Inside Tefilin – Shema Yisrael Unity and Education Vaetchanan
Shema Yisrael A-donai E-loheynu A-donai Echad.
The prayer of Shema Yisrael is a universal declaration of the Unity of G-d. Each Jewish person declares to his friend that G-d is One. This is like saying, Hey! Jewish people, The G-d, who created the universe is our G-d and He is One. The concept of universally declaring this concept demonstrates the centrality of education. We need to teach it to our children and regularly ponder it ourselves.
The prayer of Shema Yisrael is written in the Torah in the book of
Devarim, Ch. 6 4. There is an oft-quoted Midrash from the Sifri on
this. The Sifri mostly contains halachic discussions, however, on this pasuk the discussion is very Aggadic. In other words it tells us a story about the prayer of Shema Yisrael.
Rabbi Akiva says that the prayer of Shema Yisrael refers to Yisrael,
Yisrael being another name for Yaakov Avinu, and not to Avaraham or Yitzhak. The reason is that Avraham and Yitzhak had children who were waste products. Avraham had Yishmael; Yitzhak Esav. Rabbi Shimon Bar Yohai totally disagrees with this interpretation.
The Midrash further states that Yaakov constantly worried that one of his children will be a waste, like some of his fathers€ children. He constantly prayed and educated his twelve boys in the ways of G-d. He was especially concerned when he learned that his son Reuven had slept with his concubine / maid Bilhah. He then learned that Reuven had repented through fasting and prayers.
Yaakov Avinu was on his deathbed in Egypt. He called in his sons one by one and rebuked them. After this he called them all in together and asked them, Do you have any issues with the One whose statement created the universe? They answered, Listen Yisrael our father, just as you do not have anything against G-d neither do we have such an issue, rather G-d is our L-ord and he is One. Yaakov was very thankful at this unified statement by his sons, including Reuven, as to the absolute Unity of G-d.
One cannot determine whether this Midrash has any historical value. However, it seems to make clear statements regarding the
interconnection between the unity of the Jewish people in their total acceptance that G-d is One. As a side note it points out that even if people are not perfect they can always repent. Since G-d is One there is no bureaucracy in heaven in accepting anyone€s repentance.
Yaakov’s constant effort, worry and prayers helped to educate and
unify his children in their acceptance that G-d is One.
The Pasuk of Shema Yisrael is followed by several Pesukim that tell us that we need to internalize the Unity of G-d and to teach it to our
children and constantly ponder Him.