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Torah Attitude: Parashas Eikev: Special protection of Shema
In the first verse of Shema we express our belief in the oneness of G'd and the special relationship the Jewish people is privileged to have with G'd. When a Jewish solider on either side saw an enemy soldier about to open fire against him he would often shout "Shema Yisrael", hoping that if his counterpart was Jewish he would spare his life. A few days ago an amazing incident took place in Gaza that shows the power of Shema Yisrael. As soon as the soldier uttered the holy words of Shema the python loosened its grip and left its victim. With the words of Shema Israel, the kohein hints to the soldiers that even if they only have the merit of expressing their belief in G'd with the words of Shema, they are worthy that G'd shall save them. "Guardian of Israel, protect the remnant of Israel, and let not Israel who says Shema Yisrael be destroyed."
In last week's parasha, we read the first portion of Shema (Devarim 6:4-9). In the first verse of Shema we express our belief in the oneness of G'd and the special relationship the Jewish people is privileged to have with G'd. We say Shema in our morning and evening prayers, and again before we go to sleep at night. These are the last words a Jew utters before his demise if possible.
World War I
During World War I, hundreds of thousands of Jewish soldiers fought as loyal subjects for both sides, on the side of Germany and the other Central Powers, and also in the Allied forces. When a Jewish solider on either side saw an enemy soldier about to open fire against him, or in other forms of combat, he would shout "Shema Yisrael", in this way, if his counterpart was Jewish, he would spare his life.
Bomber in Gaza tunnels
A few days ago an amazing incident took place in Gaza that shows the power of Shema Yisrael. A group of Israeli soldiers had gone into a mosque searching for tunnels and weapons. Suddenly, a door opened and a female suicide bomber walked into the room ready to explode herself up near the soldiers. The soldiers realized that their end was near and one of them screamed "Shema Yisrael". These two words made the female bomber tremble and she was not able to carry out her plan. The soldiers quickly dismantled the bomb and took her for questioning. They soon discovered that she was Jewish and had married an Arab. She had been taken to Gaza and beaten up. She had been forced to blow herself up. Her two children were suffering terribly and she was more than happy to tell the soldiers where they were and the location of more terrorist tunnels. She informed them who had sent her and other important information. The army moved her and her children to a safe place in Israel and she will soon be taken to the organization "yad l'achim" that specializes in helping Jewish girls who somehow end up marrying Arab men.
The python and Shema
A little while ago we related another incident where saying Shema Yisrael saved a person's life. I heard a true story about a group of friends who travelled to the Far East upon completion of their service in the IDF. One day, they were hiking in the wilderness when one of them suddenly was attacked by a python. The deadly snake held its victim tight in its grip, and there was no way it would let go. One of the group shouted to his friend, "Say Shema Israel." As soon as he uttered the holy words of Shema the python loosened its grip and left its victim. Then and there the relieved victim decided to become observant and to keep the mitzvot. The victim clearly saw G'd's Divine Hand and decided to act upon it (see Torah Attitude: Parashas Beshalach: Seeing G'd's presence).
Belief in G'd
This special power of Shema Yisrael is already hinted at in the Torah. Towards the end of Parashas Shoftim (Devarim 20:1-9), the Torah describes how the Jewish army should prepare for war. One of the preparations is a pep talk by a specially designated Kohein. He starts his address to the soldiers with the words "Shema Yisrael" [Hear Israel]. Rashi quotes from the Talmud (Sotah 42a) that there is a hidden message in this opening phrase. With these words, the kohein hints to the soldiers that even if they only have the merit of expressing their belief in G'd with the words of Shema, they are worthy that G'd shall save them. Someone who truly believes in G'd has the basis to develop into a fully observant Jew. As the Talmud (Makkos 24a) teaches that the Prophet Habakkuk established that the one commandment that is the basis for the observance of all 613 commandments is the belief in G'd, as it says (Habakkuk 2:1): "And the righteous lives by his belief."
Guardian of Israel
Every day by Shacharis and Minchah, we say Tachanun after Shemoneh Esrei. As part of Tachanun we say the following prayer: "Guardian of Israel, protect the remnant of Israel, and let not Israel, who says Shema Yisrael, be destroyed." These words are most appropriate for our generation. In the past hundred years, since the outbreak of World War I, the Jewish people have suffered and been prosecuted, especially during the Holocaust. We beg and pray to G'd, "we the remnant of Israel who miraculously survived the atrocities of the Second World War, please Guardian of Israel, save us from our enemies in the merit of our strong belief in You, as we testify every time we say Shema Yisrael."
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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