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Yet another “translation” of the Sh’ma


This week’s Torah portion contains the Sh’ma and V’ahavta (“listen!” and “love!”), what is often described as the central Jewish creed or statement of faith.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One!

Seems about right — delineating, as it does, that Israel is to shush for a moment and remember that YHWH, the god with an unpronounceable name, is not only our ineffable and unknowable God, but One. Perhaps the One. Perhaps all that is.

Many years ago — perhaps a decade already — I wrote my own version of the first subparagraph of the Sh’ma at a writing retreat led by Pat Schneider, the part concerning our commanded love of God. It continues to capture my theology (when I’m in a believing mood) quite well.

You shall love the Breath of the universe, that which unifies all creation, the Unknowable, Always-Present One, with each beat of your heart, with each rise and fall of your chest, when your belly is full and when your belly is empty, with every muscle that contracts and expands, with your consciousness and your dreams, your rational and your animal, your blood and craving and anger.  Hear the sound of these words spoken by the Breath of the Universe.  Hear-vision-taste the lightening crackle, the sound of creation, and know that there is no other truth, no other reality.  Do not hold these words tight to your heart, but live them.  Live them in your speech and in your sighs, in the way you hold your own and the way you hold a stranger.  Repeat them to your children in all you do until they are as solid as stone, inescapable as death.  Your children will know when you really mean them.  Take these pieces of connectivity and keep them with you always: when you are home and no one is there as witness, when you change diapers and talk to teachers, when you go to little league and when you iron clothes.  Take them with you out into the world, into each interaction, every time you shake a hand and buy your groceries, rush to a meeting and greet a friend.  Let them be with you in your open-eyed morning and in your 3 a.m. nightmares, when there is dawn and dusk, when you are moving and when you are resting, when there is energy and when there is exhaustion.  Wrap them in your hands, in the very marrow and tendons so that every object you touch bears their imprint, so that the poetry you create bears their seal.  Bind them between your eyes and you will see the world as it is: broken and holy both, awaiting human touch, everything equally perfect, nothing left out.  Inscribe them on your doorposts, in the public places, on the boundaries and in the corners.  Write them on your gates to comfort yourself with these words: be now a nation of priests, those who delight in God.

For a complete traditional translation, click here.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. 08/15/2011 9:54 pm

    So beautiful!

  2. 08/16/2011 11:05 am

    My first thought was the same as Victoria’s, “beautiful!” What a wonderful way to capture the heart and energy of the Shema. Thanks for sharing.

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