The Shema and its Blessings
Together with the Tefilat haAmidah — the Shemoneh Esreh — the recitation of the Shema and its blessings, both in the morning and the evening, make up the center and core of our daily prayers. Join Rabbi Yitzhak Zuriel in an attempt to understand what the 3 paragraphs of Kriat Shema are really about, and to understand what it is that connects the contents of the blessings–the 3 in the morning and the 4 in the evening–with the content of the Shema itself.
The Shema and its Blessings: Overview and Format of the Texts
Shalom to all students who will be joining us either live or by recording! (As I’ve written here in the past, we encourage you to join the live shiur, to enable your asking questions and raising points during the class..)
I am excited to be learning with you in this new series of shiurim, and discovering new ways of looking at the Shema and its surrounding blessings. Hopefully these sessions will help you deepen your own understanding and insights regarding these texts, which, together with Tefilat HaAmidah, form the central core of our daily prayers.
In this series of 8 sessions, we will concentrate primarily on the meanings in the text, and not so much on the halachot of their recitation. But we will indeed encounter a few of the many halachot and laws that govern the saying of the Shema and its berachot in the morning and in the evening, when these are related to our exploration of the text.
In this, the first of the 8 sessions, we will conduct an overview of the entirety of this body of material, both for Shaharit and Arvit, and pay attention to a few points: (1) The connection between Shema and the first two of the Ten Commandments; (2) The structure and format of the blessings before and after the Shema ,morning and evening (as part of this exploration we will learn a mishna and a passage from the Rambam – sources for this part are posted below); (3) The apparent, and, in my view, important difference between the way the blessings are ordered in the morning and the evening and, at the same time, how the content of them is parallel at the high level.
The Shema and its Blessings: The First Parsha, “Shema”, and how the berachot connect to it
This session is the second of our eight-part series. Following the overview and survey of the first session, we will roll up our sleeves and take a deep look at the first parsha of Kriat Shema – Parshat “Shema”. First we will learn the parsha carefully verse by verse. Then we will try to understand the origin of the whispered addition right after the first verse: ברוך שם כבוד מלכותו לעולם ועד, and why we whisper it. Finally, we will attempt to understand the connection of the berachot of Kriat Shema to the Shema itself, in terms of the content and ideas in them, based on our insights into the first verse of the Shema.
I have posted some of the sources that we will see in this shiur.
The Shema and its Blessings: The Berachot’s connection to Parshat “Shema”
In this session, the third of our eight-part series, we will continue our in-depth look at the first parsha of “Shema”. We will first ask how the berachot of Shema are thematically and otherwise connected to the contents of Shema, and see two different (albeit complementary) approaches.
Then we will move on to the 2nd parsha, “והיה אם שמוע”. We will first study this parsha carefully verse by verse, and time allowing, we will attempt to understand how this parsha differs from the 1st one.
I have posted here some of the sources that I intend to use in this session’s exploration.
The Shema and its Blessings: Differences between the 1st and 2nd parshiyot
In this, the fourth session of the series, we will continue learning the 2nd parsha (והיה אם שמוע) verse by verse, then attempt to understand how the second parsha differs from the 1st one, paying especial attention to the verses that seem redundant between them. Following this, we will discuss another issue that begs our attention: is this 2nd parsha describing a system of reward and punishment (as appropriate) for our deeds?
In the remainder of this shiur (if there is remaining time), we will move our focus to the 3rd parsha, פרשת ציצית. We will try to understand why it is part of the mitzva of Kriat Shema, both morning and evening.
I have posted here sources for this session.
The Shema and its Blessings: Parshat Tzitzit
This is the fifth session of our eight-part series.
We will learn and discuss the 3rd parsha of Kriyat Shema, which is Parshat Tzitzit. Why is it part of Kriyat Shema? Why do we say it in Arvit, the evening prayer, despite the fact that the mitzva that it is all about is not relevant in the nighttime?
The Shema and its Blessings: The 1st Berachot of Shema, Morning and Evening
Beginning in this sixth session of our series, we turn our attention to the Berachot, the blessings, of Kriyat Shema. This material will occupy us for the remainder of the series.
In this session we will begin by studying carefully the first blessings of Kriyat Shema, in the morning (יוצר אור) and in the evening (המעריב ערבים). These two berachot appear to be very different from each other. Can we nonetheless find similarities and parallels between them? Part of our study will be to try to grasp the references to angels in יוצר אור, using the Rambam’s section in the second chapter of the Mishneh Torah as guidance.
I have posted here that source from the Rambam. We will be discussing parts of it.
The Shema and its Blessings: 2nd half of Birkat Yotzer: what do we learn from angels?
This is the seventh session in this eight-part series. We are continuing with our study of the texts of the blessings of Kriat Shema.
In this session, we will examine the 2nd half of Birkat “Yotzer”, the first morning blessing before the Shema. This part is devoted to describing the praise of G-d by the angels. As this description is based on very limited primary sources — the visions of angels in the books of Yishayahu and Yehezkel — we will look for what the blessing emphasizes and how it connects to the content of the Shema itself. You are welcome to look at the source from the Rambam about angels that I posted for last week’s session.
The Shema and its Blessings: Hitching a ride with, or surpassing, the angels?
You may have noticed that we have extended this series for additional weeks, to be held during the Elul mini-semester, starting August 21. The decision to do so was based on two considerations: (1) I did not want to have to “shoehorn” our learning of the last berachot of Shema into this last originally scheduled (8th) session, and not have the time to learn them properly; (2) After all, this material is also relevant to the month of Elul and the 10 Days of Repentence, when we put special focus on our prayers in general. We will emphasize this relevance and extend our discussion, where appropriate, to the themes of Elul and the High Holidays.
In this 8th installment of our series, we will continue learning the first blessing of Kriyat Shema in the morning, “Yotzer Or”. We will see how the text of the blessing makes the transition back from telling about the praise of the angels to bring us back to the human realm. I have posted a source that discusses a halachic aspect of saying this bracha, which I think will help more fully understand things.
We will then begin a careful study and comparison of the two parallel (evening and morning) 2nd blessings of the Shema.
The Shema and its Blessings: The 2nd Blessing before the Shema; Is Saying Shema an Act of Learning Torah?
As announced previously, this and the following three sessions are an extension of the series on Shema and its Berachot.
The present semester is “Zman Elul”, the semester beginning with Rosh Hodesh Elul and ending in the Ten Days of Repentence. Hence we will point out, in our study of the remaining blessings of the Shema, various themes and ideas that are relevant to the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and discuss them where it is appropriate.
In this session, we will study in depth the 2nd blessing before the Shema — both the one for the morning (which begins with the words “Ahavah Rabah” (acc. to the Ashkenaz custom) or “Ahavat Olam” (acc. to Sefard and all other customs)), and the one for the evening (which begins “Ahavat Olam” according to all customs). We will discuss the language style of the morning blessing, which unmistakably alludes to a theme central to our prayers at this time of year.
Studying the 2nd blessing raises the question: is our recitation of Kriat Shema considered an act of learning Torah? We will learn together a passage in the Shulchan Aruch and the commentary on it, the Mishnah Berurah, which discusses a halachic implication of the answer to this question. I have posted here the sources on this, so that if you want you can look them over before our class.
NOTE: Due to personal family reasons, Rabbi Zuriel will not be able to teach the class originally scheduled for Monday August 28. The course will resume on Monday September 4.
The Shema and its Blessings: The Blessings of Geulah: can we experience redemption?
In this session, we will tie up the final part of the previous discussion regarding the blessing “Ahava”, which we say immediately before Kriyat Shema. Can it substitute for the blessings for the Torah that we say each morning?
Then we will study in depth the “Geulah” blessing said immediately after Shema, both in the evening and the morning. While these blessings refer primarily to historical memory, perhaps we can find in them also a connection to our own experience.
I have posted here sources for this shiur. But we will be mostly studying the text of the blessings themselves.
The Shema and its Blessings: The Concluding Blessings; Attaching “Geula” to Tefila
In this, our final session of this course, we will extend our careful study of the 3rd blessing of the Shema — “Geulah”–in the evening and the morning, to the final portion of each of these, in which the subject is the exodus from Egypt, and finish our comparison of the evening and morning blessings. We will explore the halachic requirement not to interrupt between this blessing and the Tefilat haAmidah. We will also point out a connection to the Rosh Hashanah prayers.
Finally, we will examine the 4th blessing of the evening recitation of Shema, “Hashkiveinu”, and try to understand why it was legislated.
Rabbi Yitzhak Zuriel has been enjoying guiding students in how to learn and understand Talmud at WebYeshiva.org since its founding. He began his teaching career as a teacher and educational director at Michlelet Bruria in the 1980s. For over 20 years, he has been working as a software engineer in Jerusalem, and during that time has been an editor and contributor to the company NDS's Torah journal, Chiddushei Torah@NDS, that was published annually from 1996-2014 . He and his wife reside in Ma'ale Adumim and are parents to five children and have many grandchildren.