Listen up: communal poem-making needed
Like most Jewish kids, the first prayer I learned was the Sh’ma. I said it every morning & evening, as prescribed, starting at age 9. The first prayer I stopped saying, a handful of years later, because I wasn’t sure I believed either in God or in prayer was the Sh’ma. I’ve come back to it many times as an adult, sometimes for months, reciting it morning & evening, and then — poof! I stop one day and it goes unsaid something prompts me to take it up again. I have a similar relationship with the prayer giving thanks for making it through the night (and with watching my sugar intake and a whole host of other things).
The words of the prayer as traditionally translated are Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One! But this translation – and yes, it’s based on the Hebrew – is the one I much prefer –
Listen God-wrestlers! YHWH (i.e., a god whose name we can’t pronounce) our God, YHWH is One.
Listening. Check. Wrestling with the ineffable. Check. A communal faith. Check. The ultimate unity of the universe. Check, check. See how great a prayer it is in just a few short words. And what follows – inscribing the Torah on your heart, teaching it to your children, putting it up on your gates, etc.
I bring all this up because this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan (I pleaded – referring to what Moses did when God banished him from the promised land), contains not only a reprise of the 10 Words/Commandments, but also the Sh’ma. And try as I have over the years, I do not have a poem to post. I’ve written several that are built on the Sh’ma, respond to it, or question it – but not one that even comes close to capturing what I’m trying to say (which if I knew what that was, would probably be easier).
Here’s where you come in. Some time between this Shabbat and the next, please send me your words of wisdom, spiritual connection, or intellectual musings about this central Jewish prayer. Nothing is too big or small, too weird or contrary, heartfelt or out of bounds. You can add post to the comments section or send it to me directly by email (so no one else has to see) at swartzsue(at)gmail(dot)com. Of course, if you’re reading this post 3 months from now, feel free to respond. You might be the comment that puts me over the top.
For a complete translation into English, click here.
Can’t wait to see your comments. I promise a poem by this time next year in the Torah cycle, if not sooner!