I. SHEMA
(Devarim 6:4-9)

by Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Iskowitz

INTRODUCTION
a. Before saying the Shema in the morning and evening prayers, one must have in mind that he is going to perform the Mitzvos of 1) reciting the Shema and of 2) accepting Hashem as King over us.

b. The Shema should be said clearly and distinctly, pausing slightly between a word that begins with the same sound that the previous one ended, like al levavecha or vechara af.

c. One must hear every word he recites and concentrate only on its meaning and that Hashem is One.

d. In the morning, when saying the words, "Vahavi'enu leshalom [Bring us in peace]," in the prayer before the Shema, we gather the four Tzitzis. They are then held close to the heart, between the fourth and fifth fingers of the left hand.

1. KEL MELECH NE'EMAN - G-D, FAITHFUL KING

When praying without a Minyan, these three words are added, to make up 248 words, since there is no Chazzan to repeat the last three words of the Shema. This number corresponds to both the number of the positive Mitzvos and the number of the organs in our body.

When saying these words, we must think: 1) Hashem has unlimited power and mercy; 2) He is the King Who watches over everything; 3) He is absolutely fair to everyone.

2. LISTEN, ISRAEL: HASHEM IS OUR GOD [Elokeinu], HASHEM IS ONE

We recite this sentence out loud and with our right hand covering the eyes, for special concentration. One should think about the first two Mitzvos of the Ten Commandments: "I am Hashem your G-d," and "You shall have no other gods." "Hashem" is mentioned twice here: As He is now the G-d of the Jewish people, in the future He will be recognized also by all other people as the One G-d (Rashi). When saying HASHEM, one should think that He is Master over everything, and that He is, was and will always be. ELOKIM means that He can do anything and that He controls all the forces. We stretch out the word ECHAD [One], concentrating on Hashem being One Who rules on earth and the seven heavens and in all four directions (, north, south, east and west.

3. BLESSED BE THE NAME OF HIS GLORIOUS KINGDOM FOREVER

After declaring that Hashem is our King, we thank Him for the opportunity to serve Him. Unlike the rest of the Shema, this sentence is not in the Torah. That's why we say it in a whisper (Pesachim 56a) and pause slightly before continuing. Also, since Moshe Rabbeinu learned it from the angels, we do not say it out loud as they do, except on Yom Kippur (Tur), when we act like them (by not eating and not sinning, etc.).

4. YOU SHALL LOVE HASHEM, YOUR G-D...

We should have the intention of fulfilling the Mitzvah of loving Hashem Who created everything and watches over it. How does one "love" Hashem? - By learning His Torah, by doing His Mitzvos, by bringing others to Torah, by setting a good example through good behavior, and by loving Talmidei Chachamim (Torah scholars).
(Studying Torah; doing Mitzvos - Tzedakah, Kibbud Av, etc.; helping a scholar.)

5. WITH ALL YOUR HEART...

We must love Hashem with all our powers and feelings. Since "heart" is spelled and not , this implies that we should serve Him with both our Yetzer Hatov and Yetzer Hara. . For example, if we have feelings of jealousy, be jealous of scholars; if we are angry, take out our anger on sinners (Rashi).
( Running to do a Mitzvah; demonstrating against Chillul Shabbos, etc.)

6. AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL...

We must also love Hashem with all our will and desires. If we have to, it even means that we must give up our life, as Yitzchak was willing to do (Ba'al Ha-Turim), or as Rabbi Akiva did.

7. AND WITH ALL YOUR MIGHT [or Fortune]

We should not love money or property more than we love Hashem. could also mean "measures," so that we must love Hashem regardless of whether He gives us much or little, happiness or sadness (Rashi). He always knows and does what is best for us.

8. AND LET THESE WORDS WHICH I COMMAND YOU TODAY [BE] UPON YOUR HEART

"These words" means all of Hashem's Mitzvos, but especially the one just mentioned: "You shall love Hashem." EVERY DAY they should be to you as if they were just said to you TODAY!! Also, if you are always aware of Torah and Mitzvos, you will automatically be full of love for Hashem.

Remember to pause between HAYOM (today) and AL (upon), otherwise you'll be saying that these words shall be upon your heart only today (Shulchan Aruch)!

9. AND YOU SHALL TEACH THEM DILIGENTLY TO YOUR CHILDREN

Of course, in order to teach the Torah "diligently" one must first study it carefully and then review it constantly to know it well. "Your children" refers to other students as well (Rashi).

10. AND SPEAK OF THEM WHEN SITTING AT HOME, WALKING ON THE WAY, LYING DOWN OR GETTING UP

Our main speaking should be words of Torah. By always talking in Torah, we'll remember it well. It should be our guide and focal point no matter what we are doing, day or night. From here we also learn that we must recite the Shema in the morning and in the evening (Berachos 2a),

11. AND TIE THEM AS A SIGN UPON YOUR ARM

Both the arm and head Tefillin contain the four Torah sections (the parchment on which they're written is the "sign") which mention this Mitzvah. They also contain the concepts of Hashem being our G-d; His unity; the Mitzvos; reward and punishment; and the Exodus from Egypt. Tefillin shel Yad are put onto one's "left" arm, on the large muscle, opposite the heart, to show that our strength and feelings must be dedicated to Hashem. We keep the arm Tefillin covered up

. It is a custom to touch and kiss the Tefillin shel Yad when saying the above words.

12. AND THEY SHALL BE TOTAFOS [TEFILLIN] BETWEEN YOUR EYES

Totafos (a double plural - Sanhedrin 4b) implies that the head Tefillin are written on four parchments. These are located in four separate sections in the box which must be placed above the beginning of the hairline, and kept centered between the eyes. This symbolizes that our brain and thoughts must also be dedicated to Hashem (Malbim). It is a custom to touch and kiss the Tefillin shel Rosh when saying the above words.

13. AND YOU SHALL WRITE THEM UPON THE DOORPOSTS OF YOUR HOUSE AND UPON YOUR GATES

The Mezuzah is a piece of parchment which contains the two sections of the Torah that mention this Mitzvah (Devarim 6:4-8 and 11:13-21). It is placed on the upper third of the right doorpost of our entrances. The Mezuzah reminds us that Hashem is the true owner of our property, that we must consider our house as a holy place, and that He protects us and expects us to think of Him (and not come to sin) at home as well as away.

It is customary to touch the Mezuzah and kiss our fingers when entering or leaving the house.

II. VEHAYA IM SHAMO'A
(Devarim 7:13-21)

INTRODUCTION

a. The second part of the Shema speaks of reward for doing the Mitzvos and punishment for violating them.

b. In the first part, we accepted Hashem as the One King over us. Here, we take upon ourselves to obey His Mitzvos (Berachos 13a).

c. In this paragraph, Hashem speaks to the Jewish people in the plural - all together. There are things which we do alone and for which Hashem judges us as individuals (for example, putting on Tefillin, making a Bracha on food, honoring parents, giving charity). There are also things which we should do in groups, such as praying with a Minyan, or reading the Torah. For all the above, Hashem also judges the entire Jewish people as one, so that our own behavior affects how He will treat us and others as well!

14. AND IT WILL COME TO PASS, IF YOU WILL DILIGENTLY LISTEN TO MY MITZVOS

Hashem promises to reward the Jewish people when they obey Him. This verse begins with "Vehaya" which implies joy: Hashem will surely reward us for doing the Mitzvos with happiness (Or Ha-Chaim). The verb "listen" is used twice - "shamo'a tishme'u" - to teach us that once we listen it will become easier and easier to do so in the future (Sukkah 46a).

15. WHICH I COMMAND YOU TODAY

The Mitzvos should always be fresh in your eyes, as if you got them today! This means that they ought to be done eagerly, today, and not be postponed. And whenever you perform them, remember that it is not just due to the fact that they are good or logical, but because they were given by Hashem Who wants us to observe them (Yalkut Me'am Lo'ez).

16. TO LOVE HASHEM YOUR G-D AND TO SERVE HIM WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL

Do the Mitzvos because you love Hashem, not for personal gain or honor (Rashi).

We serve Hashem "with our heart" by praying to Him (Ta'anis 2a) every day, especially with a Minyan ("your heart" and "your soul" are in the plural). With "all your heart" means that we must concentrate on the prayers and not let our thoughts wander! We must also put our "soul" - all our energy - into serving Hashem.
**Remember to separate the sounds between the two words b'chol l'vavchem.

17. [THEN] I WILL GIVE RAIN FOR YOUR LAND AT THE RIGHT TIME

If you perform the Mitzvos with love, I will reward you for well (Rashi). People, animals, plants - the whole world - needs rain for its sustenance, health and beauty. The rain will fall "at the right time" for the crops, and when it is most agreeable, for example, on Friday nights when people are home (Rashi).

18. THE FALL AND SPRING RAINS

Hashem will provide rain after the planting season, when the seeds and plants need it most, right up to springtime when the crops are ready to be harvested. This is especially important in Eretz Yisrael which depends so much on Hashem to send His rain "at the right time," in the fall and winter!

19. SO THAT YOU MAY GATHER IN YOUR GRAIN, YOUR WINE AND YOUR OIL

"You" will gather in your crops and not your enemies (Rashi). Also, you may gather in your own, but be careful not to take someone else's ("Your grain," etc., is in the singular, to remind each individual of this).

Of course, the real reward for keeping Hashem's Mitzvos will be given in Olam Haba. By giving us rain, food, etc., Hashem is only making it easier for us to keep His Mitzvos, since we are showing Him that that is what we really want to do!

20. AND I WILL GIVE GRASS IN YOUR FIELD FOR YOUR CATTLE

You will have so much from your own fields that you will not have to lead your cattle far away to feed them (Rashi). This will also make it easier for you to spend more time learning Torah and doing Mitzvos.

21. AND YOU WILL EAT AND BE SATISFIED

You will be satisfied and full after eating the good food Hashem will give you (Rashi). You will have good crops and animals (meat) to eat (Ramban). Your cattle will also be satisfied, so that they will do good work for you (Sifrey).

Since "grass...for your cattle" is mentioned before "you will eat," the Rabbis taught that we must feed our animals before eating our own meal (Berachos 40a).

22. BE CAREFUL LEST YOUR HEART BE TEMPTED

When all is going well and people are satisfied, there is a danger that they will forget about Hashem and not be careful to remember that their success comes only from Him (Rashi). This can lead to tragedy, G-d forbid, as the Shema goes on to tell us....

23. AND YOU TURN ASTRAY AND SERVE OTHER GODS AND BOW TO THEM

When one turns away from the Torah, he will turn to substitutes, to "false gods" which cannot really help him. He will waste his time and begin doing things which are bad and destructive, leading to his own ruin.

24. THEN HASHEM WILL ACT ANGRILY WITH YOU

Of course, Hashem does not "get angry" like people do. But someone who rebels against Him will feel like He is acting angry at him. Hashem loves us and tries to teach us to change our behavior when we're wrong. His punishment is a lesson of love. A smart person will take it to heart! The same applies when Hashem gives warnings to the Jewish people in Eretz Yisrael.

**Remember, when saying this verse, to separate between the first two words (Vechara af).

25. HE WILL RESTRAIN THE SKIES AND THERE WILL BE NO RAIN

When the people don't act according to the Torah, Hashem withholds rain so that they will do Teshuvah (repentance). This is especially true in Eretz Yisrael, where "the eyes of Hashem...are on it at all times" (Devarim 10:12).

26. AND THE GROUND WILL NOT GIVE ITS PRODUCE

What grows will not even replace the seeds that you planted (Rashi). The Land of Israel is supposed to be "flowing with milk and honey" (Shemos 3:8, etc.) - very fruitful. Sadly, our sins can cause it to literally "dry up."

27. AND YOU WILL QUICKLY BE CAST OUT FROM THE GOOD LAND WHICH HASHEM GIVES YOU

If we don't repent when there is no rain or food, Hashem will remove us from the Land. Rashi says that this will happen fast, not like the long warning given to the world at the time of the Mabul (Flood), because, unlike them, we have people who can teach us to live better.

Remember to separate between the words va'avad'tem mehera.

28. PUT THESE WORDS OF MINE UPON YOUR HEART AND UPON YOUR SOUL

Even if Hashem exiles you from Eretz Yisrael, G-d forbid, you must be different from the Goyim -- practice the Mitzvos (for example, lay Tefillin, and put Mezuzos on your doorposts) -- you will come back to keep them in the Land (Rashi).
** Remember to separate the words Vesamtem es
** Remember to separate the words al levavchem

29. AND TIE THEM AS A SIGN UPON YOUR ARM

Since this follows the words, "upon your heart," we learn that the Tefillin are placed on the arm facing the heart (Gemara). This reminds us to dedicate our strength and feelings to Hashem. The Tefillin shel Yad is kept covered up.

It is customary to touch and kiss the Tefillin shel Yad when saying these words.

30. AND THEY SHALL BE TOTAFOS [TEFILLIN] BETWEEN YOUR EYES

Check that the Tefillin remain centered between the eyes and above where the hairline starts. (Bald people should imagine where the old hairline used to be!) They are placed there to remind us that our brain and thoughts must be directed to Hashem.

It is customary to touch and kiss the Tefillin shel Rosh when saying these words.

31. TEACH THEM TO YOUR CHILDREN, TO SPEAK [OF] THEM

We, ourselves, must study Torah very well, so that we might eventually fulfill the Mitzvah of teaching it to our children (and other students). Also, if others see that we take our learning seriously, they will be encouraged to follow our example.

We should teach our children Torah and Hebrew ("to speak them") -- Rashi.

32. WHEN SITTING AT HOME, WALKING ON THE WAY, LYING DOWN OR GETTING UP

Study and review the Torah wherever and whenever you can. (Of course, make sure that you and the place are clean!) The Shema must be recited both in the evening and in the morning.

We do not have to rise or sit down before saying it.

33. AND YOU SHALL WRITE THEM UPON THE DOORPOSTS OF YOUR HOUSE AND UPON YOUR GATES

Again, the Mezuzah reminds us that Hashem is the true owner of our property, that we must consider our house as a holy place, and that He protects us and expects us to think of Him (and not come to sin) at home as well as away.
It is customary to touch the Mezuzah and kiss our fingers upon entering or leaving the house.

34. IN ORDER THAT YOUR DAYS AND THE DAYS OF YOUR CHILDREN WILL BE PROLONGED

By going to Shul in the morning and evening, one can live long (Berachos 8a).
If you learn Torah and fulfill the Mitzvos, Hashem will prolong your days (Rashi).

35. UPON THE LAND WHICH HASHEM SWORE TO GIVE TO YOUR ANCESTORS, AS LONG AS HEAVEN IS ABOVE THE EARTH

Our living in Eretz Yisrael (staying in it, being exiled, G-d forbid, or returning to it) depends on our observance of the Mitzvos.
Hashem swore to give the Land "to them [your ancestors]" -- this proves that the Torah promises Techiyas Ha-Meisim, that the dead will again live (Rashi).
The Jews and the Torah are a pair, as heaven and earth. One has no meaning without the other. Also, by observing the Torah, the Jewish people bring the heavenly (Kedusha -- holiness) down upon earth and lift up the earth to high heaven (My Prayer).

III. VAYOMER HASHEM
(Bamidbar 15:37-41)

INTRODUCTION

a. The Gemara (Berachos 12b) points out that these verses make up the third section of the Shema because five Mitzvos are mentioned in them: 1) Tzitzis; 2) Remembering the Exodus from Egypt; 3) Accepting the Mitzvos and not heretical (Apikorsus -- anti-Torah) ideas; 4) Not to think about sinning or 5) following other gods.

b. Unlike Tefillin, Tzitzis are worn even on Shabbos as a constant reminder to keep Hashem's Mitzvos.

c. Before starting this section in the morning, it is customary to take hold of the strings of the Tzitzis with the right hand, while still keeping the knotted parts in the left.

36. AND HASHEM SAID TO MOSHE, SAYING: SPEAK TO THE CHILDREN [SONS] OF ISRAEL AND SAY TO THEM

Both the Written Torah (like this and all other Mitzvos) and the Oral Torah (for example, how to make the Tzitzis) were said by Hashem to Moshe to tell the Jewish people. "Saying" -- literally, "to say" -- implies that the Torah is to be said and taught to every generation, because it applies to all times! As the Rambam says (Ikkarim 8 & 9): "I believe...the entire Torah we now have is the one that was given to Moshe...and there will never be another Torah."

37. THAT THEY MAKE FOR THEMSELVES TZITZIS [TASSELS] ON THE CORNERS OF THEIR CLOTHES

There are four doubled-over strings, containing 39 twists (7, 8, 11 and 13) and five double knots on each corner. By putting Tzitzis on the four corners of our clothes, we have an opportunity to fulfill a Mitzvah all day just by wearing them!

When saying the word "Tzitzis," it is customary to kiss them.

38. THROUGHOUT THEIR GENERATIONS

Tzitzis are to be worn by young and old boys and men throughout our history -- even when there is no T'cheiles dye available.

39. AND THEY SHALL PUT ON THE TZITZIS OF EACH CORNER A STRING OF T'CHEILES

The color of T'cheiles comes from the Chilazon -- a rare snail-like fish that was seen only once every seventy years (Menachos 44a). Rambam says that it was the color of a clear blue sky. Nowadays, almost everyone wears only white Tzitzis because we are not sure what the Chilazon is.
(Remember to kiss the Tzitzis.)

40. THIS SHALL BE TZITZIS FOR YOU, SO THAT YOU MAY SEE IT

After kissing the Tzitzis here, we look at them and think of the Mitzvah to do so. Many then touch them to the eyes.

Many people wear their Tzitzis in a way that they can easily be seen at all times.

41. AND REMEMBER ALL THE MITZVOS OF HASHEM AND DO THEM

The Rabbis give several reasons why the Tzitzis remind us of Hashem and His Mitzvos. For example, the bluish color of T'cheiles is like that of the sky, or Hashem's "Throne of Glory." Also, the Gimatria (numerical value) of Tzitzis ( 600), plus the 8 strings and 5 knots, equals 613, the number of Mitzvos in the Torah!

Of course, the purpose of thinking of the Mitzvos, is that we be reminded to do them.

42. AND YOU WILL NOT STRAY AFTER YOUR HEART AND AFTER YOUR EYES WHICH MISLEAD YOU [AWAY FROM ME]

We must not think about or look at forbidden things, because this will cause us to do them (Rashi). Also, even if we are unable to understand Hashem and His ways, we must not doubt Him or His Torah (Rambam).

Some people pass the Tzitzis over the eyes when saying "and after your eyes."

43. IN ORDER THAT YOU REMEMBER AND KEEP ALL MY MITZVOS

By avoiding bad thoughts, you will be able to think of Hashem's greatness and His loving-kindness, and perform His Mitzvos out of love and respect (Seforno). Hopefully, if we remind ourselves of Hashem's Mitzvos every time we look at the Tzitzis, we will come to think of them and to perform them even without this reminder (Rabbi S. R. Hirsch)!

44. AND BE HOLY TO YOUR G-D

By performing the Mitzvos, and refraining from thinking about and doing bad things, we will become the "Am Kadosh" -- Holy Nation -- Hashem wants us to be (Seforno).

The Ramban says that being "holy" means limiting our enjoyment even from things that are allowed, like eating, sleeping or playing. In other words, practicing self-control -- not having "too much" of something.

45. I AM HASHEM YOUR G-D [ELO-HIM]

The Name "Hashem" implies that He rewards those who follow His Mitzvos. "Elo-him" reminds us that He punishes those who sin (Rashi).

46. WHO BROUGHT YOU OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT TO BE YOUR G-D Just as Hashem saved us from Egypt, He will always watch over us (Seforno).

Since it is a Mitzvah to recall Yetzias Mitzrayim (the Exodus) every day and night, when saying this verse we should have in mind to fulfill this Mitzvah.
**Be careful to separate the "M" sounds between the words "es'chem mei'eretz."

48. I AM HASHEM YOUR G-D -- EMESS [TRUE].

Why is "I am Hashem your G-d" repeated?
-- We no longer have any choice about accepting or rejecting the Mitzvos -- Hashem is our G-d, period (Rashi).
-- Even if we were to go into exile again, it would be temporary, because Hashem will redeem us as He did from Egypt (Malbim).

The word "Emess" is added to give the Shema 248 words. We make only a slight separation between the "M" sound at the end of "Elo-heichem" and the "E" of "Emess."
Many kiss the Tzitzis at the end of Shema.

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