Thursday, June 7, 2012

Binding the Shema

The Shem MiShmuel, zt”l, offers a deep analysis of an interesting halachic practice.“Our sages teach that the people of Yericho would not pause while reciting Shema. In Pesachim, Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehudah explain that they did not pause between Shema and Vi’ahavta. Although the sages didn’t agree with this practice, they did not protest. Many questions present themselves. Why did the people of Yericho deviate from the opinion of the sages? And why didn’t the sages protest? “To explain, we must first understand that every human being is a microcosm, as we find in the midrash. Our heads parallel the upper world while our bodies mirror the lower world. One’s intellect alludes to the sun, while his heart is like the moon which receives its light from the sun. Like the sun, one’s intellect should be used to illuminate proper conduct. His heart should only desire that which his intellect knows is fitting. “It is impossible to be a whole person without these two faculties working in concert. If the intellect knows what is good but the heart is drawn in the opposite direction, it would be better for him not to have intellect at all. In Mishlei we find that such a person is compared to a pig with a golden nose ring—a valuable adornment graces an unworthy object. The same is true when the heart follows the directives of the mind when that mind is crooked. This is why in ancient times people clung to idolatry. Their hearts followed their intellects, but their minds confused light for darkness and darkness for light. This is worse than those whose intellect is straight but their hearts do not follow its directives. The Shem MiShmuel then explained the connection with the practice of the people of Yericho. “The first verse of Shema straightens the intellect, since the very word Shema means to listen carefully and understand. Vi’ahavta clearly refers to the heart, as the verse continues, ‘…upon your heart.’ The people of Yericho didn’t pause at the juncture in order to deepen their awareness that the heart must follow after the well-guided mind. The sages, on the other hand, would pause to remind themselves that without toil it is easy to disconnect the heart from the intellect. He concluded, “Although the way of Chazal was more correct, the sages did not protest against the practice of the people of Yericho because, in essence, their meaning was the same.”

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