Inside Tefilin – Shema Yisrael Unity and Education
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.