Levels of "Kavvana" during K'riat Sh'ma
Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 2:3-4
Someone who was walking on foot, stands for the first verse -
as for the rest, he may read while walking. If he was asleep, we
bother him and wake him until he reads the first verse - from
there on, if sleep overtakes him, we do not bother him.
4. If someone was engaged in work, he must stop until he reads
the entire first Parasha. Similarly, artisans must desist from
their work during the [reading of the] first Parasha so that
their reading not be *Arai* - regarding the rest, he may read it
in his own way, while engaged in his work. Even if he was
standing atop a tree or atop a wall, he may read in his place and
recite the B'rakhot beforehand and afterwards.
HOW MUCH OF K'RIAT SH'MA REQUIRES KAVVANA?
The Gemara in Berakhot (13a-b) presents several opinions
regarding how much of K'riat Sh'ma requires Kavvana.
Parenthetically, it should be noted that Kavvana here is not
necessarily the same as "Kavvanat haLev", meaning "paying
attention to the words", which was discussed in last week's
shiur. As we will see in this shiur, there may be a different
sort of Kavvana/intent/focus at issue here.
The opinions include:
* R. Aha (in the name of R. Yehuda): only the first verse;
* R. Eliezer: until "And these words" (i.e. the first two
* R. Zutra: until "on your heart" (i.e. the first three
* R. Akiva: the entire first Parasha;
* R. Yoshia: the first two Parashiot.
One thing is clear: There are parts of K'riat Sh'ma which require
Kavvana and parts which do not.
There are two possible explanations for this disparity within the
various "divisions" of K'riat Sh'ma:
(a) In order to fulfill K'riat Sh'ma, a certain amount of
verses/Parashiot must be read with intent; (i.e. the demand for
Kavvana is incidental to the text)
This approach may be further "divided" into two possible
(a') There is a need for some segment of K'riat Sh'ma to be said
with Kavvana, regardless of its text or placement within the
general scheme of K'riat Sh'ma;
(a'') There is a need for the first 1, 2 or 3 verses (or 1st or
2nd Parasha) to be read with proper focus/intent. In other
words, although the content doesn't matter, the placement of the
text within the scope of K'riat Sh'ma is significant.
The second possibility relates to the meaning of the specific
text which requires Kavvana:
(b) Certain words/themes/ideas must be read with intent, as those
components of K'riat Sh'ma are not fulfilled without deliberation
and focus (i.e. the demand for Kavvana is inherent in the text).
In order to investigate these possibilities, we'll need to
clarify two things:
*What type of intent is needed here? (i.e. what does Kavvana mean
in this context)? and
*Why is it needed for only a specific part of the K'riat Sh'ma?
FIRST AND SECOND PARASHIOT
The distinction between different parts of K'riat Sh'ma is
mentioned in a (possibly) different context later on in the
Gemara (Berakhot 16a). The Gemara, commenting on the Mishna's
ruling that workers may read K'riat Sh'ma while up in a tree or
on a wall, adds that they must desist from work while they read.
The Gemara challenges this from Beit Hillel's statement, that
among other activities/body postures allowable during K'riat
Sh'ma "engaged in their work while reading" is explicitly
mentioned. The Gemara resolves this by assigning the "desist"
statement to the first Parasha and Beit Hillel's statement to the
second (and, presumably, third) Parasha. In other words, while
reading the first Parasha, we must refrain from work; whereas the
rest of K'riat Sh'ma may be read while working.
The Rif explains that the need for desisting from work during the
reading of the first Parasha is not due to the requirement of
Kavvana, rather in order that the reading should not be
considered "'Arai". He quotes the Gemara in Yoma (19b)
"VeDibarta Bam" (Speak them [these words]) - make them "Keva'"
and do not make them "'Arai".
As to why we would distinguish between the first and second
Parashiot regarding "Keva'", Ramban (Milhamot Hashem, 9a) cites
the Yerushalmi: (Berakhot 2:1):
"R. Ahai said in the name of R. Yehuda: If he had Kavvanat haLev
in the first Parasha, even if he didn't have Kavvanat haLev in
the second Parasha, Yatza. What is the difference between the
first and second Parashiot? R. Hanina said: Everything which is
written in this one is written in the other one. Perhaps he
should only read one of them? R. Ila said: The first one is for
the individual and the second one is for the community; the first
one is for study and the second one is for action. Bar Kappara
said: You only need Kavvana for the first three verses. We
similarly learned: 'You shall teach'; (which is at the beginning
of the fourth verse) - until this point requires Kavvana, from
here on is teaching."
Tosafot (Berakhot 16a, s.v. Ha) approaches the "Parasha-split"
differently; they maintain that this division is only valid for
those who hold that the entire first Parasha requires Kavvanat
haLev; since we rule like R. Me'ir, that only the first verse
requires Kavvanat haLev, it follows that only the first verse
requires abstention from work. In other words, Tosafot equates
the requirement of abstention from work with that of Kavvanat
In summary, it is possible that there is only one type of Kavvana
associated with K'riat Sh'ma - it includes paying attention to
the words and, in order to accomplish that, other activities are
not to be engaged in at that time. (Tosafot). It is
alternatively possible that there are two different types of
"focus" operating in the world of K'riat Sh'ma - paying attention
to the words ("Kavvanat haLev") and "Keva'". Keva may be a
requirement which theoretically operates through the entire
K'riat Sh'ma, however, since the second Parasha may either be
considered a "repetition", a "community-oriented" or an
"action-oriented" Parasha, this requirement is not maintained
after the first Parasha.
KAVVANA OR KEVA'?
It is possible to divide the five opinions (mentioned in the
Gemara) into two groups:
(a) Those who hold that the first, first & second or first three
verses require Kavvana; and
(b) Those who hold that the first or first & second Parashiot
The first group seem to hold that Kavvana is needed due to the
significance of the text. Either the declaration of God's Unity
(first verse) or, in addition, the affirmation of our love for
God (the second verse) or, added on to that, the demand that
these words be "on our heart" (third verse) must be said with
Kavvanat haLev. It may be that they disagree about the key word
"Ha'eleh" (These [words]) - is it referring to the topic
sentence, everything up until that point (the first two) or does
it include that verse (#3)?
If the second group requires Kavvanat haLev (as Tosafot implies),
it may be for one of two reasons:
(1) In order to fulfill a minimal Kiyyum of Talmud Torah every
day and night, at least one section (Parasha) from the Torah must
be read - and that, with Kavvana. The core of Talmud Torah is
reading with comprehension, attention and depth. The dispute may
be about the "amount" of minimal Talmud Torah - 1 or two
(2) These Parashiot are self-defined by "Al Levav'kh/Al
L'vav'khem" ("on your hearts"...which appears in both Parashiot)
- and reading these sections without them being "on your hearts"
is tantamount to not reading them at all.
It may be (following Rif's approach) that the second group does
not require Kavvanat haLev, rather they require a "Keva'"-type
reading. If so, they would agree that Kavvanat haLev is limited
to the first verse (or 2 or 3), but that the first Parasha (or
first and second) need to be read in a fashion of total
In addition to all of these considerations, there is one more
feature which is unique to the first verse - Kabbalat Ol Malkhut
Shamayim (acceptance of God's rule). The Yerushalmi (Berakhot
"R. Huna...said in the name of Shmuel: One must accept Ol Malkhut
Shamayim standing up. Does this mean that if he was sitting, he
must stand? No - if he was walking, he must stand."
In sum, we have three considerations regarding "intent/focus" in
(a) Kabbalat Ol Malkhut Shamayim (standing still) - certainly
only the first verse.
(b) Kavvanat haLev (paying attention to the words) - either the
first few verses (1,2 or 3) - or, possibly, the first one or two
(c) Keva' (not being involved in anything else) - The first one
or two Parashiot.
now, to the questions:
Q1: Why does he need to stand still for the first verse?
A: The first verse (and Barukh Shem... - see Q2) is not only part
of the "reading" of K'riat Sh'ma, it is also the expression of
Kabbalat 'Ol Malkhut Shamayim. Such an affirmation of servitude
and allegiance to God requires an appropriate body stance, one
which reflects that relationship.
Q2: Does this rule apply [equally] to "Barukh Shem..."?
A: From the Poskim it appears that the rule applies equally to
Barukh Shem... The Arukh haShulhan (OC 61:6) maintains that
although if someone totally skips Barukh Shem..., he doesn't need
to "go back" and reread K'riat Sh'ma, nevertheless, if he does
read it without paying attention to the meaning of the words, he
has to go back and reread it. The Mishnah Berurah (OC 63:11)
also rules (based on the Magen Avraham and Levush) that Barukh
Shem... must be said with Kavvana and, if not, must be repeated
Q3: Why do we allow someone to go back to sleep as long as he
has read the first verse?
A: The Gemara (Berakhot 13b) states:
"R. Ila...said in the name of Rav: 'If he said "Sh'ma
Yisra'el...Echad" and was overtaken by sleep, Yatza.' " Some
Rishonim (see below) interepret this literally - that the first
verse alone may comprise a minimalistic kiyyum of the Mitzva.
Others maintain that this Gemara means that if someone said the
first verse with proper attention and said the rest
According to those Rishonim who maintain that the first verse
alone is the entire Torahic obligation, we only disturb someone
else to complete that level of the Mitzva (R'ah). Alternatively,
we insist upon their completing the full K'riat Sh'ma, but only
that they be fully awake for the first verse. (Ritba) In that
case, the meaning of the Gemara is not that they can go back to
sleep, but that they can return to a "half-awake" state to read
the rest. Rabbenu Yonah, who holds that the whole two Parashiot
are "D'orayta" (obligated by the Torah), interprets the Gemara
the same way - the whole thing must be read, but we only fully
rouse the sleeper for full concentration when reading the first
Rambam's position seems internally inconsistent; he holds that
all three Parashiot are "D'orayta", yet interprets the Gemara in
the simpler way - that we really let the sleeper return to his
slumber after reading the first verse. We might posit that since
he has accepted Malkhut Shamayim and fulfilled a minimal level of
Talmud Torah, we don't disturb him further. Some interpret the
Rambam in the same way as they interpret the Gemara - that he
read the rest of K'riat Sh'ma but without full focus. (See
Q4: Why the difference between walking/standing (first verse
only) and working/desisting (entire first Parasha)?
A: The "Kavvana" required during the first verse is of two types:
Meaning and Approach. Along with paying attention to the meaning
of the words while we are saying them - which is called "Kavvanat
haLev" - we must also accept God's rule ("Kabbalat 'Ol Malkhut
Shamayim") with a sense of seriousness and propriety. This
requires standing still (as opposed to walking) and certainly
avoiding involvement in other activities. All of those other
involvements (walking, working) place "Kabbalat 'Ol Malkhut
Shamayim" in a back-seat relative to that activity.
The first Parasha, on the other hand, is the essential "Kiyyum"
of Talmud Torah. Ideally, Talmud Torah should have a character
of "Keva'" - not "'Arai". As Kira Sirote, one of our Haverim
suggested: "It's a frame of mind. Keva' might be translated as
'vocation' and 'Arai as 'avocation'. Qeva is what you ARE and
Arai is what you DO." Involvement with work stands in direct
conflict with the ideally "Keva'" nature of reading; since the
first Parasha comprises the basic (and very minimalistic) Talmud
Torah of the day/night, that much must be read without
other-involvement. On the other hand, walking is not a directed
activity away from reading; the only conflict inherent in walking
is Kabbalat 'Ol Malkhut Shamayim - but that has already been
accomplished with the first verse.
Q5: What is the meaning of *Arai*?
A: See Kira's definition at Q4 above; see also an extended
discussion in our archives at Talmud Torah, 3:7.
Q6: If he was standing atop a tree or wall, does he need to
come down for the first verse or the whole first Parasha?
A: No. He may read up there (which is not the rule for Tefilla),
since the amount of time/text during which total concentraion
(intent, approach and meaning) is required is relatively minimal.
- Q7: Why does Rambam add the B'rakhot to what may be said atop
the tree or wall?
A: Lechem Mishneh suggests that Rambam is "commenting" on the
Gemara (Berakhot 16a) which rules that workers (who are working
for pay, not for food) have an abbreviated Birkat HaMazon
(blessings after the meal) and make no B'rakha before the meal.
The conventional understanding is that because the B'rakha before
the meal is Rabbinically mandated, the Rabbis exempted the
workers from reciting it. I might have thought that the same
would hold true for the B'rakhot before and after K'riat Sh'ma,
which are also Rabbinically mandated. Therefore, Rambam (true to
his approach - see our posting at K'riat Sh'ma 1:4) rules that
Birkot K'riat Sh'ma are also recited by workers.
Q8: Which details of this Halakha apply exclusively to artisans
- and which hold for everyone?
A: Although most Rishonim maintain that this rule is universal,
Rabbenu Manoach (Sefer haMenucha) holds that this "leniency" only
applies to artisans - on two accounts: since they are accustomed
to working up there, the height doesn't frighten them as much -so
they can maintain a minimal level of concentration. In addition,
the reason for the leniency is to allow the worker to continue
their work without interruption; that reasoning does not hold for
anyone else. (The last reason is the one offered by Rabbenu
Manoach). The Gra (in Sh'not Eliyyahu) supports this opinion -
but, again, the vast majority of Rishonim suggest no difference
between artisans and anyone else here.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project