Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Va’etchanan

The Shema is undoubtedly one of the most important prayers in the Jewish religion, as it declares unequivocally our belief in one G-d. Why is it relevant how many words it contains? The Chief Rabbi provides an answer in his D’var Torah for Va’etchanan.

Shema Yisrael, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem Echad. These words from Parashat Va’etchanan comprise the pillar upon which Jewish faith stands; our absolute belief in the one true G-d. Now, when we recite the Shema in our prayer services, when we are in a Minyan, the Chazan concludes the three paragraphs of the Shema through reciting out loud: Hashem Elocheichem emet, The Lord G-d is true. These are the last two words of the third paragraph and the first word of the paragraph that follows.

Herein we have an echo of those words of the prophet Jeremiah in Chapter 10 Verse 10: Hashem Elokim Emet, The Lord G-d is true. In the absence of a Minyan, before reciting the Shema we say the words Kel melech ne’eman, G-d is a faithful King, and the first letters of these three words make up the word Amen, through which we affirm everything that follows in the Shema.

‘We have a rare example where numerology determines the Halacha’

So why the additional three words? Here we have a rare example where numerology determines what the Halacha should be.

You see, altogether in the three paragraphs of the Shema, we have 245 words, but we want the total tally to be 248. That is because there are 248 positive precepts in the Torah and 248 limbs in the human body.

248 therefore represents action and so it is that Avraham, the founder of our faith, became absolutely dedicated to a life of fulfilling deeds – Avraham adds up to in Gematria 248. Bemidmar in the wilderness, where we as a nation committed ourselves to embracing a life of Torah practice, that too has a Gematria of 248.

‘Ultimately there is one thing that counts more than any other, and that is action’

Emerging from this is a very important lesson for us. Shema Yisrael, to believe in G-d is so central and so crucial within our tradition. Yes, it is important to think, to intend and to have great dreams, but ultimately there is one thing that counts more than any other, and that is action. It is not what we think that counts, but what we achieve in life that really matters.

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