Shema Yisrael: The Soul of Judaism

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Shema Yisrael: The Soul of Judaism- synopsis

Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year is a good time to explore the holiest prayer in Jewish life, the Shema. There are 5,845 verses in the Torah. But only one verse -- the Shema -- is chosen by our tradition to be recited twice daily -- as a mitzvah --.  Why?

We’ll begin by seeing how the Shema bolstered a young child on his first rollercoaster ride, and then explore a funny parable about a teacher and a gutsy Jewish student. This parable introduces the idea that the Shema’s call “To hear” is fundamental to understanding both the prayer and the essence of Jewish spirituality.

While most civilizations—including modern America—have been civilizations of the eye, meaning a visual, material culture, we’ll look at how the Shema introduces us to the importance in Judaism of the culture of the ear, a culture where the primary act is not seeing, but listening, a deeper and more authentic experience.

In English, almost all of our words for understanding are governed by the metaphor of sight - Insight, hindsight, foresight, vision. Judaism’s governing metaphor, by contrast is “Ta shma--Come and listen.”, “Shema mina--Hear from this.” “Mashma--From this it can be heard.”  This tells us a great deal about the heart and soul of Judaism. For the past 2,000 years the most famous piece of Jewish architecture is one broken wall.  It’s holy but broken. And we call it the “Wailing Wall”. You see, you have to listen to it.

We’ll learn how, by listening, we come to understand truths that are just as real as material objects, but more deeply hidden and meaningful.

And we’ll see how in five different episodes in the Torah, when individuals relied solely on the power of sight, they were misled, things are not always as they seem. A beautiful insight here links the Shema, which resonates with the inner part of the human being, with the deeper meaning and message of Yom Kippur.

We will explore a fascinating story involving the Tzemach Tzedek and his student, Reb Yankel, that will teach us how listening deeply to our soul resolves the seeming conflict between a material modern existence and our spiritual existence as Jews.

We’ll finish with a profoundly moving story about how Holocaust survivors who returned to their homes in Vilna in the days following the war’s end. Faced with the destruction of everything they had known, they spent a Simchat Torah together, uniting in joy, listening to their souls and beginning the healing process - learning to love and celebrate again.

And finally, on this Yom Kippur, we too have the opportunity to dedicate ourselves to the deeper realities of our souls, by listening to the call of “Shema Y’israel.”

Dedicated in the merit of Binyomin Zev ben Tziviya Hinda for a complete and speedy recovery

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