What is the Shema? What is the meaning of this prayer?
The name The Shema comes from the first Hebrew word, sama, in Deuteronomy 6:4. The meaning of Shema and The Shema prayer will be explained. Four other meanings of the word Shema are also provided at the end. We trust as you read this study that God will open your eyes to the beauty of this prayer.
What Is the Shema?
Many believe the Shema is complete in Deuteronomy 6:4-5, but these verses are only the first part of the Shema. The first part of the Shema is Deuteronomy 6:4-9. The Shema prayer is actually composed of three passages of Scripture. The first passage extends from Deuteronomy 6:4 through verse 9. The second passage is Deuteronomy 11:13-21 and the third passage is Numbers 15:37-41.
Portions of the Shema were to be read in the morning and in evening by men. However, women, servants and children under twelve were not obligated to do so according to the Mishnah.
Meaning of the Shema
The word Shema is the transliteration of the first Hebrew word in Deuteronomy 6:4, which is sama. This word means “to hear.” It is sometimes translated as “to obey.” Here is Deuteronomy 6:4-5.
“Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NASB)
Verse 4 of the Shema announces that Jehovah is God and that Jehovah is one. The Hebrew word that is translated as “God” is elohim, which is plural. Yet, the Hebrew word translated as “one” is ehad. It refers to unity in oneness. When we take elohim and ehad together, verse 4 of the Shema affirms the doctrine of the trinity as taught in the rest of the Bible. Thus Deuteronomy 6:4 teaches that Jehovah is a single, triune person.
Jesus refers to Deuteronomy 6:5 is the greatest commandment in Matthew 22:36-38.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ “This is the great and foremost commandment.” Matthew 22:36-38 (NASB)
The Shema affirms the nature of God and our duty to Him.
What Is the Shema Prayer?
As already stated, the Shema Prayer has three parts (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; 11:13-21; Numbers 15:37-41). Deuteronomy 6:4-9 declares that Jehovah God is not many gods. He is only one God; yet, He is a trinity. The passage also declared that Israel and everyone is to love Jehovah with all their hearts. God wants us to remember this command and teach it to our children. So the question is, “Do you love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?” That is God’s desire. He wants us to love Him with all our heart, because when we love anyone or anything else, they or it becomes our god.
The second part of The Shema is Deuteronomy 11:13-21. It also urges us to love God with all our heart and soul. God warned Israel that He will withhold blessing if we do not love Him more than anything else in our life. Again, He also urges us to remember this instruction and to teach our children these important truths.
The third part of The Shema is Numbers 15:37-41. While this passage does not call us to love God with all our heart and soul, it does urge us to obey God’s commandments, thus having holy behavior before God.
Tradition states these three parts cover all aspects of the Ten Commandments. The Shema Prayer is a call to total devotion to our one and only triune God.
Other Meanings of Shema
Shema also has five other meanings.
1) City of Shema — Joshua 15:26 mentions a city called Shema, which is part of the “cities at the extremity of the tribe of the sons of Judah toward the border of Edom in the south,” according to Joshua 15:21.
2) Shema, son of Hebron — 1 Chronicles 2:43-44 states that Hebron had four sons and one of his sons was named Shema.
3) Shema, son of Joel — 1 Chronicles 5:8 says that Joel, who lived in Aroer, had a son named Shema.
4) Shema, a Benjaminite— 1 Chronicles 8:13 indicates there was a Benjaminite named Shema. He was one of the “heads of fathers’ households of the inhabitants of Aijalon, who put to flight the inhabitants of Gath.”
5) Shema, the Priest — Nehemiah 8:4 explains that Shema stood beside Ezra the scribe “at a wooden podium.” Verse 5 adds, “Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up.” That is, the priest helped Nehemiah explain “the law to the people while the people remained in their place. They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
What is the Shema and why is it important? The Shema is a prayer that reminds us there is only one God, and yet, He is a triune person. The Shema Prayer also reminds us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. God promises us blessing if we will do that. Why does God urge us to love Him? Because He loves us and does not want us to hurt ourselves by loving substitutes and false gods. God urges you to love Him because He loves you and it is best for you to love Him. Do you love Him?
1. Michael Fishbane. The Jewish Study Bible. Oxford University Press. 2004. p. 379.
2. Shema. McClintock and Strong. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. 1881. vol. IX. p. 650.
3. J. A. Thompson. Deuteronomy. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Inter-Varsity. 1974. p. 121.
4. Berakhot, The Mishnah. Yale University Press. 1988. p. 3.
5. Ibid. p. 6.