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Rambam

Rambam

Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema - Siyum

This shiur is lovingly dedicated to the Abrams, Bloom/Garret, Glustein and Sachs families - and to all of our wonderful friends in the Kehillah haKedoshah of Pittsburgh.'

I.

Now that we have completed the study of Hilkhot K'riat Sh'ma, we can look back at the entire four chapters with a broader view - and ask some general questions.

These questions - like those which I asked at the last siyyum (on Hilkhot Talmud Torah) are premised on the belief that the structure of Rambam's laws - their order and design - are deliberate and reflect an underlying statement about the nature and goal of this Mitzvah.

A brief synopsis is in order:

Chapter 1: (Text and times)

The text of K'riat Sh'ma (1-4);

The Berakhot surrounding K'riat Sh'ma (5-8);

The times for reading Sh'ma (9-13)

Chapter 2: (Method of reading)

Body posture/focus while reading (1-3)

Interrupting activities to read Sh'ma (4-7)

Acceptable and unacceptable methods of reading (8-12)

Doubts about having read completely (13-14)

Interrupting Sh'ma to greet/return greetings (15-17)

Chapter 3: (Cleanliness associated with reading)

Washing hands before Sh'ma (1)

Not reading in the presence of filth (2-15)

Not reading in the presence of *ervah* (nakedness) (16-19)

Chapter 4: (Exemptions)

Categorical exemptions from K'riat Sh'ma (1a)

Situational exemptions (1b-6)

Reading even though you're exempt (7)

Non-exemption for the ritually impure (8)

Now, for the questions:

Q1: Why did Rambam outline the Berakhot of K'riat Sh'ma here - why not in Hilkhot Tefillah or Hilkhot Berakhot?

Additionally, once they are presented here, why include them in the first chapter - shouldn't they be listed at the end, after we've "covered" the basic Halakhot of K'riat Sh'ma itself?

Q2: Why is K'riat Sh'ma the central "clearing house" for such Halakhot as the exemption of an *onen* (which is true for other Mitzvot, not just K'riat Sh'ma) and for the various uncleanliness and *erva* laws - wouldn't these also belong in either Hilkhot Tefillah or Hilkhot Berakhot (or, possibly, Hilkhot Talmud Torah)?

Q3: Why are the exemptions listed at the end of the four chapters? In Hilkhot Talmud Torah, the exemptions are presented right at the beginning.

Q4: Why is K'riat Sh'ma the first set of laws in "Sefer Ahavah" - shouldn't Tefillah, which is the perfect expression of that love, be first?

II.

BIRKOT K'RIAT SH'MA - TEXT AND STRUCTURE

The Berakhot recited around K'riat Sh'ma (2 before and 1 after in the morning; 2 before and 2 after in the evening - we will not address the issue of the third post-Berakhah in the evening, "Barukh YHVH l'Olam") do not operate independently of each other, nor are they incidental to K'riat Sh'ma; rather, they comprise a unit with K'riat Sh'ma. This can best be demonstrated by their form:

The first Berakhah (morning: "Yotzer Or"; evening: "Ma'ariv 'Aravim") has an introductory formula ("Barukh Atah..."); but the rest do not. This can only be explained by viewing these Berakhot as a unit, of which K'riat Sh'ma itself is a part. (See our discussion at Chapter 1, 5-6,7 & 8 for a fuller treatment.)

Although we have demonstrated the Halakhically "serial" nature of the unit (pre-Berakhot - K'riat Sh'ma - post Berakhah/ot), what is the thematic sequence which holds them together?

III.

A COROLLARY - PESUKEI D'ZIMRA

We can actually divine this from an earlier part of the morning "service" - Pesukei d'Zimra ("Songs of Praise", the first section of the morning service which directly prefaces K'riat Sh'ma and its Berakhot - we will discuss Pesukei d'Zimra themselves in Hilkhot Tefillah 7:12-13).

Pesukei d'Zimrei focusses on two themes - God's greatness as viewed through nature and the special relationship with the Jewish people, inititated (and maintainted) by the Holy One, who is Blessed. In the concluding Psalms, most of the praise of God is "nature-oriented", e.g. God as the creator of heavens and earth, God being praised by all of His creatures, etc. Although Yerushalayim, Ya'akov and Yisra'el are mentioned, this is generally as an introductory or concluding phrase, not as the main focus of worship/praise.

At the mid-point ("Barukh YHVH l'Olam..."), the focus switches dramatically - we echo David and Nehemiah's praises for God who chose Avraham and brought him out of the Ur of Chaldea, made a covenant with him and redeemed his descendants from the oppression of Egypt. We then sing the song that our ancestors sang as they watched their oppressors drown in the Reed Sea.

Basically - we begin by looking at the world around us and appreciating, acknowledging and praising God for all of its splendor and majesty; we do not stop there - the greater and ultimate praise is reserved for that intimate relationship between God and His people, exemplified through *behirah* (election) and *ge'ulah*

(redemption). As we recognize a universal appreciation of God, we immediately declare a deeper, more "personal" nationalistic connection. We first praise the "God of Nature", and then the same "God of History".

(This order is the inverse of the first two Berakhot of the Tefillah - but that will have to wait for Hilkhot Tefillah, Chapter 1).

IV.

BIRKOT K'RIAT SH'MA - CALL AND RESPONSE

Now, to Birkot K'riat Sh'ma. As mentioned before (and in several earlier discussions), Birkot K'riat Sh'ma represent a rabbinic expansion of the Sh'ma itself. The Sh'ma inheres several central Jewish tenet-actions:

(1) Declaration of God's Unity,

(2) Constant and multi-faceted love for God (actions, learning His law);

(3) Transmitting God's teachings to the next generation;

(4) Allegiance to God's Law;

(5) The historical basis for this relationship- the Exodus.

Birkot K'riat Sh'ma, then, are the expansion of these themes - or, more accurately, attendant songs of praise which call for the response which is K'riat Sh'ma - and, in one case, Tefillah.

We begin by praising God as the Creator of all; we specifically aim this praise at those natural events which are most common (sunrise, nightfall) and which are happening at the time of this prayer. (In order to make a strong anti-dualistic statement, we paraphrase Yeshaya (Isaiah) who declares that it is the same God who creates light and forms darkness. This recurs in Ma'ariv, where we praise God who "rolls the light from the dark and the dark from the light".) This is the first type of praise which any person should have on his lips - looking around at the majestic world around us, we cannot but praise the Creator. However, this praise does not imply any particular reaction from the one singing - it is a beautiful world, true, and it reflects a Superior Intellect and an aesthetic mystery - but that doesn't mean that I have to do anything in response.

After concluding this Berakhah (...Yotzer haM'orot; ...haMa'ariv 'Aravim), we focus on the first "Jewish theme" outlined above - *behirah* (election). We praise God for choosing us from all the nations - but, here, we add an idea which did not surface in Pesukei d'Zimra - the gift of Torah.

God's giving us His divine law is the greatest manifestation of His love for us. (Note the signature of the morning Berakhah - *haBoher b'Amo Yisra'el b'Ahavah* - "He Who chooses his people Yisra'el with love"). This Berakhah (and its theme), unlike "Yotzer" or "Ma'ariv", imply a tremendous responsibility - if God loves us (me) this much, we (I) have a responsibility, along with a reflex, to love Him back. God's love of Yisra'el is mirrored and responded to by our love for him - the *Ahavah Rabbah Ahavtanu* ("You have love us with a great love") evokes *v'Ahavta*.

The same relationship holds true at the end of the Sh'ma - the one-line commemoration of the Exodus is expanded into a full Berakhah which, again, brings us to the Reed Sea and to the Song at the Sea (Mi Khamokha...YHVH Yimlokh l'Olam va'Ed). This, then, is the second "Jewish theme", first foreshadowed in Pesukei d'Zimra.

K'riat Sh'ma (and its "set-up"/expansive Berakhot) is, therefore, the definition of our love-relationship with God. It establishes the motivation for such love, as well as the methods for maintaining and transmitting it to the next generation.

As such, this definition must precede the actual expression of that love (Tefillah). By way of analogy, K'riat Sh'ma is the Kiddushin (betrothal) of God and the Jewish people - Tefillah is the Nisu'in (actual marriage). In the same way as K'riat Sh'ma must precede Tefillah (and the Berakhah of Ge'ulah is the perfect bridge - more of that when we discuss their relationship at Hilkhot Tefillah 7:17-18), similarly, the Halakhot follow this order.

First Rambam helps us to define the relationship (Hilkhot K'riat Sh'ma) - then he outlines how we express that relationship (Hilkhot Tefillah).

V.

Now, we can go back to our questions and answer:

Q1: Why did Rambam outline the Berakhot of K'riat Sh'ma here - why not in Hilkhot Tefillah or Hilkhot Berakhot?

Additionally, once they are presented here, why include them in the first chapter - shouldn't they be listed at the end, after we've "covered" the basic Halakhot of K'riat Sh'ma itself?

A: Since Birkot K'riat Sh'ma both set up and expand on the themes of Sh'ma, they become part and parcel with it. They are listed at the beginning, based on the following structure:

(A) First we define the phrasing of the definition (text of Sh'ma, Berakhot) (1:1-8);

(B) then the times (which help define the nature of the relationship - how often it is reaffirmed)(1:9-13);

(C) then the method by which we practice this reaffirmation. (Ch. 2);

(D) part of that method involves the places where such reaffirmation cannot take place (Ch. 3);

(E) and then, who is obligated and under what circumstances - to make this regular committment. (Ch. 4)

Q2: Why is K'riat Sh'ma the central "clearing house" for such Halakhot as the exemption of an *onen* (which is true for other Mitzvot, not just K'riat Sh'ma) and for the various uncleanliness and *erva* laws - wouldn't these also belong in either Hilkhot Tefillah or Hilkhot Berakhot (or, possibly, Hilkhot Talmud Torah)?

A: (By the way, this question could be equally asked on the Mishnah, which lists most of these Halakhot in the context of K'riat Sh'ma - hopefully, the following answer is equally valid for that question, too). Since K'riat Sh'ma is the definition of the relationship between us and God, it is appropriate to outline where that may and may not take place and under what circumstances someone is exempted from it.

Q3: Why are the exemptions listed at the end of the four chapters? In Hilkhot Talmud Torah, the exemptions are presented right at the beginning.

A: See the structure above.

Q4: Why is K'riat Sh'ma the first set of laws in "Sefer Ahavah" - shouldn't Tefillah, which is the perfect expression of that love, be first?

A: Since K'riat Sh'ma defines that love, it must come before the expression of that love - Tefillah.

Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.

 


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