In her book, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus, Lois Tverberg tells of the story of Rabbi Eliezer Silver who, in 1945, led a search for thousands of Jewish children displaced from their families. They had been tucked away in monasteries, farms, and convents across Europe to escape Nazi genocide.
Few records proved the children’s heritage. In one monastery, Silver, unable to identify the Jewish children, sang as he walked through the ward. He sang, “Shema Israel, Adonai elohenu, Adonai echad.” (“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”) Tverberg writes that as he sang tiny voices began to sing with him. This is how he could prove their heritage.
The six words he sang are the beginning of the Shema (Sh-mA).
And it continues. . .
These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home, and when you walk along the road, when you lie down, and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands, and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:6-9)
When something commanded by God seems impossible, study. Because God always makes a way. We’ve either mistranslated, or misunderstood, or we need Him to do it for us if it seems it can’t be done. He has proven over and over that He finishes what He starts. And He never demands what He won’t provide for. Never.
And so it is with the commands in the Shema. He fulfilled these commands with Jesus.
Roughly 1400 years after Moses first gave the Shema to the Israelites, Jesus quoted it when a Pharisee asked Him which was the greatest of God’s laws (or what was the essence of His law.) Jesus answered,
‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.’ (Mark 12:29-31)
Jesus responded to the question with the Shema. Did you hear it? Had you recognized that before?
The second important commandment He quotes isn’t from the Shema, but it is from the law, Leviticus 19:18.
So, Jesus’ response didn’t blow the Pharisee away. His answer wasn’t new or different. In fact, the Pharisee doesn’t bat an eye. He agrees with Jesus and replies with a reference to Hosea 6:6. “I desire mercy not sacrifice, an acknowledgement of God rather than burnt offerings.”
The Hebrew word translated as “mercy” is the word Hesed. This word is central to God’s character, and it means so much more than mercy.
Hesed involves a covenant relationship usually with parties of unequal ability. The greater covenants to help the other even if the lesser cannot uphold his part of the covenant. Hesed is relentless, self-less lovingkindness.
God demonstrated His Hesed, His relentless, self-less, lovingkindness in the most tangible and final way possible through the sacrifice of His Son. Rather than demanding sacrifice from us, He gave the ultimate sacrifice.
Remember how the Shema commanded the people to bind the laws on their foreheads and tie them on their hands. . . to love God with all of their hearts and minds and strength? It seemed impossible. If not impossible, it was definitely clunky and inconvenient to literally wear the scrolls on their foreheads in Tefillin as the Jews did and some still do. These were small boxes or leather pouches with tiny rolls of Torah inside.
But God had a better plan. He provided a way for the law to be written on our minds and hearts through Christ.
“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (Hebrews 10:15-17).
Isn’t it beautiful? He commands us to have no other god(s) in our lives. He tells us to always think on His teaching and love Him with every breath. He instructs us to talk about His truth with our children all the time (it’s easiest if you start young!). And to always have His instructions before us where we can see them. To bind them on foreheads and tie them on hands and then. . .
He makes it all possible through Jesus.
Through the Holy Spirit.
Amen and amen.
It is finished.
Are you passing on the legacy of Scripture to your children, grandchildren or somebody else’s children? What’s your favorite part of the Shema?
Jesus loves you,