by dr kyle keimer
“Listen up!” This is the cry of someone who wants to get our attention. Have you ever had a teacher or a boss say that to you? If so, we know that they mean business and what they’re about to say is of importance for us. It is this phrase, often translated as “Hear, O Israel” (shema’ yisra’el) that we come across multiple times in the book of Deuteronomy (5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3; 27:9).
The most famous instance of this imperative phrase is Deut 6:4, the beginning of what is known in Judaism as the Shema’, the ultimate declaration of what the Israelites (and later Jews) believed. The Shema’ covers verses 4-9 and is recapitulated by Jesus in Mk 12:28-34 as the greatest commandment. The Shema’ calls for both inward and external expression of love for God. Further, it sets a responsibility on the people to teach future generations about God and to meditate on His “words” (i.e., His commandments, teachings, expressions of His love and character) all the time. Really, what the Shema’ is saying is, “God loved us first, so we can love him. Think about Him all the time and let your inner thoughts and outer actions bear witness to your relationship with Him” (cf. 1 Jn 4:19; Jas 2:14-26).