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The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Laws of Prayer
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Keriat Shema (1)

Rav David Brofsky

 

INTRODUCTION:

 

Upon concluding our study of Pesukei De-zimra, we begin the central portion of our morning tefilla, Birkot Keriat Shema and Shemoneh Esrei.  When recited be-tzibbur (with a minyan), this section is preceded by a Kaddish and Barekhu.

 

The Torah (Devarim 6:6-9) instructs us,

 

"And these WORDS, which I command you this day, will be upon your heart; and you will teach them diligently to your children, and will TALK of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up.  And you will bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they will be for frontlets between your eyes.  And you will write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates…"

 

The Gemara (see Berakhot 13a) understands that "these WORDS" refer to the Shema, which one is obligated to verbalize when lying down and upon rising. 

 

Is this obligation of biblical (mi-de'oraita) or rabbinic (mi-derabbanan) origin? Furthermore, what is the content of these "WORDS," and when and how must they be said? 

 

This week, I would like to focus on the mitzva of Keriat Shema, its source, content, and how it should be recited.

 

SOURCE AND OBLIGATION OF KERIAT SHEMA:

 

The Gemara (Berakhot 21a) questions whether one who is unsure whether he said Keriat Shema must repeat it.

 

Rabbi Yehuda said: "If one is in doubt whether one said Keriat Shema, one need not return and say it… Why? Keriat Shema is mi-derabbanan…"

Rav Yosef asked: "Does it not say 'and when you lie down, and when you rise up'?"

Abbayei responded that this is referring to [studying) divrei Torah…

Rabbi Elazar says: "If one is in doubt whether one said Keriat Shema, one should return and say it…"

 

Clearly, RABBI YEHUDA believes that Keriat Shema is mi-derabbanan, and therefore he does NOT mandate that one repeat it in a case of doubt.  However, the Gemara does not tell us why Rabbi Elazar is stringent.

 

Seemingly, one can suggest two possibilities.  On the one hand, he may believe that the obligation of Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita, and he therefore employs the principle of "safek de'oraita le-chumra," which requires strictness whenever one is in doubt concerning a biblical obligation.  On the other hand, he may agree that Keriat Shema is of rabbinic origin and rule stringently for a different reason.

 

Most Rishonim (see Rashi Berakhot 21a; Tosafot ibid.  s.v. Ha-hu; Rif Berakhot 12b; Rambam Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:1, etc.), adopt the simple reading of this source, and explain that while Rabbi Yehuda maintains that Keriat Shema is only of rabbinical origin, and the verse refers to studying Torah, Rabbi Elazar disagrees, employing the principle of "safek de-oraita le-chumra," as Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita.  They apparently reject Abbayei's interpretation of "these words" as referring to "divrei Torah". 

 

Furthermore, there are other sources that strongly imply that Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita (see Sota 32b and Berakhot 2a), which lead Tosafot (Sota 32b, s.v. Ve-Rabbi) to claim "it is extremely difficult to say that all of these sources which imply that Keriat Shema is mi-de'oraita have only asmakhta (non-literal) status." (Elsewhere, however, in Menachot 33b s.v. Ve-eizo, Tosafot do indeed rule that Keriat Shema is mi-derabbanan.)

 

The Shulchan Arukh (67) rules that Keriat Shema is of biblical origin, and therefore if in doubt, one should say it.

 

ALTERNATE READINGS OF THE GEMARA:

 

However, there are two other fascinating readings of this gemara worth mentioning.

 

The Tosafot Ha-Rosh (Berakhot 21a) claims that both Rabbi Yehuda AND Rabbi Elazar maintain that the obligation of Keriat Shema is only mi-derabbanan.  However, since Shema is a form of kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim (accepting upon oneself the yoke of heaven), it is more serious; therefore, even in a case of doubt, one should repeat it.

 

Alternatively, Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 12b) suggests that BOTH Rabbi Yehuda AND Rabbi Elazar maintain that there is a biblical obligation to recite certain texts upon rising and going to bed.  However, while Rabbi Elazar insists that these texts MUST be Keriat Shema, Rabbi Yehuda believes that "the Torah never mentions that 'THESE WORDS' must be Keriat Shema; rather, one may read ANY portion of Torah.  The fact that we read these specific paragraphs is only of rabbinic origin, and therefore, in doubt, one need not return and read these sections…"

 

In other words, mi-de'oraita one must recite SOME divrei Torah upon going to sleep, and upon rising.  This position may be supported by the view of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who is cited (Menachot 99b) as saying, "even if one merely recites Keriat Shema in the morning and evening, one has fulfilled the obligation of 'Do not let [this book of the Torah] be absent [from your mouth]' (Yehoshua 1:8)."  Without question, the simple reading of this gemara is that through fulfilling one's obligation of Shema, one may ALSO fulfill one's obligation of studying Torah.  However, one may also interpret the gemara as saying that fundamentally, Keriat Shema is a fulfillment of the mitzva of talmud Torah, Torah study!

 

The Yerushalmi (Berakhot 1:2) also cites Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as saying, "We, who are engaged in learning Torah, do not even interrupt our learning to say Keriat Shema!"  Is this due to the principle of "ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva" (one who is engaged in the performance of one mitzva need not interrupt it in order to fulfill a different mitzva), or does Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai believe that the formal obligation of Keriat Shema is only mi-derabbanan, in order to ensure minimal talmud Torah each day, and therefore one who learns the entire day need not recite the Keriat Shema?

 

In any case, as mentioned above, we follow the opinion of the majority of Rishonim, who rule that Keriat Shema is a biblical obligation.

 

CONTENT OF KERIAT SHEMA:

 

The Mishna in Berakhot explains the order of the three paragraphs which comprise Keriat Shema.

 

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha said: "Why was the section of 'Shema' (Devarim 6:4-9) placed before that of 'Ve-haya im shamoa' (ibid. 11:13-21)?  This is in order that one will first accept upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of heaven, and then the yoke of the commandments.  Now, why does Ve-haya precede the section of 'Va-yomer' (Bamidbar 15:37-41)?  This is because the Ve-haya is applicable at day and night, whereas the section of Va-yomer is applicable only during the day (i.e. when one is obligated in tzitzit).

(Berakhot 2:2)

 

Why did they include the section of tzitzit?  Rabbi Yehuda bar Chaviva said: "Because it makes reference to five things: the mitzva of tzitzit, the Exodus from Egypt, the yoke of the commandments, [a warning against] the opinions of the heretics, and the desire for sexual immorality and the desire for idolatry…

(Berakhot 12b)

 

However, although we concluded above that most Rishonim view the obligation of Keriat Shema as mi-de'oraita, the Gemara never clearly defines the content of "Keriat Shema;" it never answers the question of whether there is a difference between the different sections of Shema.  The Rishonim, therefore, debate which paragraphs comprise the original, biblical Keriat Shema, and which were added by the rabbis. 

 

FIRST VERSE:

           

Many Rishonim (for example, see Rashba Berakhot 13b and 21a) maintain that only the first verse, "Shema Yisra'el" (Devarim 6:4), is required mi-de'oraita.  They most likely view the Gemara's (Berakhot 13b) testimony that "'Shema Yisrael'… this was the Keriat Shema of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nasi" as a proof.  The Magen Avraham (67) explains that this is also the intention of Rav Yosef Karo, who requires that one "concentrate" during the first verse of Keriat Shema.  Apparently, the first verse captures the essence of Shema, namely kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim. 

 

FIRST PARAGRAPH:

 

The Yerei'im claims that the entire first paragraph (Devarim 6:4-9) is mi-de'oraita, citing a gemara (Berakhot 16a) that implies that workers may recite only the first section of Shema. 

 

Rashi (Berakhot 2a) also implies that only the first paragraph is mi-de'oraita, as he explains that one who said Shema before dark may fulfill his obligation to say the evening Shema by reciting the FIRST PARAGRAPH of Shema on his bed at night.  This is certainly Tosafot's and the Rashba's (Berakhot 2a) interpretation of Rashi.  The remaining two paragraphs, according to the Yerei'im and Rashi, are a rabbinic obligation.

 

The Tosafot Ha-Rosh (Berakhot 2a), however, understands that Rashi really refers to the first verse, like the Rashba cited above, that "the Keriat Shema of Rabbi Yehuda Ha-nasi is merely the first verse… and therefore Rashi is correct that while one who read the Birkot Keriat Shema [before dark] in the synagogue has fulfilled his obligation to recite the berakhot, one fulfills the obligation of Shema by reading the first paragraph [which contains the first verse]."

 

TWO PARAGRAPHS:

 

The Peri Chadash (67) insists that the first two paragraphs are both mi-de'oraita.  This may also be the opinion of Rabbeinu Yona (Berakhot 1a), who writes:

 

The obligatory Keriat Shema must contain … the first two paragraphs of Shema, as they contain the yoke of heaven and the yoke of mitzvot, as opposed to the Keriat Shema recited on one's bed, in which one says merely the first paragraph, without the berakha

 

THREE PARAGRAPHS:

 

The Rambam (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:1-3) writes,

 

One should recite Keriat Shema twice each day, as it says, "when you lie down and when you rise up:" during the time when people "lie down," which is night, and during the time in which people "rise," this is day. 

 

What should he read?  One reads three paragraphs, and they are "Shema," "Ve-haya im shamoa" and "Va-yomer"…

 

Even though the mitzva of tzitzit is not applicable at night, we read about it at night, as it contains a reference to the Exodus from Egypt, and it is a mitzva to remember the Exodus from Egypt during the day and at night… AND READING THESE THREE PARAGRAPHS IN THIS ORDER IS WHAT IS REFERRED TO AS "KERIAT SHEMA."

 

A simple reading of the Rambam's ruling leads one to believe that ALL three paragraphs of the Shema comprise the biblical mitzva of Keriat Shema.

 

The Acharonim, however, actually debate the position of the Rambam.  The Kesef Mishna (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 2:13) believes that according to the Rambam, only the first verse is mi-de'oraita; the Sha'agat Aryeh (Chapter 2) insists that the Rambam understands that the first paragraph is mi-de'oraita; and the Peri Chadash (67) holds that the Rambam includes the first two paragraphs into the biblical obligation.

 

Interestingly, Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Shiurim Le-Zekher Abba Mori, v. 1) suggests a novel interpretation of the Rambam, which also sheds light upon the relationship between the three paragraphs of Keriat Shema. 

 

He begins by citing two interesting statements of the Rambam.

 

On the one hand, the Rambam (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:1-3) cited above strongly implies that ALL THREE paragraphs are on the same halakhic level, and all make up the core of Keriat Shema.

 

On the other hand, the Rambam does not include the mitzva to remember the Exodus from Egypt, which he views as the primary reason for reading the third paragraph, in the comprehensive list of commandments in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot, despite the fact that he clearly calls it a mitzva in the Mishneh Torah (see Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:3)!  This omission has spurred much halakhic discussion.

 

Rav Soloveitchik explains, in the name of his grandfather, Rav Chayim Soloveitchik, that the mitzva to recall the Exodus from Egypt is not an INDEPENDENT mitzva, but rather part of the much broader mitzva of kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim, accepting the yoke of the rule of heaven.

 

(This interpretation is consistent with those who view the REASON for the mitzva of recalling the Exodus from Egypt as an acknowledgment of active Divine providence; see Sefer Ha-kuzari 1, Chinukh mitzva 21, Ramban Shemot 13:16 and 20:2.)

 

Therefore, while the essential obligation of Keriat Shema consists of the first two paragraphs, as explained above by Rabbeinu Yona, the third paragraph, which mentions the Exodus from Egypt (as well as tzitzit) is added to enhance and deepen the kabbalat ol malkhut shamayim of Keriat Shema. 

 

One might cite the above mishna as a support for Rav Soloveitchik's interpretation of the Rambam, that all three paragraphs are mi-de'oraita.  Were the mishna to feel that only two of the paragraphs were mi-de'oraita, there would be no need to explain why "Va-yomer" is read last.  Apparently, the mishna understands that all three paragraphs are a fulfillment of the biblical obligation of Shema, and Va-yomer is relegated to the end because it is not entirely relevant at night.

 

BARUKH SHEM KEVOD:

 

Before we conclude, we should note that our custom is to say "Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le-olam va-ed," "Blessed is the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever," after the first verse of Shema.

 

The Gemara (Pesachim 56a) relates:

 

Why do we say it? …As Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish taught, "It says (Bereishit 49:1): 'Yaakov called to his sons, and said: "Gather yourselves together, that I may tell you that which will befall you in the end of days."'  Yaakov wished to reveal to his sons the [time of the] end of days, but God's Presence left him.  He said, 'Perhaps one of my children is unworthy, just as Yishma'el came forth from Avraham, and Eisav from Yitzchak?'  His sons responded, 'Hear Yisrael, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one'… At that very moment Yaakov exclaimed, 'Barukh shem kevod malkhuto le-olam va-ed!'  The rabbis asked: 'What should we do?  Should we say it?  But Moshe did not say it.  Should we not say it?  But Yaakov said it!'  Therefore, they instituted that it should be said quietly."

 

As mentioned above, minimally, one must concentrate during the first verse (Shulchan Arukh 63:4), and one who does not should return to the first verse.  The Mishna Berura (63:11-12) applies this to "Barukh shem kevod" as well. 

 

Next week we will continue our study of Keriat Shema and its berakhot.

 
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