Thoughts on the Shema and V’ahavta

Jews say the Shema and V’ahavta twice a day. The Shema, which actually includes theV’ahavta, represents the cornerstone of Jewish belief.  In the Jewish renewal world, and elsewhere, I’ve seen an interest in providing new translations for this prayer. The Reform Movement recently published a new prayer book, which provides a very nice translation of the V’ahvta, which I like very much. During Rosh Hashanah services at my renewal community, Chadeish Yameinu, in Santa Cruz, however, I was struck by the translation by Rabbi Zalman Schacter-Shalomi included in our prayer book, and I’d like to share it here.

Hear O Yisrael, Yah who is, is our God, Yah who is, is One.

Through time and space Your glory shines Majestic one.

Love Yah, who is your God,

in what your heart is in, in what you aspire to,

in what you have made your own.

May these values which I connect with your life

be implanted in your feelings.


May they become the norm for your children,

addressing them in the privacy of your home,

on the errands you run.

May they help you relax, and activate you to be productive.

Display them visibly on your arm.

Let them focus your attention.

See them at all transitions, at home and in your environment.


— Reb Zalman Schacter-Shalomi

Here’s what strikes me about his translation: It’s so simply and easy to understand and apply. Let’s skip past the first two lines, which don’t differ that much from traditional translations. Let’s look at the V’ahvta. Here we are told to love God in whatever we are doing, in the things we pare passionate about, and in our goals and aspirations, and in the things we claim for ourselves. In other words, we are told to love God in ever aspect of our life and daily living. And we are to feel these values…this love of God.

Of course, anyone who has been reading this blog for any length of time knows I believe that when we feel something, we help create it. So if we feel these values, we create them, if we feel love of God, we create love of God. If we feel God and love of God in all we do, the love of God surely will flow through all our actions and experiences. We will connect with God minute by minute all day long.

I love that Reb Zalman’s words instruct us to have these values, and this love of God, helps us both to relax and to be productive. They become part of what allows us to just be and what calls us to action.  And they are displayed visibly — causing us to look outward — as well as used to focus our attention — causing us to look inward. Lastly, they remain with us, or we keep them with us, at all transistions, no matter what happens to us, no matter where we are. Good or bad, we remember the values we have been taught and we approach what life sends our way with a feeling of connection to God and being loved and loving God. And we respond to life with that love and with the sense of right and wrong we have been taught.

I find this teaching profound and beautiful. I spent a lot of time thinking about this as the congregation moved on to other prayers. I brought the prayer book home with me, so I could write this translation down and use it each morning and evening. I find it resonates with me much more than the traditional translation.

As for the first line of the Shema, a while back I wrote my own translation in response to a list serve discussion about differences of opinion. I woke up one morning with the words floating in my head. Here they are:

Listen and hear, all of you who struggle to understand how we are all connected to the same God: The spark of God within you (and in others) and the flame of God that is all around you and in everything, it all comes from and returns to the same fire of God — the original Source, one and the same.

2 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Shema and V’ahavta”

  1. Shalom: I had a experience yesterday as I was sharing some on the Shema. The presence of the Adonai shows up in a special way. I have never experience that before. You feel
    like that you want to cry. My name is Bill Donley, and I do desire to know the meaning of the Shema. Thanks

    1. Many people offer many “definitions.” I have mine. I think if God is showing up when you say the Shema, that’s the important thing. B’brachot (blessings…)

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