The Virtue of the Shema’s Second Paragraph - עקב

Friday, 19 August, 2022 - 10:15 am


The Virtue of the Shema’s Second Paragraph


The commandments to study Torah, don Tefillin, and place a Mezuzah on the doorpost are stated in the first paragraph of the Shema prayer (which appears in last week's portion, Vaetchanan) and are reiterated in the second paragraph of the Shema (which is in this week's portion, Eikev). Rashi explains that the commandments are re-stated in the second paragraph in order to teach that even after the Jewish people are exiled from the land of Israel (a possibility mentioned in the second paragraph of the Shema), they should nevertheless continue to fulfill the commandments. 


Each of the Shema paragraphs expresses their respective portion's general theme. While the emphasis of last week's portion, Vaetchanan, was Moses' description of the Divine revelation of Sinai, when the people were in a state of holiness and righteousness, in this week's portion, Eikev, Moses describes the sin of the golden calf, the shattering of the tablets and how Moses carved out the stones for the second tablets. In other words, Vaetchanan represents the Divine revelation that inspires the person. In contrast, Eikev describes the people's return to G-d due to their own effort, in the aftermath of a spiritual downfall. 


This explains the difference between the first and second paragraphs of the Shema prayer. The second paragraph differs from the first in that, (1) it reiterates only the commandment to "love the L-rd your G-d with all your heart and will all your soul", but omits "with all your might", (2) it introduces the idea of reward and punishment ("if you hearken to My commandments… I will give the rain of your land at its time… Beware, lest your heart be misled… "and you will perish quickly from upon the good land") (3) it mentions the commandment to put on Tefillin before the commandment to study Torah ("bind them for a sign upon your hand and they shall be for ornaments between your eyes. And you shall teach them to your sons to speak with them…"). 


This is because in the first paragraph of the Shema, the person's inspiration is far more intense as it comes as a gift from above; it is a product of the Divine revelation that awakens his soul. By contrast, when in a state of physical as well as spiritual exile, (1) the love for G-d is not felt as intensely as the love in the first portion (2) the person needs to be inspired by reward and punishment (3) one must take action (Tefillin) even before he is inspired by study. 


Conventional wisdom says that the first paragraph of the Shema represents the greater level of holiness, for it describes the intense service of G-d resulting from the soul shining within the human consciousness. Yet, counter-intuitively, Chasidisim explains that there is an advantage in the second paragraph of the Shema. For when the Jew serves G-d while in spiritual exile, the less intense but self-generated inspiration is a testament that his connection to G-d has been internalized to the degree that it is not dependent on external factors. No matter where the Jew may be, in a physical or spiritual exile, the Jew can express his connection to G-d. 


Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 9 Eikev 2 



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