Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Kavanos for “Shema”: Part 2

Based on selections from Likutey Halakhos and other Breslov works, as found in Rabbi Noson Zvi Kenig’s Siddur Sha’arey Ratzon, “Kavanos Kriyas Shema,” pp. 203-205 (Bnei Brak, first edition).
Li-zekhus Dobra bas Basha, li-refuah sheleimah bi-karov

In Part 1 of this posting we began to discuss some of the kavanos (“intentions”) one may wish to bear in mind while reciting the “Shema,” according to various Breslov teachings. Here are a few more.

“Hashem Echad”
Basing his words on Likutey Moharan I, 91, Reb Noson teaches that the underlying theme of reciting the “Shema” is to elicit holy faith from above, and transmit it to all 248 limbs or components of the body—which correspond to the 248 words in the “Shema.”[i] Thus, faith in God’s Oneness should permeate one’s entire being (Likutey Halakhos, Hefker vi-Nikhsey ha-Ger 4:23).

Closing One’s Eyes
When reciting the first verse of the “Shema,” one should close his eyes.[ii] This is related to the Zohar’s “beautiful maiden who has no eyes” (a symbol of the Jewish people).[iii] For these two verses have twelve words, corresponding to the Twelve Tribes, and the 49 letters in these two verses correspond to 49 letters in the names of the Twelve Tribes.

The “acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven” expressed by the recitation of the “Shema” is an aspect of the “Sea of Solomon” (Yam shel Shlomo) that stands on twelve oxen, which represent the Twelve Tribes.[iv] When one accepts upon himself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven with these verses, his soul becomes incorporated into the paradigm of the Twelve Tribes, which is the paradigm of the Ishah Yiras Hashem (G-d-Fearing Woman, as in Mishlei 31:30). And he separates himself from the souls of the Erev Rav (Mixed Multitude), symbolized as the Shifchah Bisha (Evil Maidservant) and Ishah Zonah (Promiscuous Woman).[v]

Shutting the eyes at this time demonstrates that by accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven, one enters the paradigm of the “beautiful maiden who has no eyes,” the eyes being related to the desire that encompasses all evil traits (Likutey Moharan I, 36:3, abridged).

Beyond “Me”
In this teaching, Reb Noson explains the “Shema” in terms of the concepts found in Likutey Moharan I, 65:

Shema Yisrael”—this denotes nullification of the ego (bittul). One nullifies himself and becomes incorporated into the Divine Oneness. This is the mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice for the sake of G-d, which Chazal associate with the recitation of “Shema.”[vi]

Vi-ahavta … bi-khol levevkha u-vi-khol nafshekha u-vi-khol me’odekha” (“And you shall love the Lord, Your G-d, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might”). Chazal relate “me’odekha (with all your might)” to one’s wealth.[vii] Thus, one instills the “light” of the after-impression (reshimu) of the experience of ego-nullification (bittul) into one’s “heart” and “soul” and “might,” which is one’s wealth; all worldly traits are included in these three categories, and everything must be nullified for the sake of ahavas Hashem (love of G-d). For the essential bond with the “light” of the after-impression of the experience of self-nullification is accomplished by purifying and sanctifying even one’s wealth, which is the most external of these three categories, from worldly desires (Likutey Halakhos, Milah 5:11).

No Matter What
Barukh shem kevod malkhuso li-olam va’ed … Blessed be the name of His glorious kingship forever.” That is, the “name of His glorious kingdom” is blessed forever, even after all the sins, etc. For no flaw or damage can reach the Blessed One, as the verse states, “I am G-d, I do not change…” (Malakhi 3:6) (Likutey Halakhos, Orlah 4:16).

New Life, Every Day
Shema Yisrael” and “Barukh shem”—are composed of twelve words, corresponding to the Twelve Tribes (as has been stated above in Likutey Moharan I, 36). They also correspond to the twelve months of the year and the twelve hours of the day, which in turn correspond to the twelve permutations of the Divine Name HaVaYA (yud-heh-vav-heh). For all twelve months of the year and all twelve hours of the day represent the category of time, and similarly, the Twelve Tribes represent the category of the entire Jewish people. And all are incorporated in the “Shema.”

That is, every individual Jew has a unique spiritual source in the paradigm of the Twelve Tribes and the 49 letters of their names, which correspond to the 49 letters of these two verses (“Shema Yisrael” and “Barukh shem”). And according to one’s “grasp” of the sublime holiness of the Twelve Tribes, the Blessed One’s G-dliness scintillates in his heart.

Likewise, all the days and hours that are included in the twelve months and twelve hours of the day are incorporated within these two verses. And each person, according to his “grasp” of the paradigm of the Twelve Tribes and according to the specificity of the day must accept upon himself faith in G-d and His Oneness, every day, anew. For no individual is the same as another, just as no day is the same as another. Therefore, we are taught that “every day they should be in your eyes as entirely new”[viii] (Likutey Halakhos, Kriyas Shema 5:4).


In addition to these sources from Rabbi Noson Zvi Kenig’s siddur, I found many more such excerpts in Rabbi Chaim Kramer’s anthology, “Rebbe Nachman’s Torah,” Number/Deuteronomy (Breslov Research Institute). Here is a small sampling of Rabbi Kramer’s translations from the Rebbe and Reb Noson on the “Shema”:

“Hear, Israel!”
The Shema is our declaration of faith. Yet shouldn’t it be enough to proclaim: “G-d is our Lord, G-d is One” without prefacing it with “Hear, Israel?”

This preamble teaches us that we must listen closely and pay attention to what we are saying, as one says to another, “I have something very important and wonderful to tell you—so listen carefully!” (Likutey Halakhos, Kriyas Shema 5:2).

“Hear, Israel!”
“Hear”—let your ears hear what you say (Berakhos 15a).
“Hear”—in any language that you can hear [i.e., understand] (ibid. 13a).
Listen carefully to what you are saying about G-d’s Unity. Then, whatever you hear, no matter if it is spoken in the Holy Tongue or in a mundane language, you will detect the message that G-d is present at all times (Likutey Halakhos, Kriyas Shema 5:5).

Love G-d
“And you shall love the Lord, Your G-d, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

One fulfills the mitzvah of “Love G-d” by making the Name of Heaven beloved through him. How? When he has read and studied and attended Torah scholars, and his dealings with people are pleasant, and he conducts his business affairs honestly, what do people say? “Fortunate is the one who has taught him Torah…“ (Yoma 86).

The mitzvah “Love G-d” is the root of all the positive commandments. A person who, by acting honestly, caises G-d’s Name to be beloved, arouses that root of all mitzvos (Likutey Moharan I, 93:1).

[i] There are 245 words in “Shema,” “Barukh shem,” the paragraphs of “Vi-ahavta” and “Vi-hayah im shamo’a,” the third paragraph of “tzitzis,” plus the three words “E-L Melekh Ne’eman,” or as an alternate custom, the repetition of the last three words, “Hashem Eloheikhem Emes.” Thus, the total is 248. See Iyyun Tefillah in Otzar ha-Tefillah, citing Midrash Tanchuma, Kedoshim, which counts E-L Melekh Ne’eman” as part of the 248 words, while Zohar, Vayeira, counts the repetition of “Hashem Eloheikhem Emes.
[ii] Orach Chaim 61:5. It is customary to cover the eyes with the right hand (RaMA, et al.). Some cover their eyes for both “Shema” and “Baruch shem kevod…” I have heard that in the Breslov community, Rabbi Gedaliah Kenig, zal, followed the latter custom.
[iii] Zohar II, “Saba,” Mishpatim, 95a, which is also cited in the writings of the Arizal.
[iv] I.e., the “sea” of wisdom, unity and peace.
[v] I.e., the inner condition of craving, disunity and falsehood.
[vi] Berakhos 61b; also see Likutey Moharan I, 193, and the “Tzetal Katan” of Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk re. Kriyas Shema.
[vii] Rashi on Deuteronomy 6:5, citing Berakhos 61b.
[viii] Sifri, Ve’eschanan, 8, on the phrase “asher anokhi metzavkha ha-yom.”

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