Inside Tefilin – The Jewish Prayer of Shema Yisrael
The Prayer of Shema Yisrael is central to Judaism. The most religious people as well those who are
estranged from the daily performance of mitzvot say Shema Yisrael and feel that it states central beliefs
in Judaism. It is included in klaf parchments of Mezuzot and inside Tefillin.
Abudraham discussed the meaning of this most popular Jewish Prayer of Shema Yisrael Hashem
Elokenu Hashem Echad. The following is excerpted from Abudraham.
We are accustomed to say the prayer of Shema Yisrael out loud. The reason for this is to awaken
concentration. It is very important to concentrate when stating the first verse of Shema Yisrael.
Additionally, a reason why we say this verse out loud is that it is like testimony. Each person declares
out loud to his peers, the he honestly believes that Hashem is a Singular Unity in the whole universe.
This is why you find that the Letter Ayin of Shema and Dalet of Echad are large. Ayin Dalet €ED€ is
testimony in Hebrew.
The word €Hear – Shema has three interconnected meanings. The first is sounds using the sense of
hearing like Jethro Heard€ (Shemot 18-1) the second meaning is built upon the concept of hearing. It is
to understand as in the verse a nation whose tongue you shall not understand (using the word Shema
– Devarim 28-49). The third meaning, which is built on the concept of understanding, means to accept as
in, if you shall diligently listen to My commandments (Devarim 11-13). All three meanings are
implied in the word Shema of Shema Yisrael, to hear, understand and accept the yoke of heaven. That is
to say that G-d is the Lord and there is no one other than him and that one needs to accept.
R. David ben R. Yosef Abudraham lived in Spain during the thirteenth century. He might have been a
student of R. Yaakov Ba`al Ha-Turim, although this is not certain. His work, called Abudraham, is a
collection of halachot, minhagim and commentaries on the prayers, and is one of the most important
works of this type. The Abudraham includes commentaries and halachic decisions from earlier
authorities. It was first printed in Lisbon in the late fifteenth century. Most recently it was reprinted in
Jerusalem in 1963. (Responsa Project)