K'riat Sh'ma and Kavanah
Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 2:1
1. If someone is reading Sh'ma and does not direct his heart
during [the recitation of] the first verse, which is Sh'ma
Yisra'el, he has not fulfilled his obligation. As for the rest
[of K'riat Sh'ma], if he did not direct his heart, yatza.
Even if he was reading from the Torah in his usual fashion, or
proofreading these Parashiot during the time of reading, yatza;
as long as he directs his heart during the first verse.
The Mishna in Berakhot (2:1) reads: "If he was reading from the
Torah (Rashi: the section of K'riat Sh'ma) and the time for
reading (Rashi: The time for K'riat Sh'ma) arrived; if he
directed his heart, Yatza; if not, Lo Yatza..."
The first impression we get from this Mishna is that K'riat Sh'ma
demands *Kavanah* - intent. In other words, in order to fulfill
the Mitzva, not only must you read these words properly, you must
also do so with the intention of fulfilling the Mitzva. This is
the easiest and straightest read of the Mishna; since the person
is "reading" these Parashiot anyways, the only plausible
component missing would be his intent (or, more accurately,
motivation). Since the Mishna avers that he is not *Yotze* (=
does not fulfill the Mitzva) without that intent, it follows that
intent of proper motivation is, at least in the case of K'riat
Sh'ma, a necessary requirement.
The Gemara (Berakhot 13a) immediately pounces on this implication
- as the issue of *Mitzvot Tz'rikhot Kavanah* (Mitzvot require
intent) is a well-known and highly commented-upon dispute (see BT
Rosh HaShana 28). If the intent of our Mishna is to require
Kavana for K'riat Sh'ma - that would seemingly settle the dispute
(which is highly unlikely, considering that Amora'im debate it -
and they were all well familiar with our Mishna, which is
The Gemara clarifies that our Mishna is referring to a case where
the person is *Koreh l'hagia* - i.e. is proofreading the text
(e.g. checking a Sefer Torah, Mezuza or Tefillin for validity).
Rashi explains that he is not intending to "read" - i.e. not only
is he not intending to fulfill the Mitzva of K'riat Sh'ma, he
isn't even intending to perform an act of reading. In other
words, if - during the time for K'riat Sh'ma - someone is
proofreading from a Sefer Torah and reaches the section in
Devarim (6:4-9) which includes K'riat Sh'ma - if he continues to
"proof" the text, he is not Yotze K'riat Sh'ma. He must at least
intend to "read". It is unclear from this Rashi if the missing
component is purely intent - or if this "intent" to proofread
means that the verbal recitation is also not done properly.
R. Hai Ga'on (Otzar haGeonim, 1: Perushim: p. 12) explains the
case in a similar way: "...because you have to intend a *K'riah*,
at the very least."
Tosafot (Berakhot 13a s.v. b'Koreh) understands Rashi's comment
as directed exclusively to the issue of intent - and Tosafot
challenges this, since, after all, he is reading the proper
words! Tosafot therefore offers an alternative explanation: When
proofreading the text, he is verbalizing the words in their
written form, ignoring the proper Masoretic vocalization. Tosafot
sees the problem as rooted in the verbalization of K'riat Sh'ma,
since intent is a non-issue. (See, however, Rashi in Rosh Hashana
(28b s.v. Koreh) where he interprets our case as "there isn't
even reading here, rather mumbling". This fits much better with
Tosafot's understanding and may be the intent of Rashi's words in
In summary: The Mishna implies that some measure of intent is
necessary to fulfill the Mitzva of K'riat Sh'ma. The Gemara
immediately "transfers" this demand to a need for proper reading.
This could either mean vocalization and clear reading (Tosafot),
or vocalizing with intent to read (as opposed to proofreading.)
(R. Hai Ga'on). It should be noted that many Rishonim comment on
this issue; some reading like Tosafot and the others like R. Hai.
Until now, we have dealt exclusively with two types of Kavana
which are universal:
(a) Intent to perform a particular action ("Awareness") and
(b) Intent to perform an action for a particular purpose
Many Rishonim note that, in reference to K'riat Sh'ma, there are
three issues of Kavana - the above-mentioned two, which are
universal (apply to all Mitzvot) - and a third, which is
relatively local to K'riat Sh'ma. (By relatively local - I mean
that it may apply to some other Mitzvot, such as Tefilla - but it
is in no wise a universal issue, applicable to all Mitzvot).
Rabbenu Meir of Narbonne (Sefer haM'orot, p. 58 - Blau edition)
and Rabbenu Meshulam of Beziers (Sefer haHashlama, p.199- Blau
edition) among others, list "three types of Kavanah in K'riat
Sh'ma" - the two already mentioned and a third: "Kavanat haLev".
Rabbenu Manoach of Narbonne (Sefer haMenuchah, p. 15, Horwitz
edition) has a slightly different formulation: "There are three
types of Kavanah:
(a) Kavanat Malkhut Shamayim (intent to accept God's rule)
(b) Kavanat haLev
(c) Kavanat K'riah (intent to read)."
(They also mention a fourth intent which is associated with not
doing work while reading - this will be discussed when we get to
Halakhot 3 &4 in our chapter).
The Gemara (Berakhot 13) discusses the issue of "Kavana", as
indicated by the textual reference in the Sh'ma itself: "...and
these words which I am commanding you today shall be ON YOUR
HEART...". Whereas R. Eliezer sees "these words" as exclusive -
that only the words up to this point (the first two or three
verses) must be "on your heart", R. Akiva stresses the next
phrase: "which I am commanding you today" - as indicating that
even those commandments which follow this verse must be "on your
heart." The Gemara later brings the following: " *Sh'ma
Yisrael...Echad* - Kavanat haLev is only needed until this point.
- these are the words of R. Meir. Rava says: the Halakha follows
R. Meir['s opinion]."
It is clear that the "Kavana" discussed here is different from
that associated with most Mitzvot. First of all, the verse which
is being used as a source is a uniquely "K'riat Sh'ma" verse.
Second - there would be no reason to assign the need for Kavana
to a part of the Mitzva if it were the usual type of Kavana. This
is why the term "Kavanat haLev" - lit. "direction/intent of the
heart" is introduced.
The usual understanding of Kavanat haLev is "meaning" - i.e.
thinking about the meaning of the words as they are being
vocalized. As opposed to "Awareness" - which merely demands
association of the action with deliberation - and "Motivation" -
which (and this is, as mentioned, subject to debate in the
Gemara) requires association of the action with a stated goal,
"Kavanat haLev", which we will translate as "Meaning", demands a
much more concious cognitive relationship with the action.
Awareness and motivation may be achieved with a moment's thought;
it is certainly not assumed that awareness need be present
throughout the entire performance of a Mitzva. Neither is it to
be assumed that, if Mitzvot demand proper motivation, that said
motivation must be "present" the whole time. On the other hand,
the demand for "meaning" is applied to every word (within the
scope of the requirement - first verse, first 2 or 3 verses or
The general approach within the Rishonim (who, by and large,
accept Rava's ruling that the Halakha follows R. Meir) is that
Kavanat haLev - meaning - is a sine qua non for the first verse
In summary - in order to fulfill the Mitzva of K'riat Sh'ma, you
must intend to be "reading" (as presented in paragraph I above);
and, depending on the position taken regarding the requirement of
"proper motivation", you may need to intend, through this
reading, to fulfill the Mitzva of K'riat Sh'ma.
In addition, while reading the first verse, you need to think
about the meaning of the words while reading them.
By the way, Rambam uses two terms for "meaning" throughout the MT
- "Kavanat haLev" and "Kavanat haDa'at" (See MT De'ot 3:2; see
also MT Nedarim 13:23). Whereas Kavanat haLev translates as
"thinking about the words" or, in the case of Teruma (MT Terumot
4:21), "imputing greater meaning to an act than is obvious"
(which is, ultimately, what Kavanat haLev in K'riat Sh'ma
accomplishes); Kavanat haDa'at seems to mean "directing your
activities to a greater goal."
In other words, Kavanat haLev is local to the specific action -
it reflects a union of cognition and verbalization. Kavanat
haDa'at, on the other hand, refers to a motivation for a given
action within the context of a greater goal. For example, making
vows of abstinence in order to improve a character trait which
has been sullied - the specific action (making an vow) is part of
a larger program of self-improvement.
R. AHARON HALEVI
R. Aharon haLevi - the R'ah - was a student of Ramban and one of
Ritba's mentors (that puts him in Spain during the 14th century).
Although he has been cast as the anonymous author of the Sefer
haHinukh - recent scholarship seems to point away from this
conclusion. (See Kafih's notes in his introduction to Ritba's
In his commentary on Berakhot, R'ah steers away from the general
position adopted by the Rishonim regarding Kavanat haLev. When
describing the "three types of Kavana", he identifies the third
(unique to K'riat Sh'ma) as: "Kavanat haLev in each and every
word - not Kavana to fulfill the Mitzva; rather, he should intend
himself at every single word to God, according to his
capability." Unlike the cognitive "Kavanat haLev" of the other
Rishonim - thinking about the meaning of every word - he reads
Kavanat haLev as devotional intention. He then applies this
level of Kavana exclusively to the first verse. In other words,
he rules like Rava, interpreting the "Kavanat haLev" of R. Meir
as devotional. Why did R'ah understand our Gemara in this
I have introduced the connection between Talmud Torah and K'riat
Sh'ma several times in these shiurim. It seems clear from the
Gemara and Rishonim that K'riat Sh'ma, if not sourced in Talmud
Torah, maintains a strong Talmud Torah component. There are,
properly speaking, three modes of Talmud Torah (see MT Talmud
Torah 1:11) - "K'riah" (reading); "Shinun"
(repetition/internalization & absorption of material); "Iyun"
(analysis). However, there is a significant difference between
"K'riah" and "Shinun". Whereas K'riah can be fulfilled without
understanding the words, Shinun cannot. For example, if someone
reads from the Torah publicly and isn't paying attention to the
meaning of the words (he's too caught up in parsing correctly or
the tune), he and the community have fulfilled the Mitzva of the
public reading of the Torah. This is also be true in the case of
someone who reviews the weekly Parasha or reads any other part of
T'nakh (Bible); although understanding is key to a fuller
appreciation of the text and a proper fulfillment of Talmud
Torah, nevertheless, even without comprehension, he has fulfilled
the Mitzva of Talmud Torah by reading T'nakh.
On the other hand, if someone "davens up" (reads without
understanding) some Mishna or other Rabbinic text - this is in no
way a "kiyyum" of Talmud Torah. K'riah is defined as verbalizing
words from T'nakh; Shinun (and Iyun) are defined as
comprehending, internalizing, comparing contrasting etc.
Since most Rishonim seem to view the Talmud Torah component of
K'riat Sh'ma as "K'riah" (see the various citations in the
earlier part of this shiur), it follows that one may fulfill this
level of K'riat Sh'ma even without paying attention to the
meaning of the words. If so, we are left with Kavanat haLev as a
special obligation applying solely to the first verse - and
implying that these words need to be attended to - "Sh'ma
Yisrael" - "Hear - and pay attention- Israel!".
R'ah, on the other hand, indicates that the Mitzva of K'riat
Sh'ma is one of "Shinun". In his comment on Berakhot 16, he talks
about "Kavanat Shinun" - that K'riat Sh'ma (or at least the first
paragraph) demands Kavanat Shinun. In other words, in order to
have a proper K'riat Sh'ma, the words must be "learned" in a
manner of "Shinun" - where understanding and verbalization are
simultaneous and directed.
Since R'ah maintains that the Talmud Torah component of K'riat
Sh'ma demands comprehension (Shinun as opposed to K'riah), he
must interpret R. Meir's words - that the first verse alone
needs "Kavanat haLev" in a different fashion. Therefore, he
introduces the notion of Kavana which is devotional - that, while
reading this verse (at least), we need to attach it to our
worship of God.
This may also explain the first Kavana listed by R. Manoach -
Kavanat Malkhut Shamayim, which he limits to the first verse.
now, to the questions:
Q1: What is the meaning of "direction of the heart" (*kavannat
A: In Rambam's lexicon, it means "paying attention to the meaning
of the words you are saying" OR "intending an application of this
act beyond that which is obvious."
Q2: Why does Rambam need to tell us the "title" of the first
verse (...which is Sh'ma Yisra'el...")?
A: Perhaps Rambam is concerned that we might erroneously think
that the significance of the first verse is its location - that
we need to have extra Kavana there because it's at the beginning.
Therefore, he adds the title, so that we understand that its
significance is due to its text, not location. (Some have
suggested the opposite reason for the demand for Kavanat haLev in
the first blessing of the Amidah - we'll get to that at Tefilla
Q3: Why is intent only required for the first verse?
A: Along with the Talmud Torah component (which, for Rambam, is
one of K'riah), there is a dimension of Kabalat Ol Malkhut
Shamayim - accepting God's rule. That part of K'riat Sh'ma,
which is focussed in the first verse, can only happen by paying
attention to the words and meaning them as they are said.
Q4: Why does Rambam provide these two examples - reading in his
usual fashion & proofreading?
A: The Mishna which introduced the issue of Kavana was
interpreted as referring to a case where he was proofreading -
however, that interpretation was only necessary to demonstrate
that our Mishna did not conclusively prove that Mitzvot need
Kavana (motivation). Otherwise, we could read our Mishna as
simply "if he was reading in the normal fashion"; hence, Rambam
cites both possibilities.
It is worth noting that Rambam interprets the Mishna differently
than we presented: He interprets the "if he directed his heart"
as referring to the first verse alone. In other words, the
Mishna now reads: If someone was reading from the Torah and the
time for Sh'ma arrived, if he had Kavanah in the first verse,
Q5: Why does Rambam repeat the demand for intent during the
first verse at the end of this Halakha?
A: In order to clarify his interpretation of the Mishna, as
indicated in the previous answer.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project