At the beginning of our Shabbat Morning Service, we recite a Blessing for Torah Study. Even though we specifically also have a Torah Service and Reading later in the service, the reading of Torah is throughout our liturgy. One example of this is the recitation of the “Shema” and “V’ahavta” which are in this week’s Torah portion, “Ve’etchanan.”
“Shema” is the unfolding of monotheism, and it is the prayer that helps us strengthen our faith and bring us comfort in moments of despair. The “Shema” is placed following the restatement of the Decalogue and elaborates upon the Commandment: “You shall have no other Gods before Me.” “Hear O Israel” followed by “You Shall Love Adonai Your God” are at the heart of our worship and the heart of who we are as a people.
When our JQuest students learn these prayers, we tell them that they are actually learning to chant Torah. If you can chant the V’ahavta, you can chant from Torah. The series of cantillation markings on the V’ahavta can be learned and then utilized for learning ANY portion of the Torah. The “tune” or the “cantillation markings” are not just the music of the Torah, but rather they help us interpret the meaning of any Torah portion.
For example, in “Shema Yisrael” the cantillation tells us to take a long pause after “Yisrael” meaning that in order for Moses to get the attention of our People, he had to pause. “Hear O Israel….” Within this moment of silence, we realize that “Adonai is our God, God is One!” requires contemplation and consideration. In this moment, we have time to realize that this message is not for us as an individual, but for us as a community.
What follows the Shema is the V’ahavta, which asks us to do more than listen. The V’ahavta asks us to love with all of our “heart, mind, and being.” Loving this deeply does require us to sometimes listen and pause, and the Shema reminds us that when we connect with God, the Divine Being, and to our community, the pathway to love opens more freely.
This Shabbat let us remember that each day is an opportunity to be engaged with Torah just by reciting the Shema and V’ahavta. May we listen and may we love.
Cantor Amy E. Levy