Shema Intensive Lecture 1
Shema Intensive Mini-Series With Rabbi Fohrman
Rabbi David Fohrman
Founder and Lead Scholar
The Shema prayer is known to be the Jewish people's declaration of faith. Yet, what makes these verses more significant than others parts of the Bible? Join Rabbi Fohrman as he explores the 3 chapters of the Shema, and take a closer look as what makes these chapters so significant.
This ‘Shema Intensive’ mini series can inspire you and help transform your prayers right in time for the High Holidays.
Please leave your comments below and join the discussion!
Rabbi Fohrman: Hi, everybody. We'll get underway. Just a couple housekeeping words just to start off. First of all, I want to thank you all for being here and taking the time to join this. This is kind of an experiment, and I'll introduce you to it. What we're doing here -- and first of all, just in terms of Aleph Beta staff it's me, pretty much, and we also have Beverlyn out of the left-hand corner of my screen. Hi, Beverlyn.
Beverlyn, as you will see, is one of the only people here with an Aleph Beta avatar, so you can see and wave to Beverlyn there with a really nice Aleph Beta avatar. She's going to handle any problems you might have. You can feel free, if you have any difficulties, in the chat you can direct message Beverlyn. She can help you with that.
So let me give you a little bit of background to what it is that I'm doing here. I've been working on something for the past eight weeks or so, and it's kind of grown and sort of blossomed into something that I hope is wonderful. I've been wanting a chance to teach it in a concentrated sort of way, in an expansive kind of way. That's the purpose of this group, that you guys have all graciously joined together with me today to do.
Let me describe a little bit about what it is and then I'll sort of jump in. My hope is to take a stab at recording this, and one of two things will happen. This will either be a good first run-through of this material, and then in Aleph Beta land we'll do it again in some kind of way, shape, or form, or we are recording this and if things go really well, we'll figure out a way to do something with these recordings directly.
So with that in mind, a couple house rules before I even open up with the subject matter, which is typically if I'm in a Zoom session with you, I'll have a free-flowing discussion. Here the discussion is going to be a little bit less free-flowing. I will ask you stuff and I will want you to respond. When I do ask you stuff, please respond, and occasionally you can feel free to raise your hand and jump in. Other than that, I'm going to keep questions and comments for the end and I'll try to set aside 10 minutes or so to address any comments you have or questions or anything like that. We can append those at the end.
One of the things which I'm sort of working on, or will try to work on, I'm not sure if we have a discussion board for this group. If we don't, we'll see if we can try to get one going. In the meantime, feel free to use the chat function for that and we'll try to be able to save the chats. One thing that you should know is that when I speak, it's hard to talk and read at the same time. I don't know if you've ever had that experience, but it's hard to talk and read at the same time. If you do say things in the chat, I may not be able to see it until the end of the session, and then go through it. But you're free to try, and I will open the chat so that I can glance over there now and then.
Let me introduce you to what it is that I've been working on. I've been working on the Shema. By the Shema I mean the three parshiyot (paragraphs) of what we call Kriat Shema. It's been revelatory for me, inasmuch as this is a text that we say all the time, and it's been exciting to examine it in some depth.
What we're going to be doing here is we're going to be meeting once a day for the next seven consecutive workdays, including today, so just schedule-wise to mark your calendar, that's going to be today. Then we'll take a break for Shabbos and Sunday. We're going to pick up again on Monday, at the same bat time, same bat channel, 6:45 p.m. Eastern. Hopefully, if all goes well, that will continue for Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and then again the following Monday and Tuesday. At least, that's the plan. Hopefully that will work out.
If you miss something, or if you miss one of these sessions, the plan is to record them all. Hopefully we have a way, I think Beverlyn hopefully will be our contact to hook you up with a way to access those recordings. That's not my department here, but hopefully we've got a system in place for you to access those recordings so that you can review them, or if you miss something or if you can't be there live you can still pick up on that. So feel free to reach out to Beverlyn. That would be email@example.com, if you need that. Hopefully we'll be in touch with you as well.
I'm just going to set up my recording equipment, and then I'll kind of jump in here.
Let's get underway, and let's see how this goes.
I want to talk to you today about the Shema. By the Shema, again, I mean the three parshiyot of Shema, the three paragraphs that comprise what the Sages call Kriat Shema. What I'd like to do is begin today by just doing what we often do in Aleph Beta land, which is take something familiar and try to make it unfamiliar, essentially. Take something familiar and to engage in almost the meditative practice of stripping away everything we thought we knew about it, and encountering it as if for the first time. Then asking yourself, if you were encountering this for the first time, what questions would you have about it?
This kind of exercise is -- I can think of no text which requires this kind of exercise more than the Shema. The Shema is a text that many of us say all the time, almost countless times throughout our lives, at least once, twice a day we're saying this text. So it's something which we can easily say by rote without even thinking about it. So it's not easy to forget everything you know about it and encounter it anew. But if we did forget everything we know about it, and we encountered it anew, what would be the questions that would face us?
I want to devote today to try to examine those questions. By today, by the way, just one more housekeeping note. Typically these sessions, I plan them to last about an hour, more or less that's going to work. I see Ruthie smiling, when's the last time you've ever spoken for an hour? So I'll try to keep it to an hour, we'll see. It may go beyond that. So I figure between an hour, an hour and 15, an hour and 20 minutes, something like that.
What we'll do in this first session is at least try to get through some of these questions, and then what I'd like to do is try to go through the Shema really paragraph by paragraph by paragraph, and see if we can make sense of that. We'll see how far we get, but my hope is to go through these questions, go through the Shema paragraph by paragraph by paragraph in light of the questions, and see what emerges. Then, hopefully, if we have time, I'd like to get to another layer of this which is what I'd like to call the backstory of the Shema.
My sense is that the Shema has a backstory. If you've ever watched a movie, if you're an actor in a movie, you know that sometimes directors or screenwriters will construct elaborate backstories for characters which don't actually appear in a film. So what's the point of a backstory if it doesn't appear in a film? The answer is, it gets to the character's motivation. It makes me, as a character, feel like I'm part of a real world. Even though you're only seeing a slice of that world, my actions within this world are influenced by this backstory.
I think Shema has a backstory also, stuff that's not present in the Shema, but things that the Shema is responding to. So once we get through the chapter by chapter analysis of the Shema, I'd like to go back and see if we can discern a kind of backstory, so to speak, that informs the Shema.
So with that said, I'll make no predictions as to how long it will take to get me through each of these parts. We'll just see how it goes.
Let's jump in and just talk about some of these questions that would face you if you were encountering Shema for the very first time. One question that would face you, I think, is where and how did this thing called Kriat Shema emerge? We have this notion of this thing called Kriat Shema. There's no good way to sort of translate Kriat Shema; "the recital of the Shema" seems like a paltry way to talk about it. But Kriat Shema is the phrase the Sages gave to something which the Sages themselves created.
They created the Shema as we know it, the three paragraphs of Shema as we know it, the three paragraphs that appear as part of morning prayers, that appear as part of evening prayers.
When I say they created it, what they did is they stitched together three Biblical passages in order to create the Shema. The first, most basic question that we might ask about the Shema is, what was the rhyme or reason in doing so? What motivated them to do so? How did they construct this? Because it's not like they just took three juxtaposed chapters within the Bible and called them Shema. That would be interesting enough, why you highlighted these three chapters and said, we have to say them every day.
But the Sages didn't do that. They actually constructed Kriat Shema almost out of thin air. They took one passage from the beginning of the Book of Deuteronomy, they plucked it out of Deuteronomy Chapter 4, and that is what we call Shema and V'ahavta, the first paragraph of Shema. They then took another passage that appears, oh, about six or seven chapters later, in Deuteronomy 11, and that is what we call V'hayah im shamo'a, Shema's second chapter. Then, just to top things off, there's a third passage which appears earlier than all of this, way back in the Book of Numbers, as a kind of epilogue to the story of the Spies. That's what we call Parshat Tzitzit, sort of coming out of nowhere.
So it doesn't seem like there's that much rhyme or reason in how Kriat Shema is put together. It's just a pastiche of parshiyot, of paragraphs which are culled from different points in the Bible. It's not even chronological. What's the rhyme or reason of putting all of these things together? So that's kind of question number one.
Question number two is, let's say you put them all together, and let's say that there's some sort of rationale for reciting this once a day or twice a day. We then might ask, what is that rationale? Why is it so important to recite Kriat Shema? What's interesting is that not only do we recite Kriat Shema twice daily, but we recite it twice daily -- and before we go to sleep, for that matter -- but we recite it twice daily as part of our prayers, as part and parcel of our prayers, right in the middle of the prayer service.
The next question is, what about Kriat Shema makes it a prayer? Why is it part of prayers? Now, I think this is a really interesting question because it gets to the question of, what really is prayer?
Typically, at least, I don't know about you, but I always was taught in yeshiva that prayer is pretty much requests that we make of God. That's what Shemoneh Esrei is really all about. It's not nice to make requests of God without praising God, and it's not nice to make requests of God without thanking God. So our first three paragraphs of Shemoneh Esrei, typically we understand is praise of God, our last three paragraphs more or less we talk about focusing on thanks of God, more or less, and the middle is really requests.
But requests and praise and thanks, if that's what prayer is -- and I guess it sort of works for Shemoneh Esrei, it sort of works for Pesukei d'Zimra, the first major section of prayer which are just verses from Psalms and other places that seem to do with praise of God. But the real outlier for all of this seems to me to be Kriat Shema, seems to be Shema itself.
What is Shema? Is Shema a request? It doesn't seem like we're asking anything of God. Is Shema praise? It doesn't really seem like we're praising God in Shema. If I was trying to find verses in the Bible that praise God, I could surely do a better job than finding the three paragraphs of Shema. So it doesn't seem like it's praise of God. Am I saying thank you to God in Shema? There's not a word of thanks to God in Shema. So what is Shema, and why is it prayer?
Now, typically, if you would ask the man on the street, so to speak, or the woman on the street, stop them and say, tell me what Shema is? Like, why is Shema so important? What would they tell you? You tell me, what would they tell you? What is Shema? Why is Shema so important? Why is it on the lips of everyone, hopefully before we die? What is so important about Shema. What do you say? Anybody?
Ruthie: Some people call it a credo.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. So some people would say it's a credo. We might say it's --
Rabbi Fohrman: A declaration of faith, a credo of Jewish faith. It's a declaration of monotheistic faith. This is how we kind of understand it.
So let me ask you, boys and girls, if it is in fact a credo or a declaration of faith, still, what's it doing in the middle of prayers? Who says prayer is a declaration of faith? Now, it might be that a declaration of faith is necessary for prayer, or it might say believing certain things is necessary for prayer. If I don't believe in God, so it sort of doesn't make sense to pray. Okay, I get that. So is it necessary, though, for me -- I mean, isn't it sort of self-evident that if I'm praying to God, I believe in God? So why do I have to include that in prayers?
If I do need to include it in prayers, why is it woven into the fabric of prayer? There are much later compositions that are kind of declarations of faith. They sort of show up after prayer, or before prayer. So for example, some people have a custom to say Ani Ma'amin, the 13 beliefs that Maimonides promulgates. But this is very, very late; much later than Kriat Shema. It's a much later historical formulation. It appears as an addendum to prayer.
Similarly, some people will have the custom -- and it's only a custom -- to say another later composition, Yigdal. All Yigdal really is, is a poetic compilation of Maimonides' 13 attributes of faith. But that's way at the beginning of prayer. I could understand it as a kind of customary introduction, that here's the things I believe. But notice that Shema doesn't really say that you believe that much. The idea of belief in Shema is limited to the very first verse of Shema.
Why say all three chapters if it's just a declaration of belief? A declaration of belief takes nothing more than the first six words, so I'm wasting my time for the rest of the three chapters. What's that doing in the middle of prayer? If it's really just the first six words, put it at the beginning of prayer. Put it at the end of prayer. Weaving it into prayer makes it feel like it is prayer. Why are these verses prayer? That's question number two.
So how did the Sages formulate Shema, what did they have in mind, how did they put these things together, is question number one. Question number two is, why is it, in fact, part of prayer?
Question number three kind of picks up on question number two. As part of question number two you might say, well, what is Shema? The reason why Shema is important is because it's a declaration of faith. So I want to challenge that for you for a moment. Is Shema really a declaration of faith? So as I said before, it's hard to make the argument that the three paragraphs of Shema are declarations of faith. There's very little in them that are declarations of faith. The only thing you could possibly argue is a declaration of faith, would be the very first sentence of Shema, its very first six words: "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad," Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.
Here's where I really want to apply this kind of methodology of forgetting everything you know about this and starting over again. Let me ask you, if there was no such thing as Kriat Shema, if no one had ever picked Shema as a declaration of faith, if you were one of the ministering angels up in heaven and God was consulting you and says, you know, I'd really like a pithy, six-word declaration of faith for my people to say. Something short, something snappy, something that they can say maybe before they die or something, before they go to sleep. I mean, give me something really, really pithy, dramatic.
So what would you say? If you wanted a declaration of monotheism, that a Jew is a monotheist, believes in the fact that there's only one God. Would you really have said, Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One? What's the problem with that phraseology? Could you suggest any alternatives that might be a bit clearer, maybe even a little bit shorter?
Put it this way. If you were one of the ministering angels and you were asked to edit this declaration, and you were given the privilege of a red pen to wield, would you edit the declaration? Could you, perhaps, make it even shorter?
Perhaps to bring a little bit of dark humor into this, and I don't mean to be too dark about this, but if you think about all the people, all the well-meaning people who, over time, have tried to have Shema on their lips before they die. So imagine, like, you don't always know when you're going to die. You don't always have that much warning. God forbid, somebody's in a car accident -- like, how much time do you have? So from that kind of perspective, the less words, the better.
Now, where does the declaration of faith take part? Notice it takes part in the last four words, not the first two. That's a preamble, Hear O Israel. Wouldn't you just take the red pen and get rid of the preamble? Don't you think we should just stick with just the four words, Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One? Think of all the people who, God forbid, had the car coming towards them and had, like, three-and-a-half seconds to say Shema, and they only got through Shema Yisrael before they died. What a tragedy. They died before they even got to the good part.
If we just got rid of Shema Yisrael, they would have actually said something meaningful, if they got to the first two words of Hashem Elokeinu, or Hashem Echad. Why do it this way? Why have Shema Yisrael at all there? That's question number one on the first verse.
Even so, aside from that, what's wrong with Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad as a great declaration of monotheism? Does anyone have any problems with this? Let me open this up to you. You guys are free to respond. What's strange about it? No?
Audience Member: Echad is kind of ambiguous.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's kind of ambiguous, right. Elisheva, what were you going to say?
Elisheva: There's also sort of this tautological thing. If we know that God is one, why are we saying that God is one? There's this implication that perhaps we're choosing, or we're consolidating.
Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, so it's tautological. Do we know God is one? I suppose. Also, let me just ask you this. I hate to sound stupid over here, but what does it really even mean to say, God is one? Like, doesn't that sound sort of Zen to you? What does that even mean, God is -- I'm just asking literally
In other words, let's say you wanted to declare your belief in monotheism. Forget Shema, let's just use English terminology. What does it mean to you to be a monotheist? Just give me the most basic declaration of monotheism in an English sentence that says you're a monotheist, without using the word monotheist. Talk to me in English. What would you say? I believe --
Audience Member: That only one person created the world.
Rabbi Fohrman: I believe that there's only one being who created the world, only one being who's the Creator, only one being who's God. Notice that there's one word that's showing up there in English which is very important for that declaration, which is nowhere in the Hebrew in Shema. You know what word that is? Only. Only! It never says there's only one God. I mean, that's the point of monotheism. Monotheism is that there's only one God. There's no more than one God.
Notice that Shema doesn't say that. Now, Shema could have said that. There are declarations in Hebrew that say that. Give me a better declaration, other than Shema, that very clearly -- we say it sometimes -- that very clearly declare that there is no other being that we worship, other than God.
Ruthie: Ado-nai hu ha'Elohim.
Rabbi Fohrman: We say it at the end of Yom Kippur. What better thing to say at the end of Yom Kippur. It's only three words long, think how great that is. The car is coming right at you, you have one-and-a-half seconds, you can get through those three words. Why isn't that our declaration of faith? Hashem hu ha'Elokim, the Lord is God. That's it. The Lord is God, three words, that's it.
Or something, if you wanted to use the word only, think Aleinu. What do we have in Aleinu that gets to that? You have four words: "Hashem Elokim ein od." It's another verse. The Lord is God, there is no other. Great! It's four words, much clearer than Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad. There is no idea of exclusivity within that. Don't you understand? Monotheism is all about just one God and no other. Where is that in Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad?
More, even the word echad is a puzzlingly ambiguous word. The Lord is one? What does that mean? It doesn't mean the Lord is the only one. It means the Lord is one. What does that even mean, the Lord is one? Do you understand, it doesn't seem to be saying the same thing as, God is the only one, or you shouldn't worship anyone else but God.
So I want to challenge the notion that this even is a declaration of faith. I don't think it is. Stone me, I just don't think it is. It's something else. Now the question is, so why is it so important? I don't know, but it's not a declaration of faith. It's actually something else, something theologically mysterious.
Generally speaking, theologically, one of the things that we believe, one of the things Maimonides says very famously, is that we can't know very much about God. Typically, we don't describe God very much. Maimonides says that we actually can't know much about the essence of God. We can know what God isn't, but we can't know what He is, because God is so transcendent, so beyond us that anything we could say about Him is just a paltry estimation of what God would, in fact, be like. So we can say things like, God is not cruel. That's true. But to say that you can even say that God is kind, you can't apprehend what you mean by kindness with reference to God. God is too mysterious. We can't even say that.
Along comes the Shema and it's one of the few things that we can actually say about God that is a positive thing, that we are prepared to actually put a stake in the ground, in the English language, in the Hebrew language, and say something direct and positive about God. Not something negative, but something positive. It seems to be a descriptor of who God is. Do you know who God is? God is one. That's who He is.
That's not a declaration of faith. That's a description of God. We're actually describing who God is, and the only thing we're prepared to say about Him is that a feature of being God, is oneness. That's very interesting. That's fascinating. What do we mean by that? We don't mean that He is the only power; that's taken for granted. What we mean is something much more mysterious than that, that the only thing we can say about Him in a very mysterious way is that He is one, that He is unified.
Now, what does that mean? It could mean that He is unique, God is unique, He is one, He's unusual. Possibly that's what it means. But if you look at some of the classic Jewish philosophers, like Chovot Halevavot, for example, and Maimonides himself, the way they will understand God's oneness is something far more mysterious than saying God is unique. He is unique, but it's deeper than the idea that He is unique.
Oneness is a very mysterious notion. It doesn't appear that much in this world. If you think about this world, this world is not really a world of oneness; it's a world of twoness. What that means is, is that everything in this world that seems like it's one, isn't. It's composed of parts. There are all sorts of fragments of that one thing. The one thing is really -- it's just all of those parts coming together.
Anything that you see as one, isn't really one. It can very easily be two. This desk that I'm sitting at is one, until I take an axe to it. If I take an axe to it, it's not one anymore; it's two. The thing about this world is, we haven't really met the thing that I can't take an axe to. You can go to the smallest possibly things, and if you know something about chemistry, I can take an axe to a molecule. When I take an axe to a molecule of water, I can divide it into its atoms. So that one thing becomes two and I have hydrogen and I have oxygen.
I can even take an axe to hydrogen, and I can divide that into its subatomic particles. I can notice how there are neutrons and there are protons and there are electrons. We haven't met the thing that you can't take apart. We think that we can take electrons and protons apart, and we think like there's exotic things called up quarks and down quarks, and all these different exotic quantum particles. We haven't met the thing that we can't take apart yet.
This world is not a world of oneness. Along comes God, this visitor from another world, and guess what? He's One. He is irreducible. One thing that can't be divided, an actual, simple unity. There's something about that oneness which is compelling.
Without getting into this too much philosophically, if you really think about oneness, oneness is compelling. There is something compelling about oneness. If you even think about this from a scientific standpoint, there's something compelling about oneness. Think about the fundamental forces of the universe. One of the most basic forces in the universe that is there everywhere and that binds the universe together, is something we call gravity.
Think of the essence of gravity. What is gravity trying to do? What gravity is trying to do, is make everything one. That's all it's trying to do. As a matter of fact, when gravity is successful in making things one, guess what we call it? Where is gravity's greatest success? It's not a great place to live, but gravity's greatest success is a black hole. That's gravity squared, par excellence. When gravity is of such crushing force that it's taking everything together and nothing can escape it. Gravity's ultimate triumph, science calls a singularity.
What an interesting word, a singularity. It's oneness par excellence. It's this thing that's so dense that it's almost imperceivable to the naked eye. You can crush matter down to a place where you can't even see it anymore, and it's this one thing. All gravity is trying to do, essentially, is take the universe and bring it back to this place before creation, this big crunch where everything is one big black hole, and bring it all together.
So there's something mysterious and otherworldly about oneness, but oneness is compelling. If you think about gravity from a philosophical sense, what gravity is doing is it's literally compelling everything to be one. It's saying come, come, why be two? You can be one. Be drawn together. If you think of romance, romance is the drive not to be two, but to be one. Many was separated from female, and is seeking to reclaim the female aspect of self, and v'hayu l'basar echad, and to become one. There's something romantically compelling about being one. There's something physically compelling about being one. God, at some level, is the source and the greatest oneness one could possibly imagine, or one could possibly not imagine.
Okay, but that's all very esoteric. That's very interesting. That's very philosophical and you have to be a quantum physicist to really appreciate it. But in a very basic way, why would God's oneness be so important for us to be talking about? Why would we want to talk about God's oneness in prayer? Why would that be so interesting.
So one of the things I want to explore with you over this series is, what are the actual, real-life implications of God being one? If you read Chovot Halevavot, if you read the philosophical works of Maimonides playing off of Aristotle, there are all sorts of very ethereal, transcendental ideas that attach to this notion of oneness.
In a very practical, everyday level in terms of our relationship with God, why would God's oneness be a thing? Why is that so important for us to talk about, and why would it be so important for us to talk about as part and parcel of prayer? At some level, it seems like the Shema is a declaration of the oneness of God, different than just saying there's only one God. But the next question is, why is that important?
Along the lines of answering that question, is to understand that Hashem echad is only a third of the first verse of Shema. Remember, the first verse of Shema has six words in it. The last two deal with the oneness of God. What about the first four? What does Shema Yisrael have to do with it? Why is it there at all, that preamble? Plus, what's that other part? Why don't we just say, Shema Yisrael Hashem Echad, Hear O Israel, the Lord is One? That would be nice. Why do we have those two words in the middle, Hashem Elokeinu, the Lord is God? What's that doing there, and how is that a preamble for Hashem Echad?
So what we really want to get into is a deep dive of those six words. How do we parse those six words? How do we understand how they come together? So let's call that question number three.
Just to review our questions so far. Question number one, how did the Sages construct Kriat Shema? How did they put together these three paragraphs of this thing that we call Kriat Shema? Question number two, why is Kriat Shema part of prayer? What makes it a part of prayer? If it's a declaration of faith, why would a declaration of faith be part of prayer? Question number three, maybe it's not a declaration of faith. Maybe it's a declaration of God's oneness. But if it is, still, why is it part of prayer? Why is God's oneness relevant, and how to the other parts of the first sentence have to do with God's oneness? If God's oneness is such a thing, how do the other three paragraphs of Shema have anything to do with it? The rest of Shema, the parsha of tzitzit, the parsha of v'hayah im shamoa, these other paragraphs, what do they have to do with this notion of God's oneness?
So these are our first three questions that I want to talk about with you. Is everything clear so far? Okay, let's move on.
What I'd like to do next is to actually get into the guts of Shema and begin to ask some more questions that are actually based on the text of Shema in a more granular kind of way. What parts of Shema are ambiguous, are difficult to understand? How do we parse that?
So what I'd like to do with you here is, I suppose, maybe go through Shema backwards a little bit. Let's start from the end of Shema and work our way backwards towards the beginning of Shema.
Starting from the end of Shema, I would say my number one granular question about Shema is really, what in the world is that last paragraph doing there? The last paragraph has to do with tzitzit, of all things. So here's this thing that every day, twice a day, we've got to spend our time talking about these three paragraphs. It's really important that we not just wear tzitzit, but we talk about tzitzit. This is, like, a thing. There's a whole paragraph that's devoted to this. God took us out of Egypt, and we've got to wear these tzitzit. We're supposed to see them as a reminder of God's commandments.
It seems strange, right? Why is that mitzvah -- if you think about it, again, imagine you were called upon to take the three most important paragraphs in the Torah and to incorporate them into prayer. In a million years, would you have taken that paragraph from the Book of Numbers that had to do with tzitzit and said, this is one of the top three paragraphs in the entire Torah? Like, I never would have done that.
I maybe would have had Exodus 19, revelation; maybe I would have had the burning bush, Exodus 3; maybe I would have had God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 15; maybe God's promise to Abraham in Genesis 12. I mean, there are lots of really inspiring -- maybe Moses's blessing to the people at the end of Deuteronomy. There is a lot of really inspiring stuff in the Torah. Of all things, tzitzit? I've got to talk about that? It's one of 613 commands. What about the other 612? Why didn't I include those in Shema? So that's a little strange. Question number one.
Let's proceed in Shema again backwards a little bit. Let me take you through the end of the second paragraph of Shema. The end of the second paragraph of Shema strikes me as head-spinning, in a way. Come with me and let's examine it. If you have a siddur (prayerbook) open, you can follow along with me.
The second paragraph of Shema ends with these words: "Lema'an yirbu yemeichem v'yemei bneichem al ha'adamah asher nishba Hashem la'avoteichem lateit lahem k'yemei hashamayim al ha'aretz." Let me translate those words. You should do the above, "lema'an yirbu yemeichem," so that your days be lengthened, "v'yemei bneichem," and your children's days be lengthened, "al ha'adamah," on the land, "asher nishba Hashem la'avoteichem," that God swore to your forefathers to give them. "K'yemei hashamayim al ha'aretz," like the days of heaven on the earth.
Now, we say it all the time, but just look at that sentence. What's strange about that sentence? Let me start with the transition word in that sentence, lema'an, so that. The way we might phrase it is, do x so that your days will be lengthened on the land. Solve for x. What was x there? Do what so that your days be lengthened on the land? Do me a favor, look at the paragraph for a moment. Just looking at the paragraph, what do you think the answer to x is? What is solve for x? Do what so that your days be lengthened on the land? Just basic reading comprehension question in this paragraph of Shema. Anybody want to take a stab at that?
Ruthie: All the mitzvot.
Rabbi Fohrman: So here's the question. The question is -- and I see on the chat, the ambiguity is coming through in your answers. Seemingly, the most logical answer to that question of, do what so that your days will be lengthened on the land, is, do all the mitzvot. Do all the commands. Now, where is that, presumably, in the paragraph? Where is that in the paragraph?
Ruthie: It's the first sentence.
Rabbi Fohrman: It's the first sentence of the paragraph. "V'hayah im shamoa tishme'u el mitzvotai," and it shall be if you listen to My commands that I command you today to do. Then the paragraph goes on from that. Now, if it's really true -- and there's a lot of water under the bridge in that paragraph. It's the longest paragraph of all of Shema. If it's really true that the antecedent for lema'an yirbu is those very first words, where do you think lema'an yirbu should have been in the paragraph? If you were writing the paragraph, where would you have put lema'an yirbu to make it clear?
Debby: At the beginning.
Rabbi Fohrman: In the second sentence. That's where it should have been. It should have said, and it should be, and it will be that if you listen to God's commands, you'll last a long time in the land, you and your children, just like the days of heaven on the earth. That's what it should have said. That would have been very clear.
Instead, it doesn't say that. There's a lot of stuff before that. In fact, what is the immediate antecedent to lema'an yirbu? What comes before lema'an yirbu in the paragraph? So if you look at your chat, you guys said it. What comes right before that? You should bind them on your arms, you should teach them to your kids, you should put mezuzot on your door. Lema'an yirbu, so that your days be lengthened on the land.
Now, you could excuse me for believing that what's the key to making sure that your days be lengthened on the land? Mezuzot. Make sure all your doors have mezuzahs. You want to last a long time in the land? I got your secret sauce. Check your mezuzahs. Go make sure that you got your mezuzah. That's the last thing it said, mezuzah. Why do we put lema'an yirbu after mezuzah? Is this like -- I don't know. If I was a mezuzah salesman, I would use this as my calling card. I would, like, put this on my business card, right here. You want to last a long time in the land, guys? Make sure you've got your mezuzahs. Check your mezuzahs. Most important mitzvah in the entire Torah.
Why is mezuzah the most important mitzvah? You're telling me mezuzah and tefillin and teaching your kids are the most important? Those are the mitzvahs? It's not all the mitzvahs, like it said earlier; it's really just those? Why did you put lema'an yirbu there? Very, very strange thing. So why is lema'an yirbu where it is in our verses? This is the next question I want to ask you.
So in our granular question so far, we've got what is the paragraph of tzitzit doing here? Now, what is lema'an yirbu doing where lema'an yirbu is? It seems out of place. It seems like its antecedent is all the mitzvahs, but then it should have been earlier in the paragraph. Why is it later in the paragraph? Why is lema'an yirbu where it is?
This, however, is not the only problem with lema'an yirbu. Lema'an yirbu has other problems, too. Let me ask you this question. Let's say that you were the angel in heaven with that red marker, and your job is to concisify Shema. That's what editors do. They aim for concision. What words can you take out, without losing anything as far as meaning is concerned? So, boys and girls, let me ask you. Take your red pen, and I'm going to insist that you get four words out of this sentence without losing much in the way of meaning. Give me some words that could be cut.
"Lema'an yirbu yemeichem v'yemei bneichem al ha'adamah asher nishba Hashem la'avoteichem lateit lahem k'yemei hashamayim al ha'aretz." So that your days be lengthened on the land that God swore to your forefathers to give you, like the days of heaven on the earth. Give me some words that you can cut without really losing much in terms of meaning. Anybody?
Ruthie: The last words.
Rabbi Fohrman: The last four words. Tell me, if you didn't have the last four words, "like the days of heaven on the earth," would you really not know what the verse meant? Let's just read the verse without the last four words. It tells me how much ambiguity there is in that verse. You should do God's commands so that your days be lengthened on the land that God swore to his forefathers to give to you. Period. You don't know what that means?
If you don't know what it means, does it get clearer with the last four words, like the days of heaven on the earth? Oh, now you know what it means? No. You don't know what it means, even more. It's a metaphor that does nothing to add to the meaning. What kind of meaning is added by those four words? What did you know now that you didn't know before, like the days of heaven on the earth? What a strange thing to say. It's a weird metaphor. It's just a strange metaphor, like the days of heaven on the earth. That's how I'm supposed to be? That's what it means to last on the earth? What a weird thing to say.
So how do I understand lema'an yirbu? This is the next question.
While we're at lema'an yirbu, I'd like to actually stay here for a moment and ponder the implications of that last question before I move on and consider one or two final questions with you.
Here's the beginning of a solution to at least this one question of lema'an yirbu. There's a fascinating pattern in these words, lema'an yirbu. It's a little bit embarrassing to talk about, because it's a pattern that has been there for a long time, and I myself haven't seen it for a good 50 years of my life. But having recently seen the pattern, let me come clean, group therapy session. I'm just going to share it with you. What is the pattern at the heart of this sentence?
For those of you with a fondness for mathematics, there is actually an equation at the heart of this sentence. It's actually an algebraic equation. In the algebraic equation, there is a variable, there's an x. You can actually solve for x using the principles of algebra. You can factor out everything else until you get x. Let's isolate the algebraic equation.
An equation always has two parts, that's what an equation is. You have an equals sign, and you've got the left-hand side, you've got the right-hand side. That's your equation. So let's look at the equation. If you think about it, every simile -- I think that's what it is, a simile, not a metaphor -- every simile is, in essence, an equation. I'm saying this is actually equal to this. That's what we actually have in this sentence. Look for the equals sign in this sentence.
"So that your days and the days of your children be lengthened on the land that God has sworn to give you." That's one side of the equation. "Like," and that like is the equals sign, "like the days of heaven on the earth." Now, what's remarkable about the two sides of the equation is that each side of the equation has three elements in them, and two out of the three of them readily cancel out. Can you find any elements of the right-hand side of the equation, that reappear in the left-hand side of the equation? Anything in the right-hand side of the sentence that shows up again in the left-hand side of the sentence?
Geeta says, the word "days." Do you notice how days appears on both sides of the equation? So that your days and the days of your children are lengthened, like the days of heaven on the earth. So there's days on both sides of the equation.
What else is there on both sides of the equation?
Ruthie: Land. Eretz, adamah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Land is on both sides of the equation, so that your days and the days of your children be lengthened on the land, like the days of heaven on the land. Fascinating. On both sides of the equation there's days, and on both sides of the equation there's land. Leaving just one more element. On the left-hand side of the equation, what's the only other element besides land and days?
Audience Member: Shamayim.
Rabbi Fohrman: Shamayim, heaven. On the right-hand side, what's really the only other element other than days and land?
Rabbi Fohrman: People. Us and our children. Boys and girls, do you know what the principles of algebra tell you? They say that you can solve for x. Solve for people. What do people on the right-hand side, let people equal x. What does x equal on the other side of the equation? Let's factor out everything else. In algebra, you can always factor out -- if there's an element on the right-hand side that's the same as the element on the left-hand side, I can take away those elements without destroying the equality. That means I can take away days on both sides of the equation, and I don't lose anything. It means I can take away land on both sides of the equation, and I don't lose anything.
If I take away days and I take away land, I'm left with x equals. People equal something. What do people equal?
Rabbi Fohrman: The heavens. People equal heavens. The text is telling you that you, do you know who you are? Do you know who your children are? You're heaven. That's who you are. You're like the heavens. In other words, so that your days and the days of your children be lengthened on the land, like the days of heaven on the land. Your days on the land should be like the days of heaven on the land. Do you know why? Because who are you? You're like heaven. Because you're like heaven, your days on the land should be like the days of heaven on the land.
That's what the text is actually telling you, leading to a great question: what in the world is that supposed to mean? I didn't think I'm like heaven. Like, hello, I've got this body, I think I'm pretty corporeal. Can someone please explain to me why I was wrong? Why really, I'm shamayim?
It sounds like, to borrow a scene from Avatar, the text is telling you that we're Sky People. That's what we are. We're these heavenly beings. Then he said, one second, hold on. I thought that was angels? Angels are the Sky People. But it's telling you, no, you're Sky People. What exactly are you going to say?
Audience Member: We are made in the demut (image) of the angels.
Rabbi Fohrman: So exactly, we're made like angels. But we're not really made like angels. It never says in the text that we are made like angels. But there's something about us that seems similar to angels.
Audience Member: Your neshamah is like shamayim.
Rabbi Fohrman: Right. So is it that there's something heavenly, something about our souls which is heavenly? By the way, if you would have thought of Sky People, if I would have just interviewed you and I would have said, hm, Sky People. If we hadn't had this discussion, if I would back up an hour ago and someone would have interviewed you and said, quick, who are the Sky People in the Bible? Who would you have said? You wouldn't have said people. What would you have responded?
Audience Member: I would have said Balaam because of his bird.
Debby: Or Bnei Elohim.
Audience Member: Nephilim, yeah.
Rabbi Fohrman: It would be the Bnei Elohim, it would be the angels. There are angels in the Bible. As a matter of fact, let me ask you this question. What angels are most obviously Sky People? Pick a class of angel that -- here's a good Bible quiz question for you. Pick a class of angel that appears in the Five Books of Moses and only in the Five Books of Moses, that is most clearly associated with Sky People.
Rabbi Fohrman: That at some level seems to be a person, but with wings.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's a cherub. That's how cherubs are described. Cherubs are angels that clearly have wings because they show up in the Mishkan, they show up in the Tabernacle. They've got their wings, sochechim b'kanfeihem. And cherubs appear this other time, way back in the Garden of Eden. But one second, are we saying like we're Sky People like that? Like, we're not cherubs, are we?
Audience Member: Yeah, we are.
Rabbi Fohrman: Or are we? We're not really cherubs, but let me just point this out to you. Let me ask you one other interesting question. This really strange simile in lema'an yirbu, "k'yemei hashamayim al ha'aretz." I'm going to give you one more Bible quiz. Where else in the Torah, aside from lema'an yirbu, do we have the three elements of this simile, which is the word shamayim, heavens; the word aretz, land; and the word day or days?
Rabbi Fohrman: The answer is, creation. Where in creation do we have day, heaven, and earth?
Lesli: Day two.
Rabbi Fohrman: Actually, it's in both stories of creation. In day one you have shamayim and aretz and you have our first day of creation. Then, interestingly enough, there's a second account of creation. Look at the first verse of the second account of creation, Genesis 2 Verse 4. It reads as follows: "Eileh toldot hashamayim v'ha'aretz," these are the generations of heaven and earth "b'hibar'am," as they were being created. "B'yom," on the day, "asot Hashem Elokim eretz v'shamayim," on the day of God's creating heavens and earth. Heaven, earth, day, earth, heaven.
Fascinating. The only other time we meet heaven, earth, and days is in the account of creation. I wonder if maybe that's what lema'an yirbu is referring to, when it says that your days should be lengthened like the days of heaven on the earth. What do you mean, like the days of heaven on the earth? Let me ask you, how long has heaven been on the earth for? Since creation, wouldn't you say?
In fact, not only since creation, has heaven been on the earth; creation itself is even described as the day of heaven on earth. Here is the day of creation of heaven and earth. So I wonder if lema'an yirbu is making a sly reference to creation itself, which means that the simple meaning of the text might just be, what does it mean that your days be lengthened like the days of heaven on the earth? It means, like going back into time eternally backwards.
In other words, so your days be lengthened how long going forwards? What we really mean is eternity going forwards. So you should last eternally on the land. What do you mean? What does it mean to last eternally on the land? Can you imagine anything being eternal on the land? I can, heaven and earth. What does it mean? We can have the experience of heaven on earth actually being eternal. Not going forward; going backward. If I go backward since the very beginning of time until now, I have heaven and earth.
We all know, in mathematics, that infinite regressions can go two ways on a number line, and they're both equal. I can take zero and I can go to the right-hand side of my number line, back in time, or I can take zero and I can go to the left-hand side of my number line forward in time. Both of them are the same infinite time. So we say, what do I mean that you should last for infinite time going forward? I mean just like infinite time going backwards. You should just be like heaven's been on the earth. That goes all the way back to the earliest stretches of time.
Now, let's think about the other notion of k'yemei hashamayim al ha'aretz, that equation. The equation that suggests that at some level, we are Sky People. Sky People, cherubs, the ones with wings, the ones that look like cherubs with wings. Does that remind you of anything in creation? When's the first time we met cherubs?
When we left Eden, that first garden of creation. Isn't that an interesting coincidence? Here you are, being described as a Sky Person when there was actually a Sky Person, not you but an angel way back in creation. Could we be like cherubs in some way? I mean, that's a strange kind of thing.
So let me ask you something else. Let's talk about those cherubs. Why were they there, in creation? What were they doing?
Audience Member: Guarding the way back.
Rabbi Fohrman: They were guarding the way back to the Tree of Life. That's why they were there. That's what the text says. The cherubs were set up to guard the way back to the Tree of Life. In Hebrew, lishmor, that's the word for guard, "lishmor et derech Etz Hachaim," to guard the way back to the Tree of Life.
Let's read that text, actually, way back in the Garden that had to do with those cherubs, for a moment. Let's actually explore it together for just a moment. Go back to the end of Chapter 3, when we're kicked out of Eden. You'll find it in Chapter 3, Verse 24. "Vayegareish et ha'adam vayashkein mikedem l'Gan Eden et hakruvim v'et lahat hacherev hamit'hapechet lishmor et derech Etz Hachaim." This is the verse that says that the cherubs were there to guard the way back to the Tree of Life.
Now read the verse right before this. Right before this the verse says, "Vayeshalcheihu Hashem Elokim miGan Eden," God sent us out of the Garden of Eden, "la'avod et ha'adamah asher lukach misham," to work or to serve the land from which we were taken. What does that mean, to serve the land from which we were taken? What does that remind you of, earlier in the creation story? Here we are, we're kicked out of Eden to serve the land from which we were taken. Does that remind you of anything earlier in the creation story? What was in the Garden?
Debby: We were told l'ovdah u'leshomrah.
Rabbi Fohrman: Correct. As Debby says, we were told that we had a purpose in the Garden. The purpose was to serve the Garden and, interestingly, to guard it. We had two purposes. We were there to serve the land of the Garden, and we were there to guard it. We found that earlier in the chapter, all the way back in Chapter 2. When man was first put in the Garden of Eden, the text tells us in Verse 15, "Vayikach Hashem Elokim et ha'adam vayanicheihu b'Gan Eden," God took man, placed him in the Garden of Eden. "L'ovdah u'leshomrah," put man in the Garden to serve the Garden, to work it, to agriculturally work the land, but also to guard it.
In other words, what does that mean? The Garden needs a couple things. One thing the Garden needs, is the Garden needs somebody to take care of it, to work it. But you don't just work the Garden, you don't just till it, you don't just prune it. L'ovdah u'leshomrah, you're also the watchmen. You're making sure it doesn't get invaded. You're making sure it doesn't get ruined. You're making sure the crows don't come and pick all the fruit.
So you're doing two things. You're working the land, and you're guarding it. Now, that's when man was in the Garden. As man is being expelled from the Garden, those two tasks are no longer possible for him to do. What happens with those tasks?
Audience Member: The cherubim.
Rabbi Fohrman: The answer is, the cherubim. The cherubim are the answer. So what are we saying? Man is no longer there to watch over the Garden. So who's going to do the watching now? The answer is, the cherubim are going to do the watching. The cherubim are going to do the watching. They are going to be the ones to watch the Garden now.
If they are the ones to watch the Garden now, there's another question which is, who's the one doing the serving? Look at the verse right before that. The answer is, no one's going to serve the Garden. In other words, the Garden is on life support. What's the most essential part of life support, serving the Garden or guarding it? The answer is, guarding it. As long as I've got a watchman for the Garden, even if the Garden isn't served, at least it's not ruined. So the life support status of the Garden is, I've got to get some cherubim in there, I've got to get some angels in there at least to guard the Garden. What about serving? Serving, we're going to have give up on.
What of serving? Man was supposed to do serving and watching. What does the text tell us in the verse right before this? Right before this, right before the cherubim we hear that God expelled man from the Garden, "la'avod et ha'adamah asher lukach misham." Man will now take his service and will use it for what? Other land. From the land from which he was taken.
Remember, he was taken from other land, outside the Garden, and brought into the Garden. Now he's going to go serve that other land. He won't be here to serve the Garden. No one will be in there (inaudible 01:07:38).
You guys are getting a little rowdy here. I'm going to try to mute you. Hold on a second.
Audience Member: Rabbi, he himself was taken from the earth, so when he left the Garden, he brought it with him. It goes with him from the Garden into the world.
Rabbi Fohrman: What goes with him?
Audience Member: He himself was taken from the earth. That's how he was made. So when he left the Garden, the earth came with him.
Rabbi Fohrman: That's true, but it sounds like he's working the earth from which he was taken, that's true. Well, the other way to read it is, from which he was taken to be created. But he's still serving that earth. Which earth? The earth from which he was taken to be created. So whether it means from which he was taken to be put in the Eden, or from which he was taken to be created, the meaning is the same. He's still serving that other earth.
The point I'm making is this. Isn't it fascinating that the purpose why we were in the Garden, l'ovdah u'leshomrah, to serve it and to guard it, shows up again as we're expelled from the Garden. It's just God has to now scramble to figure out what He's going to do with those two things.
So He says, all right. Cherubs, I need you. You guys are going to be here as placeholders. You're going to take the place of man. You're going to guard the Garden, because man is no longer available to guard the Garden. As for working the land, I guess we're going to have nobody to work the Garden. We'll have man, who's going to take his work and he's going to work land outside the Garden, "asher lukach misham."
Now, boys and girls, Sky People show up one more time, in lema'an yirbu, in Deuteronomy 11. So here's my question to you. Deuteronomy 11 seems to refer, in that very same sentence of lema'an yirbu, back to these creation moments. The creation of heaven on the earth, that's the moment of creation that we're talking about. God's saying we're Sky People, but the only Sky People that we know of are cherubs. It's almost as if God is pointing at us and saying, I'm looking at you. We say who, me? I thought the cherubs are Sky People. God's saying, no, it's you.
Can you find the words l'ovdah u'leshomrah in the paragraph of lema'an yirbu? Can you find the word avodah in the paragraph, service? "V'hayah im shamoa tishme'u el mitzvotai," and it will be if you listen to my commands. Keep on reading, "asher anochi metzaveh etchem hayom," that I teach you today, "l'ahavah et Hashem Elokeichem," to love God. What's the next word? "U'le'avdo," there it is. Service.
Okay, so much for service. Can you find watching? God says, if you keep my commands and you serve, but be very careful. "Hishamru lachem," watch yourselves, "pen yifteh levavchem." What a fascinating coincidence. L'ovdah u'leshomrah, to watch and to guard, reappear in the verses before lema'an yirbu. Almost as if God is saying, guess what? There was a place that was My special place in the world, the Garden of Eden. In that Garden, you were supposed to watch over it and you were supposed to serve it. That's how you're supposed to take care of My special place.
Then, when you were exiled, I had to put Sky People in there to at least watch over it, while you would take your efforts elsewhere. But now, there's another place in the earth that's My special place. It's not the Garden; it's the Land of Israel. When you come into the land, guess what you're going to do? L'ovdah u'leshomrah, you're going to serve, you're going to watch over it. You know why? Because you're Sky People.
At some level, we are the replacement for the cherubs. So getting back to that question, when we look at us we say, but one second. Are we really Sky People? Like, we're not really angels. The angels are very spiritual beings. I'm this physical being. The answer is, yes. God's actual preference was to have physical beings watching over His place. The angels were just there as placeholders. It's us who are Sky People.
Of course, we have two parts to us. We've got this heavenly part to us, this brain, this mind that comes directly from the breath of God. We've got this body and God seems to say, in My mind, you're just Sky People. There's something about you that is like sky.
Okay, we're just about out of time. I've actually already gone over my hour with you. So let me just take two more minutes on lema'an yirbu, to leave you with a final question, a question which we'll come back to in future sessions.
Lema'an yirbu talks of us as if we're Sky People. It talks about this relationship between the heavens and the land. Is that connected or disconnected to the previous parts of the paragraph of V'hayah im shamoa? I've shown you the beginnings of a connection, this kind of esoteric connection where lema'an yirbu seems to take us back to Eden, this moment where we were supposed to serve and watch, and V'hayah im shamoa also talks about serving and watching God's special place in the Land of Israel, God's special place in the Garden.
There's actually a much simpler way in which the very end of the paragraph of lema'an yirbu appears earlier in the paragraph. Can you find it? What else about the paragraph, the immediate antecedent of lema'an yirbu, the paragraph of V'hayah im shamoa, reminds you of heavens on the earth? What's the main theme of that paragraph, heavens and earth? What's the main interaction of heavens and earth, right in the middle of the paragraph?
Rabbi Fohrman: Isn't that interesting? The whole paragraph is about rain. That's what the paragraph is. The paragraph basically sets up this thing and says, you know what? If you do God's commands, everything is going to be great. It's going to rain and you're going to have fertile abundance in the land, and everything is going to be wonderful. But if you don't, if things go really badly, if you end up worshipping other gods, if you end up being treacherous and you end up betraying God, it's not going to rain and you're not going to last on the land. "V'atzar et hashamayim," there's not going to be rain and there won't be fertility, and you're not going to be able to last on the land.
Isn't it fascinating that throughout the Torah, there are a number of times that God basically says, look, you know, you do the right thing, things will be good. You do the wrong things, things won't be so good. But usually, often, when we talk about the good things and the bad things, there's a whole list of good things. There's a whole list of bad things. It's a lot of good things and a lot of bad things.
Think about the tochachah at the end of Leviticus. At the end of Leviticus it says if you do good things, it's going to rain but also you'll have military success. People will run away from you. You'll be victorious in battle. If you do bad things, you won't be so victorious in battle, the rain -- there's all sorts of things, all sorts of implications to doing good things and bad things.
Over here in Shema, it's very narrow. There's only one implication. The only thing is rain. It's all about rain. You do the right thing, it rains. You're treacherous, it doesn't rain. Isn't it fascinating that what is rain, but the great interaction of heaven and earth. It's how heaven and earth interact. It's almost as if God says, okay, so you know what, you Sky People. If you do the right thing, so heaven will rain on the earth and you'll last on the land because of that rain. It goes back to the main idea of the sentence, because rain is the product of heaven and earth.
So let me just leave you with one fascinating possibility. Let's take the algebra one step further. What could it possibly mean that we're Sky People? One possibility is that we're just like the cherubim. But another possibility is that we're really like the heavens. If we're like the heavens, what do the heavens do in this paragraph? They rain. The point of the heavens is they're the source of rain on the earth. So let's go back to the algebraic equation of lema'an yirbu one more time and see what it seems to suggest.
Lema'an yirbu, so that your days should be lengthened on the land, like the days of heaven on the land. If we're really like heaven on the land and the whole point of heaven on the land is that heaven rains on the land, would that suggest that in some strange way our purpose is to rain on the land too, if we're really like heaven? If we're really like heaven, is there some way that we influence the land like rain does? Is it possible that there's two kinds of rain? There's rain that God brings to the world; that's like precipitation, H2O that comes from the heavens down to the world. Then there's us that bring a certain kind of rain on the land.
What an interesting idea. There's us that bring -- what is rain? Rain is there's this stuff up there in the heavens, and then it condenses in the form of rain. Rain is this fertile energy that then comes down. When it gets to the ground, it matters on the ground and the ground is a different kind of place.
We're Sky People. What are we supposed to do? We are supposed to -- is there some sense in which we're supposed to sort of reach up in the clouds, take something up there, condense it, bring it down in the form of energy so that it makes a difference on the world? Think about everything in this paragraph. What's the whole point of the paragraph? V'hayah im shamoa tishme'u el mitzvotai, if you listen to My commands, l'avdo, and you serve. You serve, the same was as in Genesis, you serve the land. What would it mean to serve the land? How do you serve God's land? By listening to the commands. How do I serve the land and God by listening to the commands?
Well, I'm a Sky Person. I have my brain up in the heavens. I can understand ideas and concepts. I can reach into the heavens, and I can take that energy and actually make a difference on the earth.
So think about God's commands. Where are they? God's values. Where are God's values? God's values are up in the sky. They're just like value, righteousness. What's righteousness? It's an idea, it's ethereal, it's abstract. It's like if I say, oh what am I doing in college? I'm studying righteousness and justice. Oh, you have your head in the? Clouds. Yes, you're a Sky Person. Values are in the sky. But you know what the whole point of mitzvot are? Mitzvot are commands that you do, where? On the ground. Your reach, and through your body and your mind and body together you take that energy. You actually bring it and you make a difference in the world, on the ground.
Is it possible that there's two ways of serving the Earth? One way you can service God's special place is you can take a plow, and you can cultivate it, and you can prune the bushes. That's what man was supposed to do back in the Garden. But there's another way that you can serve God. Sure, you can take a plow in the Land of Israel, and you can do that too, but there's another way you can serve the ground. You can actually make a difference on the ground. You can take God's values, these ideas, and through these commands actually do them. You can serve God, making a difference in the world, and then you're just like sky people.
God says, I'll make it rain on the ground, and make a difference on the ground in fertility in a physical kind of way, and you make it rain. You take these ideas in the clouds, and you create these institutions on the ground so that the world is a different place. So you change the ground, you change the environment, and you've cultivated it. You've cultivated it, you brought justice into the world in a fascinating kind of way.
Let me close with our last moments together by actually suggesting that this isn't some crazy flight of fancy of Fohrman. This isn't just like Fohrman, oh this is metaphorical, these sky people, I don't really know, he thinks mitzvot are like this or like that. It's not me, It's Isaiah; Isaiah 55. We read it on fast days. Let me read to you some verses to just close out our session together from Isaiah 55.
Here's what he says. "Ki lo mach'shevotai mach'shevoteichem," My ideas, My values, are very different from your thoughts -- these godly values -- "v'lo dar'cheichem d'rachai," you wouldn't have know My values unless I said My values. "Ki gavhur shamayim mei'aretz," just as heaven sits above land, "kein gavhu d'rachai midarchichem," so My ways, your ways are down here on the ground, but My ways they're up there in the heavens, My ways. "Kein gavhu," just as heaven sits, towers above Earth, so do My ways, My values, tower over how humans might live their lives without My values. "U'machshevotai mimachshevoteichem."
Now listen to what it says, "Ki ka'asher yeireid hageshem v'hasheleg," just as precipitation comes from the sky in the form of rain, in the form of snow, "min hashamayim," from the heavens, "v'shamah lo yashuv," and it doesn't go back to the heavens. It's a one-way street. It starts in the heavens, and it comes down to the ground. "Ki im hirvah et ha'aretz," the whole point of that precipitation is to make fertile the ground. "V'holidah v'hitzmichah," so that the ground is fertile, so that it blossoms, "v'natan zera lazorei'a v'lechem la'ocheil," and it gives food for people, and it gives people bread to eat. That's the whole point of the rain. To make a difference in the Earth and to make the land blossom.
Just as that's true, "kein yihyeh devari asher yeitzei mipi," so are My words that come out of My mouth. Words are ethereal. When you speak you breathe, and the words are just water vapor. Do you know what words are? They are literally water vapor, that's what they are. You know what clouds are? Clouds are water vapor. Words are also made out of water vapor. God says, My words are like vapor, "asher yeitzei mipi," that come out of My mouth.
You know what? Like the rain, "lo yashuv eilai reikam," My words aren't meant to stay up in the clouds. They're meant to come down, and they're not meant to come down empty. "Ki im asah et asher chafatzti," the whole point of My words is so that things be done on the ground. That that which I desire actually happen on the ground in a concrete kind of way. "V'hitzli'ach asher shelachtiv," that which I hope for in My values become real in the world.
"Ki b'simchah teitzei'u," when that happens, if the world becomes the place that I envision it and My values become real in the world through man's actions, "ki b'simchah teitzei'u," there's harmony, there's happiness in the world. The poor are taken care of, there's justice in the world; people are taking care of, "u'v'shalom tuvalun," and in peach they will exalt. "Heharim v'hag'va'ot yiftz'chu lifneichem rinah," the same way that the hills and the valleys exalt with blooming wildflowers when rain comes, the hills and they valleys exalt when God's values come from the sky and become real in the world. "Yiftz'chu lifneichem rinah," it's as if the mountains and the valleys are opening their mouths in song, "v'kol atzei hasadeh yimcha'u kaf," and it felt the rustling trees in the forest are clapping their hands.
This is the idea of Isaiah. "Tachat hana'atzutz ya'aleh b'rosh v'tachat hasirfad ya'aleh hadas." You have the possibility of what kinds of vegetation there will be there. If man is there "l'ovdah u'l'shomrah," to take care of the world. So when it rains lots of things can grow. You can have weeds grow, you can have this or those grow. It takes man to go and sort out the weeds and decide what plants will be cultivated and what plants won't be cultivated by that rain. "Tachat hana'atzutz ya'aleh v'rosh." Instead of weeds there will be the trees you want to have there. "Tachat hasirpad ya'aleh hadas." There will be these willows, these cedars, the trees that you want to be there. "V'hayah laHashem l'shem l'ot olam lo yikareit," and this will be for God and name. This will be His legacy in the world.
This idea of legacy, of God's name, His legacy, His intellectual legacy, His values, actually coming to exist in the world through man's actions. That's the name of the game. It seems to be that's what "lema'an yirbu" is telling us. There is this necessity for us to do in the world, and in so doing we're taking the place of placeholders which is sky people. We're the real sky people. The cherubs are the fakes. The cherubs can't do any of this. We're the only one who can make righteousness happen in the world. Were the only one who can take these values in the world. Angels don't really have free will, they can't do it, it's only man who can do this.
This seems to be something of what "lema'an yirbu" and "v'hayah im shamoa" is about. The question is, how does this second part of Shema, how does it connect the first parts of Shema, how does it connect to the third part of Shema? When we come back we're not quite done with our questions. This is a kind of interlude, having to do with the questions of "lema'an yirbu" and the beginnings of an understanding of the second paragraph of Shema. When we come back I want to explore with you the first paragraph of Shema, the paragraph that talks about love.
The paragraph that talks about love is very difficult. If you'd like a little bit of homework between now and Monday, read the paragraph and break it into sections. Can you break the paragraph into three sections? We'll play 'break it apart and put it back together again'. Which is to say, can you identify the three separate sections? Then, can you identify how the three sections actually hang together? What the transitions points between section one, section two, and section three, in the first paragraph are.
We're going to begin with those questions about the first paragraph of Shema. From this point forward, what we're going to be doing again, is hopefully if we can, focusing next session on the first paragraph of Shema. In the session after that, on Tuesday, coming back to the first sentence of Shema, then revisiting the second paragraph in light of that and in light of the first paragraph. Then moving on to the third paragraph, possibly on Wednesday. We'll see how it goes.
So until then folks, same bat time, same bat channel. We'll see you on Monday, bright and early, or late, 6:45. I want to thank you all for being a part of this. If you like, hopefully, we'll get some sort of discussion board set up so you guys can comment in the interim. Hopefully we'll e-mail that out to you as that gets set up. In the meantime, I want to thank you for being here and I'll see you again on Monday, I'll see you then. Good night.