Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Shema Yisrael – The Centerpiece of Jewish Prayer

Spinning in "Women Rebuild the Mikdash" Program
Mazal tov! It’s B’erot’s fifteen year old birthday this Friday on TubAv – the time for celebrating the rise of the feminine mode. The spiritual energy of TubAv fits Midreshet B’erot Bat Ayin, as our program is in the forefront of celebrating Jewish femininity. We emphasize how women have a major role in building the Malchut (kingdom) by building the Jewish home and land. Returning the Shechina – the Feminine Indwelling Presence to the land, does not just happen through academic study alone, but rather by means of getting deeply in tune with the inner world of spirit and the outer forces of nature, while developing our feminine insight and intuition and linking the spiritual &material through outwardly expression of creative inner potential. Click here to read my article about TubAv- The Rise of the Feminine

This year we will celebrate R”C Elul with an awesome spiritual concert by our alumna student Tziona Achishena (click here for details). Hope to celebrate and dance with you there! Most of the teachings below are extracted from our Creative Ulpan program, where we learned the meaning of the letters of the Torah – the building blocks of the world. 

I hope you will enjoy the special simple Shema Yisrael meditation!

With Blessings of the Torah and the Land, 
Chana Bracha Siegelbaum 

Click here to read "Tu B'Av: Rectifying our Inner Lights" - Rebbetzin's commentary to Haftorat Va'atchanan

Parasha Meditation Va’etchanan
Devarim 3:23-7:11
This week’s parasha always touches me. It’s so filled with emotions, so suitable for the celebration of TubAv. Moshe Rabbeinu describes his very deepest yearning for the Land of Israel. How privileged are we to be able to not only enter the Land, but live here and nurture our relationship with the Land of Israel through planting and growing!

Shema Yisrael – The Centerpiece of Jewish Belief and Prayer
The end of the parasha includes the Shema Yisrael prayer, which is like a seed that contains the entire Torah – a direct shortcut to Hashem. This centerpiece of Jewish belief and prayer contains the power to draw us back to our Soul’s purpose: Loving G-d, and sanctifying His Name as One. שְׁמַע יִשְׂרָאֵל הַשֵם אֱלֹהֵינוּ הַשֵם אֶחָד –“Shema Yisrael, Hear O Yisrael, Hashem is One.”[1] It says “shema” – hear/ listen, not just because we cannot see G-d, but because we are to bring the truth of Hashem’s Oneness deep into our being. What we see remains external to ourselves. We cannot ‘see’ but we can ‘hear’ Hashem communicating to us especially in the words of His Holy Torah. We unite with Him through seeing and remembering, but even more so by hearing and listening.[2] The Shema is a verbal mikvah, pouring into every level of our souls. It aligns us to the truth of Hashem’s Oneness, purifying doubt and the temptation to believe that there is anything in the world that is separate from Hashem.[3]

Complete Active Listening
שְׁמַע – The first word of the Shema prayer means hear or listen. Its first letter shin represents esh- fire, the following letter mem – is associated with mayim (water). To truly listen is to unite our vital energy (fire) with the receptiveness of water. This kind of hearing is called active listening. The last letter in the word Shema is ayin, which means eye and has the shape of an eye. To truly listen is to visualize the message we hear in our mind’s eye. The letter ayin has the numerical value of seventy, corresponding to the seventy facets of the Torah, and the seventy languages of the world. To listen is to integrate the message with all its possible numerous aspects.

Israel – Straight to G-d
יִשְׂרָאֵל – Yisrael – Israel. This word can be broken up into two: Straight ישר – yashar אֵל– to G-d. The first letter of the word yashar is yud. It is the smallest most humble of all the letters. When writing any Hebrew letter, we always begin from the top, forming a yud. Yud, the most hidden beginning of all the letters is the first letter of Israel – the beginning of Hashem’s creation plan. He created the world for our sake, but our greatness is hidden throughout our exile and persecution. Shin, the second letter of Israel looks like flames of fire. It represents the fiery energy to keep us going, and keep our passion for Hashem strong. Reish, the third letter of Israel – has the shape of the back of the head. The letter reish also means head (rosh). With this letter we become the leader of the world, but only if we connect with the alef- lamed of G-d’s revealed name. “El” also means power, and interestingly it may be the root of the English word electricity. This name of G-d consists of the alef the oneness of G-d together with the lamed – the tallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet – symbolizing going upwards reaching towards its higher spiritual purpose.

The Eternal Name
הַשֵם – The four lettered name of G-d is translated most correctly as the Eternal. It includes within it the letters of heh, yud, and vav through which you can spell haya – was, hove – is, yiheye – will be. Hashem is beyond time and includes all past, present and future. The heh is the letter of breath, birth and creativity, the letter vav is the letter of connection. G-d created and breathed life into all existence and connected the world to himself. The first yud of His name denotes beginning, He is the first, nothing preceded Him, both Israel and G-d begin with this same letter signifying the connection between us.

Elokim – The Power of Nature
אֱ-לֹהֵינוּ – The root of this word is Elokim the word for G-d which is manifested within the physical world also denoting judgment. Elokim decreed that the natural rules of the world operate in according to set laws. The first two letters are shared with the word for Israel denoting our connection with Elokim. It is interesting that these letters are in the end of the word Yisrael whereas they appear in the beginning of the word for G-d. Our end goal and purpose to reach the Divine, is only the beginning of G-d’s infinite being which is so uplifted beyond what we can even begin to imagine. The heh is the birth not only of our world, but of all the worlds beyond us, reaching towards the yud that most spiritual letter corresponding to the world Above – The World to Come. The suffix נוּ – is always used to denote “us” or “our”. The nun stands for the fifty gates of understanding all which Hashem wants to grant us, and the vav is the letter of connection. Whatever is ours is what we connect with on the deepest level.

The Gate of Brotherhood & Unity
אֶחָד – The first letters of the word for one (echad) is alef and chet, which spell the word אח –ach – brother. In order to be united we need to feel the connectedness of brotherhood. The last letter of echad is dalet which has the numerical value of four, representing the four corners of the world that needs to be united in the One. The chet in the middle of the word represents the chuppah (marriage canopy), which connect together the oneness of G-d with the four directions of the world. It is the gate through which the Oneness, so to speak, has to pass in order to enter the physical world.

Shema Meditation based on Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan[4]

Make yourself comfortable and close your eyes. Begin breathing slowly.

Step 1. Try to visualize the first two letters of the word the Shema: ש – shin and מ – mem. These two letters are two of the three “Mother Letters.”[5]

Step 2. Inhale while imagining shin, exhale while imagining mem. Repeat ten times.

Step 3. Visualize how the shin represents chaos and fire, while the mem connects to harmony and water. Allow the letters of the Shema to break through your everyday level of consciousness (shin), and raise you to tranquility and inner peace (mem).

Step 4. Feel how the sound of the shin is “shhh” is a sound that includes the presence of all sounds. Connect with the sound of mem which is its opposite – the pure harmonic sound, “mmm”.
ע – ayin – the last letter of the Shema has no sound. It acts as a neutralizer and vessel for the fire of shin and the water of mem to merge.

Step 5. Inhale while visualizing the letter ע – ayin, exhale while making a “shhh” sound, and visualizing the letter ש – shin.

Step 6. Inhale while visualizing the letter ע – ayin, exhale while making a “mmm” sound and visualizing the letter מ – mem.

Step 7. Repeat ten times, inhaling silently, and exhaling “shhh.” Then inhaling again silently, and exhaling “mmm.” The repetitions will draw you deeper and deeper into the “mmm” sound.

There is a spiritual pilot light, or Pintele Yid, in every Jew that never is extinguished, and the Shema is a spark that causes that hidden light to grow and strengthen. We suffer when we are not connected to this truth without understanding why. The perpetual presence of the Shema pilot light gets obscured by layers of worldly impurity that comes with exile, true exile: the distance from knowing Hashem. Every time we say the Shema, the light that is within us grows stronger, purifying us with the truth, connecting us to a wellspring of emunah (faith).

[1] Devarim 6:4.
[2] Rabbi Shelomo Carlebach, Parashas Eikev, Issue #25, 19-20 menachem Av 5767.
[3] By alumna student Tziona Achishena for full article see <>.
[4] See this beautiful video presentation <>
[5] Sefer Yetzirah 1:2. (The third Mother Letter is alef).

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