Shema / Listen
The Shema Series
Begin your study of the ancient Hebrew prayer, the Shema, with a closer look at the first word in the prayer, shema, meaning 'listen'.
Learning About the Shema? Don't Stop Here.
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Hear, oh Israel!

One of the most famous and important prayers contained in the Bible is one we see the Hebrew people repeat over and over again throughout the Old Testament. "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, and as for you, you shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength."

It is a powerful prayer and one with a lot of meaning packed into just a few words. The Shema, which is the Hebrew word for "listen," is the centerpiece of the last speech Moses gave to the Israelites before they went down into the promised land. After entering the promised land, the Shema became a prayer the Israelites prayed twice daily.

Love with all your heart

"Ahavah" means "love" in Hebrew, and at its most basic level, it means to have affection toward someone. But biblically speaking, love is more than sentiment—it is also action. In the Shema, Israel is supposed to respond to God's love by showing love to him in return. And just like God's love, human love is to show itself through action. We show our love for God by how we treat the people around us.

We are to love God and one another with our whole heart. "Lev" means "heart" in Hebrew, and it wasn't a body part to the Israelites. They had a broader understanding of heart than we do in our modern context. They thought of the heart as the organ that gives physical life and the place where you think and make sense of the world—where you feel emotions and make choices. In the Shema, God's people are called to devote their whole body, mind, feelings, and desires, as well as their future and failures, to God.

Give God all your ... muchness?

  • In English, a soul usually refers to the non-material essence of a human that survives after death, but that concept would be entirely foreign to the authors of the Old Testament. Biblically, people don't have a soul—they are a soul. They are a "nephesh," a living, breathing, physical being. In the Shema, to love the Lord with your soul is to offer your entire being, with all its capabilities and limitations, in an effort to love God and love your neighbor as yourself.

Interestingly, this is the only place in the Bible where me'od is translated as strength. Everywhere else, it means "very" or "much." It's an adverb that intensifies the meanings of other words. While it may sound funny, to love God with all your strength—me'od—is to love him with all of your "muchness." It means to love God with everything you have, devoting every possibility, opportunity, and capacity to honor God.

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What's the Meaning of the Jewish Shema Prayer in the Bible?
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