Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about adopting the “Shema” not only as a “credo” in our lives — i.e. as a statement of theoretical belief in one G-d — but as an actual “attitude,” by applying it to our view of our own daily circumstances. [1]

To look a little further into this:

Although Tanakh says that the beginning of wisdom is “fear of G-d” — i.e. recognition that the consequences of our own actions are inescapable — the Shema begins with “love of G-d.” The first paragraph is the “V’ahavta,” meaning “You shall love…,” which is followed by “V’haya im shamoah,” meaning “If you will hear [i.e. obey]…” So, the paragraph on “love” precedes the paragraph on “reward and punishment.”

As I mentioned in the prior post, the “Shema” was originally configured for the kohanim — the priests — to think about (actually contemplate) before beginning the daily sacrifices. Note, then, that in it, the meditation on loving G-d precedes the meditation on “reward and punishment.” The sequence of paragraphs is quite deliberate.

“Loving G-d” means, among other things, rejoicing in G-d’s Presence. Yet, this “rejoicing” is actually an effect more than a cause. An effect of what? Of recognizing that Presence and allowing it prominence in our lives.

We struggle with recognizing G-d’s Presence because we typically struggle with accepting G-d’s Goodness (midat Hesed).  Yet, such is a fundamental rabbinic teaching. For example, they mandated that we say “Ashrei” multiple times daily specifically because of the verse “You [G-d] open Your Hands and satisfy every living thing willingly.” [2] Doing so, we re-affirm and reinforce the idea that we’re always the recipients of G-d’s Goodness. This should lead to gratitude, which leads to love.

Rebbe Nachman of Breslav goes even further, teaching that the good we perceive — in ourselves, in others; in events and things — is itself “a part of G-dliness, for all good emanates from G-d.” [3]

He’s teaching: When we give our attention to the good rather than to anything else, we’re actually turning our attention to G-d. When we’re troubled, sad, anxious — don’t we feel calmer and happier to the extent that we focus on “the good?” The more we do so, the calmer and happier we feel.

What begins as an “effort” can, with consistent practice, become our habitual conviction.

When we’re convinced of G-d’s Goodness — even when it’s not immediately apparent — our hearts can do nothing but trust:

“Trust in G-d wholeheartedly
and your mind will retain its serenity and peace.

Trust [G-d] with all your soul
and your heart will always be contented and cheerful.

Trust [G-d] with all your might
and hope and courage will never forsake you.” [4]

That “trust” (בטחון/bitachon) or “faith” (אמונה/emunah) brings peace-of-mind was also noted a thousand years ago by Rabbi Bahya ibn Paqudah, the author of “The Duties of the Heart”:

“The worldly advantages [i.e. effects] of trust in God include peace of mind from worldly anxieties…” [5]

“Peace” is the effect. G-d is the cause.

This is “applying” the “Shema” — not just declaring it as an abstract, unemotional belief in “one god,” but adapting our own view of the minute-to-minute, day-to-day events of our lives to the fact of there being only “one G-d.”

The difference between simply “believing” in “one G-d” and applying the idea in our lives, is most apparent at the moment when we give the ultimate choice of outcomes to G-d; “let go and let G-d.” In that recognition, even the “letting go” can really be more of a spontaneous effect than an act of our own.

Then, we feel peace.

Not our own peace. Not a peace we ourselves create by suppressing or ignoring thoughts of “worry,” “fear,” “grief,” etc.

G-d’s Peace.

“The Name of G-d is ‘Peace’.” [6]


[1] https://rabbielimallon.wordpress.com/2013/05/29/5-29-13-the-shema-as-an-attitude/

[2] Psalm 145:16

[3] see: Azamra (booklet); Rabbi Chaim Kramer, ed.; the Breslov Research Institute, © 1984. This teaching is excerpted from Rebbe Nachman’s Likutei Moharan, and can be found there as well.

[4] Lichtenstein, Rabbi Morris; Jewish Science and Health; p. 58
Note that the sequence of Rabbi Lichtenstein’s words — “wholehearted;” “soul;” “might” — reflects the sequence of the words in the “V’ahavta” paragraph of the “Shema.”
[I arranged his words as a poem or responsive reading; originally, they were within a prose paragraph. I also changed “in Him” for {G-d} to avoid distraction over the “masculine” designation that was common in Rabbi Lichtenstein’s time but is now discouraged. Finally, I dropped “in” from “Trust in G-d,” as “Trust G-d” is simpler and speaks to common usage.]

[5] found online: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/doth/doth38.htm.
There are also several English translations of “Duties of the Heart” now in print.

[6] Talmud: Shabbat 10b and Perek ha-Shalom