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B'siyata d'shmaya - With the help of Heaven



by Haham Eliezer Papo, Sarajevo (Ottoman Turkish Empire) 5545 / 1785 CE

The mitsvah of reciting the "Shema" is a central one. It includes our acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven and the yoke of mitzvot.

You must concentrate at least on the first verse of the "Shema" to fulfill this mitsvah. You must have the intention of accepting God as your Master, believe in His absolute unity in Heaven, on earth, and in the four directions of the universe, and be ready to sacrifice your life for the sanctification of His Name. Of course, it is best to maintain perfect concentration throughout the "Shema", and not only while reciting the first verse.

The Kabbalists taught that if you concentrate properly on the "Shema", you will also be able to concentrate properly on the Amidah prayer. This is the meaning of the maxim that whoever reads the "Shema" is spared from destructive forces. These forces confuse a person during his prayers. By reciting the "Shema" properly, you push those forces away.

The Shulhan Arukh rules that one should read the "Shema" with fear, awe and trembling (Orah Hayyim 6 1: 1). How can you attain this level? By imagining that you are standing in the Presence of the great and awesome King.

Since our practice is to recite the "Shema" during the evening service prior to the appearance of the stars, we fulfill our obligation of reciting the evening "Shema" when we say it again before going to bed. You must therefore be very careful not to go to sleep without having done so.

Many lazy people sleep past the time of the morning "Shema"; a God-fearing person will recite it early in the morning.

Pronounce each letter of the "Shema" correctly. This requires care and practice. Also, "Shema" is not to be recited where unseemliness or filth is present.


This is from Haham Papo's Pele Yoetz (An Encyclopedia of Ethical Living) which is available in all Jewish bookstores. The Pele Yoetz was first printed in Constantinople, Turkey in 5585 /1825 CE. It was popular among both Sephardim and Ashkenazim across Europe and Asia. The work has been printed in Hebrew, Ladino, Judeo-German, Arabic and German.