high above all the nations that He has made; and that you
shall be, as He promised, a holy people to the Lord your G-d" (Deut.
Having studied the merits of these three texts, we can better
appreciate the importance of the Recitation of Shema in our