05. The Second and Third Paragraphs

In the second paragraph, “Ve-haya im Shamo’a” (Devarim 11:13-21), we learn the value of the mitzvot, the reward for those who fulfill them, and the punishment for those who transgress them. If we love God, serve Him with all our hearts, and fulfill His mitzvot, we will be worthy of His blessing. The land will bring forth its crops, and we and our children will live long lives on the soil that God promised to give to our ancestors and to us. However, if we, God forbid, stray from the path, God will be angry with us, the ground will not yield its produce, and we will perish from upon the good land. The Torah goes on to reiterate the commandment to contemplate the fundamentals, to place this paragraph in the tefillin on our arms and our heads, and to post mezuzot on the entrances to our homes. Thus, whereas the first paragraph emphasizes our turn toward God, the second paragraph emphasizes the manifestation of God’s actions in the world, as the fulfillment of the mitzvot is an expression of God’s word in this world while reward and punishment confirm His supervision of the world.

In the third paragraph, “Va-yomer” (Bamidbar 15:37-41), the mitzva of tzitzit is elucidated. This mitzva has the unique ability to remind us of all the mitzvot and inspire their fulfillment, as it is stated: “Remember all of God’s mitzvot – do them.” Indeed, the mitzva of tzitzit is only performed during the day and not at night because the day symbolizes the clear revelation of God’s word in the world. By revealing the light of the mitzvot and remembering them, we have the strength to overcome our inclination, as the Torah states: “You will not stray after your heart and after your eyes that you chase after.” The conclusion of the paragraph mentions the Exodus. Just as tzitzit reveal the light of all the mitzvot, so too, the Exodus demonstrates that this world has a Sovereign and that the Jewish people were chosen to reveal His word.

Thus, each of the three paragraphs is a continuation of and an expansion of the basis of faith contained in the verse “Shema Yisrael.” In the first paragraph, we learn the essential significance of faith as the one and only foundation of our lives. This is an extension of the words “Hashem Eĥad” (“God is One”). From that, we accept upon ourselves the yoke of all the mitzvot in the second paragraph, which is an extension of the words “Hashem Elokeinu” (“the Lord is our God”). In the third paragraph, the mitzva of tzitzit reminds us of all the mitzvot. At the end, it talks about the Exodus, which showed the world that God chose Israel and that He oversees and rules the world. This is an expansion of the words, “Shema Yisrael” (“Hear O Israel”). Later in this chapter (section 12) we will learn that the berakhot instituted by the Sages also continue and supplement the Shema.

This entry was posted in Chapter 16: Keri’at Shema and Its Berakhot. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.