The Great Commandment
Today's favorite passage from the Bible is one that
has been so important that Jewish men have been
required to recite it from memory when they rise in
the morning and when they retire at night. They are
words of Scripture that are tied to the corners of
their garments and also to their foreheads during
times of prayer. This same Scripture is attached to
the doorposts of Jewish homes.
The passage is known as "The Shema" because "Shema",
which in Hebrew means "hear", is the first word of the
passage: Shema Yisrael -
(Read passage in NRSV)
The Shema is at the center of Jewish faith. It's been
said that what John 3:16 is to Christianity,
Deuteronomy 6:4-9 is to Judaism (1).
Jesus himself affirmed the Shema as the greatest of
the commandments. When asked by a scribe which of the
613 commandments was the first or greatest he
(Read Mark 12:29-30 NRSV)
Why did Jesus regard this passage from Deuteronomy as
so important? Why is it "The Great Commandment"?
It's because this commandment calls for a supreme
loyalty to God. Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God,
the LORD alone.
You'll miss the meaning of this verse if you don't pay
attention to the way the word "LORD" is written. It's
in all capital letters. It is, in fact, a code word
in the Hebrew language. When the word is written this
way it's not an official title but a personal name.
Moses had asked God to reveal God's name to him. God
answered by saying, I AM WHO I AM (Exodus 3:14). The
Jewish people took that phrase and turned it into a
Hebrew name for God.
But they regarded this name as so sacred that it
should not be spoken by human lips lest it be misused.
So they came up with a code word to put in its place.
"The LORD" is that code word translated into English.
The Shema, in other words, declares that the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the ...
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