Remembering Miracles

When it comes to the three paragraphs of the Shema, one of these things is not like the other. The first two passages come from Deuteronomy and are strikingly similar is diction and theme. The third selection, from Numbers 15:37-41, is an outlier. It does not use the familiar vocabulary of “hearing” the mitzvot or… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Temporary Tattoo

Judaism excels at weaving poetry from concrete deeds and at concretizing abstract poetry in specific acts. Some other time I will discuss the first clause in that sentence, how we imbue practical behaviors with poetic resonance. Today, I will focus on the second clause: Our Sages were rarely satisfied to treat a Bible passage as… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Upon Your Heart

Place these words of mine upon your heart and upon your soul. As I noted last week, the first two paragraphs of the Shema come from Deuteronomy, which has its own distinctive spiritual orientation. Most of the Torah explains how a Jew should behave, while Deuteronomy provides Judaism’s classical emphasis on how we think. Devarim… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: God’s Voice

The book of Deuteronomy, as a literary composition, is portrayed as Moses’ long final speech, his own farewell. This book has its own unique religious vision and vocabulary. When you are familiar with its rhetoric and spiritual concerns, you can recognize Deuteronomy instantly, and would never confuse it for Genesis or Leviticus. In today’s Tefillah… Read more »

Tefillah Tuesday: Reward and Punishment

The second “paragraph” of the Shema [והיה אם שמוע, Deuteronomy 11.13-21] repeats the themes of the first section – loving and heeding [literally: “hearing”] God and teaching to the Torah to future generations – and uses the same vocabulary, of inscribing the Torah on our doorposts and upon our heads and arms. This second paragraph… Read more »