For the week of August 5, 2006 / 11 Av 5766
Torah: Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:23 - 7:11
Haftarah: Isaiah 40:1-26
Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:4)
Two weeks ago, in the TorahBytes message entitled, "Ask the Question", I explained that when God seems distant, we should ask where he is. To honestly ask such a question means that we must be prepared for his answer, whatever that might be.
One reader sent me an email wanting to know what the answer to that question is. My reply was that each one of us needs to ask the question for ourselves.
This week's parsha (Torah portion) includes what is the closest thing to what might be called the Jewish creed: "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one" (Devarim / Deuteronomy 6:4). For many Jewish people, these words, commonly called the Shema (shema being the first word in this statement), are what set our people apart from other peoples and religions.
The normally understood emphasis of the Shema is the oneness of God as if it is to this aspect of God's nature that these words are referring. I think it is more correct to see that we are being reminded that the God of Israel is the only God (for a further discussion on this, see "The Shema").
Whatever the emphasis, there is more to this statement than what it says and what it means. The actual command to the nation of Israel in this verse is "shema": hear! In order for these words to have any meaning at all, we need to listen to what God wants to say to us. In this case, the Shema draws our attention to a section in the Torah where we are reminded to earnestly love God, take his commandments to heart, and to make sure that we teach them to the next generation.
God is still calling to us to hear what he is saying. It is not good enough to just read the Torah and the rest of the Bible and think that we are truly engaging the Master of the Universe. It is not good enough to pray and perform religious rituals. We can be busy with spiritual endeavors, but never take the time to listen.
Some people put all the onus on God, thinking that if he really wanted to speak to them, he would do so. That's only partly true. His speaking to us is indeed something of his own initiative. We cannot make God speak. Yet, he is speaking. Now it is up to us to listen.
How many of us are like the person who wanted me to give him the answer to the question, "Where is God?" as if I could speak to him on God's behalf. While God uses people to help other people get to know him, he wants to engage each one of us personally. He wants each one of us to hear what he is saying.
Much of what God is saying to us is recorded in the Scriptures, but as I mentioned earlier simply reading the words is not the same as hearing them. In order to hear, we need to listen - and listen intently. We need to allow God's words to confront our hearts and lives. We need to allow what he says to mold us and to shape us.
In these past few weeks, the Jewish community, not only in the Land of Israel, but the world over, is facing another crisis. As it has turned out, these events have coincided with the most distressful time in the Jewish calendar, as we remember the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem that happened twice at this time of year. The Bible provides us with much commentary as to the spiritual and moral issues that surrounded these horrific tragedies. In a nutshell the reason for the destruction of the temples was our failure to listen to God.
In the midst of the current crisis it is not too late to hear what God is saying. In order for history to not repeat itself, we must learn the lessons that our ancestors failed to learn. It's time to listen!
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