The first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures are the written Torah, the law God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Torah contains the Jewish Shema, some consider to be the most essential prayer in Judaism. The prayer is found in the book of Deuteronomy and owes its name to the beginning word “Shema”, which translated into English, renders the word “listen” or “hear”.
Taking a closer look at the sequence of this prominent prayer, we find that “Hear, O Israel” leads up to the centerpiece “Love the Lord” and ends with “Take to heart these commandments that I give you”. The sequence of the Shema is no accident. Faith begins with listening. Listening to the Lord will inspire our love to Him. And loving Him, we will take His commandments to heart.
Incidentally, in the English language both the word “hear” and “ear” are hidden in the word heart – a great reminder that we should listen with our hearts.
The centerpiece of the Shema is what some refer to as the “Love Command” (Deuteronomy 6:5):
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.”
“Love Command” sounds a bit like an oxymoron to me since nobody loves on command; and I believe that the Bible is not meant to be a rule book. A testimony of God’s love relationship with His creation, the Bible encourages and invites all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve to return to the Lord.
Paradoxically, we stopped trusting the Lord in Paradise, where we could taste and see His goodness in an unspoiled creation all around us. Now outside of Eden, where God’s presence is much more subtle, we are called to trust again. We once lost everything due to lack of trust. And conversely, only through trust will we find our way back to the Garden – and back to the Lord.