75 words for 75 years of Israel – Shema/Listen

In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!

Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available now!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.

Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!

שְׁמַע

SHEMA

SHEH-MAH

LISTEN

Listen, Israel! Hashem is our God, Hashem is One.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)

שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה אחד.

“Then he took the record of the covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, ‘All that God has spoken we will do and we will listen!’” (Exodus 24:7)

ויקח ספר הברית ויקרא באזני העם ויאמרו כל אשר דבר יהוה נעשה ונשמע.

Shema, Hebrew for “listen,” is the first word of Judaism’s most important and foundational prayer, “Listen, Israel! The Lord is our God, God is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4), which declares our faith in the one and only God. The Bible commands us to recite the Shema every morning and evening: “And these words, which I command you this day, shall be upon your heart… and you shall speak of them… when you lie down and when you get up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). By reciting the Shema prayer each day and night, we do not forget its powerful message.

Rabbi Akiva was the leading rabbi of Israel during the 2nd century CE, a time of terrible Roman persecution. Among other rabbis, he was arrested by the Romans and tortured to death for teaching the Bible in public. As the Romans burned him to death, he cried out the words of the Shema. His students cried out, “Master, at a time like this you can say the Shema?” Rabbi Akiva responded, “All of my life I have strived to fulfill the verse ‘You shall love God with all your heart and all of your soul.’ Now I finally have the chance to do so.” With the words of the Shema on his lips, his soul left the world. Rabbi Akiva’s act of spiritual bravery is the source for the Jewish practice of reciting the Shema before death. Untold numbers of Jews recited the Shema in their final moments before being murdered by Nazis during the Holocaust.

Upon receiving the Torah, the children of Israel proclaimed “we will do and we will listen,” committing themselves to live according to God’s word as written in the Bible, even before they heard what was written in it, an extraordinary commitment of faith.

The Israel Bible Team

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