Hear O Israel - שופטים

Friday, 18 August, 2023 - 4:38 pm

Hear O Israel

When you hear the words "Hear O Israel," you probably think of the most important declaration in Judaism, the Shema prayer, which we are commanded to recite twice each day, in the morning and at night: "Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G‑d, the L-rd is One."

Yet, in this week's Torah portion, the words "Hear O Israel" appear in what seems to be a completely unrelated context. The Torah describes how, in preparation for battle, the priest would speak words of encouragement to the soldiers: 

And he shall say to them, "Hear, O Israel, today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them. (Deuteronomy 20:3)

Rashi is sensitive to the connotation of the words "Hear O Israel" and explains that there indeed is a connection between the preparation for battle and the Shema prayer:  

“Hear, O Israel": even if you have no merit other than the reading of the Shema, you are worthy that He [God] save you.

The Chassidic commentary adds a deeper insight into the connection between a battle and the Shema. The Shema expresses the unity of G-d, that there is no existence or experience outside that is independent of the Divine oneness. G-d is present both in the "morning", when there is "light”, and His presence is felt, as well as at night, in times of "darkness", pain and suffering, when his existence is concealed.

When we face a challenge, either spiritual or physical, we may become terrified by the magnitude and difficulty of the battle we face. By evoking the words "Hear O Israel", our inner "priest" reminds us not to be afraid because the core and energy of our adversary is a spark of the one G-d. When we have faith that the challenge was created in order to lead us to greater heights, to help us discover the enormous potential in the most unlikely of places, we are able to be victorious in battle and ultimately transform the adversary by revealing its inner essence and core. 

Adapted from the Sfas Emes  


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