Minute Mitzvah: Saying the Shema

Today: Say the Shema.

Explanation: The Shema (“Listen, Israel: יהוה our G?d! יהוה One!”), from Deuteronomy 6:4, is the statement of Jewish faith-commitment. It’s the first prayer we learn after birth and, if we time it right, the last prayer we say before death. Although it’s actually three paragraphs long (see http://www.jewfaq.org/shemaref.htm for the complete text in both Hebrew [original and transliteration] and English), halacha (Jewish law) says the first verse is the most important — so much so that it can be spoken in whatever language the speaker understands. As the Shema’s first paragraph indicates, it is to be said “when you lie down, and when you rise up” (read: every evening and morning; Jewish days start at sunset) as a reminder of our place in the Universe and our duty thereto.

Exercise: The Shema is meant to be spoken aloud, or at least loud enough to hear yourself; whispering works fine too. At our synagogue, we say it “one word, one breath” — take a deep breath, chant a word, take another, chant another. Try saying it when you first lay down in bed and when you first get up out of it. It’s also a great way to center oneself in times of panic.

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