My son asked me a question this morning as I was dropping him off at day camp. It was the sort of question you really should have a lot of time to answer, but naturally, he gave me about five minutes to answer, “Mom, what do you like so much about Judaism?”
I answered him with something about how I liked that Judaism gives me a way to be joyous, and that Judaism asks me to notice things, and reminded him not to forget his lunch. He nodded, said thanks, and was out the door. But I thought about this all the way home, and realized what he asked about is exactly what caught my eye in this week’s parasha, V’etchanan. In this parasha, we read the familiar words from each service, the Shma:
- Hear Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone. You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these words which I command you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead. Inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deut. 6:4-9, JPS translation)
Notice that the text reads, “Take to heart the words which I command you this day” Which day? The day at Sinai? The words Moses is saying on that indeterminate day in Deuteronomy? Why doesn’t the text read “that day”, or why add anything about a day in the first place?
We often read that the Shma is like a Jewish credo, that those first six words, Shma Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad form the core of our belief as a people. Some Jews repeat this prayer three times a day, with their eyes closed. Some may only encounter these words on Shabbat, or maybe saying the Shma is something we remember from being tucked into bed when we were very little. But perhaps it’s what comes next that captures the crucial idea, that every day is this day. Judaism doesn’t just give us a way to notice things on occasion. We are enjoined to notice things every day. Each time we take to heart and impress on our children the beauty and joy around us, or the burdens we work to alleviate, we have the opportunity to establish our relationship with God and our community.
Traditionally, Jews close their eyes for the first words of the Shma, but open them for the rest. Perhaps this is the enduring message of the Shma. We have to open our eyes again. Judaism requires us to pay attention, and then act. It is not for us to retreat into a silent dark place, no matter how spiritual that place may be. Rather, through heart, mind and strength, we welcome the awareness that “this day” is today. And that’s what I like about Judaism.