Shiur #05: Keriat Shema (V): Accepting the Yoke of God’s Kingship and the Third Passage of the Shema

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

A Suggestion Regarding Rambam’s Position

            In the previous shiur, we presented various positions regarding how to understand Rambam’s view on the scope of the Torah obligation of keriat Shema. In this shiur, we will present our own understanding of Rambam’s position based on an examination of his writings and of those of Chazal.

            From Rambam’s language, it indeed seems that all three passages are included in the Torah obligation. As we noted previously, according to this approach, it is difficult to understand how the third passage, “The Lord spoke,” fits into the mitzva of keriat Shema. This passage seems to possess no linguistic connection to the other passages of keriat Shema, nor does it appear to fit into any kind of textual continuum with those passages.

            It seems that the solution is rooted in an idea that was explained by the Sifrei and Yerushalmi (Berakhot 1:5) – the Torah gave the Sages the authority to establish which passages would be included in this mitzva.

            The Yerushalmi characteristically uses a midrashic approach to connect the three passages, noting that each of the three passages can be connected in some way to the Ten Commandments. This approach is quite similar to our own. We had suggested that the Ten Commandments represent the Torah on a fundamental level, leading the Sages to choose three passages for the mitzva of keriat Shema that represent the Ten Commandments, which in turn represent the entire Torah.

“The Lord Spoke”: Remembering All the Mitzvot and the Exodus from Egypt

            By citing the Yerushalmi, we already alluded to the apparent fact that the inclusion of “The Lord spoke” as part of keriat Shema preceded the idea of the connection between the passages and the Ten Commandments.[1] Our approach states that “The Lord spoke” is part of the mitzva of keriat Shema not only because it alludes to part of the Ten Commandments, and not only because it mentions the Exodus (as R. Soloveitchik explained). Rather, the reason it was included in keriat Shema is that it alludes to all the mitzvot in the Torah by discussing the mitzva of tzitzit. The Torah states: “Look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord and observe them” (Bamidbar 15:39). Remembering “all the commandments of the Lord” and observing them is an integral part of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship. One’s acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship cannot be complete unless one accepts the yoke of the mitzvot that stems from it. Rashi writes: “I am the One who said at Sinai, ‘I the Lord am your God’ (Shemot 20:2). There, you accepted My kingship upon yourselves; from now on you must accept My decrees” (Rashi, Vayikra 18:2). This is why the passage of “If, then, you shall obey” is recited immediately following the passage of “Hear, O Israel!”: to stress that one must realize his acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship by accepting the yoke of the mitzvot. The mitzva of tzitzit in the third passage once again mentions “all the commandments of the Lord,” thus continuing this same message of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship completely by accepting the yoke of the mitzvot.

            Aside from being a manifestation of one’s acceptance of the yoke of mitzvot, the mitzva of tzitzit contains an additional layer. Tzitzit does not merely allow us to recall all the mitzvot; it also transforms the person who fulfills the mitzva into a kind of kohen (priest) serving his Creator. Tzitzit is the garment worn by “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” marking its wearer as a servant of God throughout the day, even when he is not actively fulfilling any particular mitzva. The four corners of the tzitzit surround its wearer from all sides, defining him as a member of the people of Israel who is constantly accepting upon himself the yoke of the mitzvot.[2]

            However, since the mitzva of tzitzit does not apply at night, it is meaningless to recite the passage of tzitzit in the evening. Because of this, the authorities disputed whether one should recite the third passage of the Shema in the evening. This dispute remained unresolved until Ben Zoma addressed the question, noting that the passage of “The Lord spoke” mentions the Exodus. We mention the Exodus from Egypt at night, since this mitzva serves to realize our acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship as well.

            Rambam writes in his commentary on the Mishna:

The Exodus from Egypt – It means to say, the passage of tzitzit, in which God states, “[I the Lord am your God,] who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” By rights, we should not have been obligated to recite this passage at night, since the mitzva of tzitzit does not apply at night, as God states, “Look at it” – meaning, at a time when one can see, as we traditionally interpret. If not for the allusion to the Exodus from Egypt that it contains, [we would indeed refrain from reciting it at night,] and it is because of this that we do recite it. And as for what R. Elazar ben Azaria stated… [he meant:] “Despite my best efforts and my consultations with the Sages, I have not succeeded in finding the allusion in the Torah to the obligation to recite the passage of tzitzit at night until Ben Zoma interpreted it.” (Rambam, Peirush Ha-Mishnayot, Berakhot 1:5)

Remembering the Exodus from Egypt fits well with the concepts of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship, maintaining one’s faith in God, and recognizing that God operates within our midst, having chosen us from among all the nations so that He could be our God.

The Order of the Passages of Keriat Shema

            Let us clarify the matter from an additional perspective. It is somewhat difficult to fit Rambam’s position regarding the order of the passages of keriat Shema with the position of the Tanna’im in Berakhot. R. Yehoshua ben Korcha and R. Shimon bar Yochai seem to directly contradict Rambam in this regard. We read in the mishna:

R. Yehoshua ben Korcha said: Why was the passage of “Hear, O Israel!” placed before that of “If, then, you shall obey”? So that one should first accept upon himself the yoke of God’s kingship and then take upon himself the yoke of the mitzvot. Why does the passage of “If, then, you shall obey” come before that of “The Lord spoke”? Because “If, then, you shall obey” is applicable both to the day and to the night, whereas “The Lord spoke” is applicable only to the day. (Berakhot 13a)

The gemara that follows this mishna cites a beraita of R. Shimon bar Yochai and goes on to discuss its implications:

It has been taught: R. Shimon bar Yochai says: It is right that “Hear, O Israel!” should come before “If, then, you shall obey,” because the former prescribes learning and the latter teaching, and that “If, then, you shall obey” should precede “The Lord spoke” because the former prescribes teaching and the latter performance. But does then “Hear, O Israel” speak only of learning and not also of teaching and doing? Is it not written therein, “Impress them… Bind them… Inscribe them…”? Also, does “If, then, you shall obey” speak only of teaching and not also of performance? Is it not written therein, “Bind them… and inscribe them”? Rather, this is what he means to say: It is right that “Hear, O Israel!” should precede “If, then, you shall obey,” because the former mentions both learning, teaching, and doing; and that “If, then, you shall obey” should precede “The Lord spoke” because the former mentions both teaching and doing, whereas the latter mentions doing only. But is not the reason given by R. Yehoshua ben Korcha sufficient? [R. Shimon bar Yochai] gave an additional reason. One is that he should first accept upon himself the yoke of God’s kingship and then accept the yoke of the mitzvot. A further reason is that [the first passage] has these other features. (Berakhot 14b)

Rambam writes:

We begin with the passage of “Hear, O Israel!” since it contains [the concept of] the oneness of God, [the mitzva of] loving Him, and the study of Torah, it being a great principle upon which everything is based. After it, [we read] “If, then, you shall obey,” since it contains the imperative to fulfill the rest of the commandments, and finally the passage of tzitzit, since it also contains the imperative of remembering all the mitzvot.

The mitzva of tzitzit is not obligatory at night. Nevertheless, we recite [the passage describing] it at night because it contains mention of the Exodus from Egypt. We are commanded to mention the Exodus both during the day and at night, as it states, “So that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live” (Devarim 16:3). Reading these three passages in this order constitutes what is known as keriat Shema. (Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:2-3)

The commentators on Rambam address the fact that Rambam’s position here does not seem to match the position of R. Yehoshua ben Korcha and R. Shimon bar Yochai completely. However, while Rambam does not mention R. Shimon bar Yochai’s position,[3] he does cite that of R. Yehoshua ben Korcha in detailing the reasoning behind his own view.

            It seems that according to Rambam, R. Yehoshua ben Korcha’s position is the main explanation for the order of passages in keriat Shema, as it views the heart of the mitzva as the fulfillment of the daily ritual of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship. Every day and every night, when he lies down and when he gets up, each person accepts upon himself the yoke of God’s kingship.

            R. Shimon bar Yochai’s position focuses on understanding the mitzva of keriat Shema as a unique manifestation of the mitzva of Torah study that applies in the morning and in the evening.[4] In practice, the gemara already addressed this question in examining the relationship between these two approaches, challenging R. Shimon bar Yochai’s position:

But is not the reason given by R. Yehoshua ben Korcha sufficient? [R. Shimon bar Yochai] gave an additional reason. One is that he should first accept upon himself the yoke of God’s kingship and then accept the yoke of the mitzvot. A further reason is that [the first passage] has these other features. (Berakhot 14b)

It is clear from the gemara that R. Yehoshua ben Korcha’s reason for the order of the passages is the more primary, fundamental reason, whereas R. Shimon bar Yochai’s reason is merely secondary. It seems that while R. Shimon bar Yochai did not see things this way, the gemara determined that this was the truth of the matter: The fundamental element of Torah study within the mitzva of keriat Shema is contained within one’s acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship upon himself.

            It seems that the key to explaining Rambam’s position regarding the precedence of the first passage lies in his statement: “Since it contains [the concept of] the oneness of God, [the mitzva of] loving Him, and the study of Torah, it being a great principle upon which everything is based.” This line is somewhat ambiguous. What is this “great principle” to which Rambam refers? From a simple syntactical perspective, it seems that the words “great principle” refer to “the study of Torah,” which is the phrase that immediately precedes it. Similarly, if Rambam meant for “great principle” to refer to all three principles (recognizing the oneness of God, loving Him, and Torah study), he should have written “principles” in the plural, rather than the singular “principle.”                                             

            However, we find a very telling usage of this same phrase in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah, in Rambam’s definition of the mitzva of recognizing the oneness of God:

The knowledge of this concept is a positive commandment, as [implied by Shemot 20:2]: “I the Lord am your God…” Anyone who presumes that there is another god transgresses a negative commandment, as the verse [Shemot 20:3] states: “You shall have no other gods besides Me” and denies a principle, because this is the great principle upon which everything is based. (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 1:6)

In light of this, it seems that we must interpret Rambam’s position in the following manner. The oneness of God is “the great principle upon which everything is based,” but recognizing the oneness of God includes within it loving God and studying His Torah as well. This is because the mitzva obligates one in “the knowledge of this concept,” and one’s knowledge cannot be complete without loving God and studying His Torah, as we will explain below.

            Aside from this approach, it seems that we can suggest an additional explanation. The ambiguity inherent in Rambam’s use of the phrase “the great principle” – whether it refers to the oneness of God or to Torah study – is intentional. According to this approach, there are two fundamental points of view here. On the one hand, a person’s fundamental obligation in the world is to know God. In that sense, recognizing the oneness of God and knowing God is the main goal of life, the pinnacle of man’s aspirations. Rambam cites this very notion in Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah and in Hilkhot Talmud Torah.[5]

            On the other hand, the way in which a person must act in order to reach this pinnacle necessarily and fundamentally involves Torah study. Thus, Torah study is the great principle that brings a person toward the knowledge of God.

            When we cross from the first passage of the Shema to the second passage of the Shema, we complete our acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship. When we enter into the realm of accepting the yoke of the mitzvot, we add the notion that we accept upon ourselves man’s complete and utter obligation to the commandments and decrees of the King of the world.

The Inclusion of the Third Passage in the Mitzva of Keriat Shema

            The inclusion of the third passage in the mitzva of keriat Shema is explained by Kesef Mishneh:

The interpretation of the mishna in our master’s [Rambam’s] view is as follows: Why did “If, then, you shall obey” precede “The Lord spoke”? Because the practical mitzva that is mentioned in “If, then, you shall obey” applies both during the day and at night, while remembering the mitzvot, which is accomplished through tzitzit, which is mentioned in “The Lord spoke,” only applies during the day. In other words, the reminder, i.e., the tzitzit, is only relevant during the day. Thus, it is proper to recite “If, then, you shall obey” before “The Lord spoke.” Our master wanted to provide us a reason why we recite the passage of tzitzit, and incidentally he provided us a reason why it is recited later. (Kesef Mishneh, Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:2)

It seems, according to Kesef Mishneh, that the main theme of the third passage is remembering the mitzvot. Indeed, this view is supported by Rambam’s language. However, it seems to me that a significant point of emphasis should be added: We remember all the mitzvot through the very act of wearing tzitzit,[6] which is a garment that enwraps a person from all four sides. This garment, a garment of a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, establishes man’s role as a servant of God.

            In contrast, Rambam’s language in Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:3 seems to indicate that he sees a fundamental connection to keriat Shema in the act of remembering the Exodus from Egypt. Rambam thus explains the reason for reciting this passage at night:

The mitzva of tzitzit is not obligatory at night. Nevertheless, we recite [the passage describing] it at night because it contains mention of the Exodus from Egypt. We are commanded to mention the Exodus both during the day and at night, as it states, “So that you may remember the day of your departure from the land of Egypt as long as you live.” (Devarim 16:3)

According to Lechem Mishneh, it seems that the injunction to remember the Exodus from Egypt is, in fact, appropriate for inclusion in keriat Shema, but it would have been more fitting to choose a different passage that deals with the mitzva of keri’t Shema more directly. Because of this, Rambam felt it necessary, for his position, to provide an additional reason for the choice of the passage of “The Lord spoke” specifically. Lechem Mishneh writes:

And regarding what he wrote: “And finally the passage of tzitzit, since it also…” the intent was to provide a reason why we recite this passage. If it is because it contains [the concept of] the Exodus from Egypt, there is a different passage in the Torah in which the Exodus from Egypt is mentioned explicitly; here the Exodus from Egypt is only mentioned incidentally. In response, he said that this reason alone is insufficient; rather, the reason is that it contains [the concept of] remembering all the mitzvot. (Lechem Mishneh, Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:2)

            In contrast, it seems that Kesef Mishneh maintains that there is no essential connection between keriat Shema and remembering the Exodus. In his view, Rambam mentioned remembering the Exodus only in order to explain why we do not omit this passage entirely at night:

And if you say: Why do I need this reason – that it contains [the concept of] remembering the mitzvot? It is sufficient to explain that it contains [the concept of] remembering the Exodus from Egypt, and it is a mitzva to mention the Exodus from Egypt at day and at night! The answer is that if we would only recite it because of the reason of the Exodus from Egypt, we would not have connected it to “Hear, O Israel!” and “If, then, you shall obey,” as it is not related to those passages. But since it contains the command to remember all the mitzvot, it was connected to these passages. And since it was connected to them for the daytime recitation, even though the mitzva of tzitzit only applies during the day, the Sages did not judge it appropriate to distinguish between day and night. (Kesef Mishneh, Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:2)

            In my humble opinion, both of these approaches are problematic. Lechem Mishneh’s approach implies that we “compromise” on remembering the Exodus, as that is only a secondary reason for reciting the passage. According to Kesef Mishneh’s position, we only mention the Exodus in keriat Shema because of the principle of lo plug (we refrain from making excessive distinctions in halakha) – to avoid distinguishing between the daytime and nighttime recitations.[7]

            It seems that we can suggest an additional possibility. The passage of “The Lord spoke” was chosen le-khatchila by the Sages,[8] because of its two major themes: the mitzva of tzitzit and remembering the Exodus.[9] It was the language of the passage specifically, which features the concept of remembering the Exodus, that led the Sages to choose it. The words “I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt” emphasize the Exodus from Egypt not only as an act of divine kindness that redeemed the people of Israel, but as the reason behind our obligation to accept upon ourselves God’s divinity and kingship.

            Rambam himself stresses this point in his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot:

This is the command that He gave us to believe in the oneness [of God]. It dictates that we must understand that the Original Creator and the Source of all existence is one. The source of this commandment is God’s statement, “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone”… that He took us out of bondage and heaped kindness upon us upon condition that we have His oneness firmly fixed in our minds – since we are obligated to do so.[10] (Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Positive Commandment 2)

I would cautiously suggest an explanation that is different from the one found in Berakhot 21a for why we prefer to remember the Exodus by reciting the passage of tzitzit rather than the passage of “True and firm.” We recite the passage of tzitzit because that one passage contains two important ideas. In other words, when we recite the passage, we not only remember the Exodus, but also accept upon ourselves God’s kingship, which derives from it.[11]

Remembering the Exodus Every Day

            If we are correct in our analysis, it seems that we can now suggest an answer to the question posed by the Acharonim regarding why Rambam’s omission of the daily mitzva to remember the Exodus from Egypt from his Sefer Ha-Mitzvot.

            We were commanded to fulfill two mitzvot: the mitzva of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship and the mitzva of reciting the Shema. The mitzva of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship is a duty of the heart that is not limited to any particular action or to any specific moment in time. It is a mitzva that urges us to live with the constant awareness of God’s kingship hovering, as it were, over all of our actions.[12] In contrast, the mitzva of reciting the Shema is a set ritual of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship that we conduct day in and day out, at both ends of the day – when you lie down and when you get up. The purpose of this is to envelop our lives in the framework of God’s kingship.

            Even though we are theoretically dealing with only one mitzva, Rambam counted them as two mitzvot. He did this because each mitzva has a novel, unique element that is worth relating to independently. There is the constant duty of the heart that cannot be ignored even for a moment, and there is the ceremonial, ritual obligation that is part of the framework of avodat Hashem that every person must maintain.

            According to our approach, the mitzva of remembering the Exodus from Egypt is intimately connected to the mitzva of keriat Shema, the former completing the latter with respect to a person’s acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship. As Ben Zoma interpreted: “‘So that you remember the day of your exodus from Egypt all the days of your life’ (Devarim 16:3) – ‘The days of your life’ would mean in the days; ‘all the days of your life’ includes the nights” (Berakhot 12b).

            The Exodus from Egypt obligates us in the acceptance of the yoke of God’s kingship, and we must insert ourselves into the framework of this yoke. Thus, Rambam views the mitzva of remembering the Exodus as a part of the mitzva of Keriat Shema: Both are mitzvot that pertain to the ceremonial ritual of accepting the complete yoke, and each mitzva is subsumed within the other.[13]

 

 

Translated by Daniel Landman

 


[1] As one can see from the Yerushalmi, the connection between some of the Ten Commandments and the three passages is rather dubious. Thus it is more reasonable to suggest that the passages were chosen first for reasons that we will explain below, and at a second stage the connection to the Ten Commandments was established in order to emphasize the importance of the three passages.

[2] We will expand on this idea in a forthcoming shiur when we discuss the mitzva of tzitzit and its significance at length.

[3] In detailing his reasoning for reciting the passage of “Hear, O Israel!” first, Rambam does mention that the passage deals with “the study of Torah.” Noting this, Arba’a Turei Even comments:

But as for what he wrote regarding the passage of “Hear, O Israel!” – “and the study of Torah (ve-talmudo)” – I do not know what it means. Because if it means that the passage of “Hear, O Israel!” speaks of learning and teaching, as the beraita explains, then why did he not write that it also speaks of doing, as is explained there? And regarding the passage of “If, then, you shall obey” as well, he should have written that it speaks of learning. Rather, it is clear that the word ve-talmudo is an error. (Arba’a Turei Even, Hilkhot Keriat Shema 1:2)

We address this point further below.

[4] We will dedicate a separate discussion later on to the question of the relationship between the general mitzva of Torah study and the mitzva of Torah study that is fulfilled through keriat Shema according to R. Shimon bar Yochai.

[5] See Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 4:13, 7:1; Hilkhot Talmud Torah 1:12; and Hilkhot Teshuva 10:3.

[6] This is an important point, because if the central focus of the passage lies in remembering all the mitzvot, then it is possible to recite the passage of tzitzit at night, and through this recitation remember all the mitzvot. But according to our approach, the fundamental element of this passage lies in the act of wearing the tzitzit, defining us as servants of God – and we do not wear tzitzit at night.

[7] In theory, we could have recited the passage of tzitzit during the day without reciting the verse that relates to the Exodus. According to Kesef Mishneh, the reason we do not do this is that we do not break up any passage from the Torah that was not already broken up by Moshe himself. Of course, we recite it at night as well because of lo plug, since it has special pertinence to the night, as that was when the Exodus occurred.

[8] As we mentioned above, the Torah gave the Sages this right.

[9] The gemara states:

Why did they include the passage of tzitzit? R. Yehuda bar Chaviva said: Because it makes reference to five things – the mitzva of tzitzit, the Exodus from Egypt, the yoke of the mitzvot, [a warning against] the opinions of the heretics, and the hankering after sexual immorality and the hankering after idolatry. The first three we grant you are obvious: the yoke of the mitzvot, as it is written: “Look at it and recall all the commandments of the Lord”; the tzitzit, as it is written: “To make for themselves fringes”; the Exodus from Egypt, as it is written: “Who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” But where do we find [warnings against] the opinions of the heretics and the hankering after immorality and idolatry? It has been taught: “[So that you do not follow] your heart”: This refers to heresy; and so it says, “The benighted man says in his heart, ‘God does not care’” (Tehillim 14:1). “[So that you do not follow your…] eyes”: This refers to the hankering after immorality; and so it says, “Get me that one, for she is the one that is pleasing in my eyes” (Shofetim 14:3). “After which you go astray”: This refers to the hankering after idolatry; and so it says, “The Israelites again went astray after the Baalim” (Shofetim 8:33).

Thus, it is clear that according to the gemara, the main themes of this passage are the mitzva of tzitzit (and the value of accepting the yoke of the mitzvot that derives from this mitzva, as we explained above) and the Exodus from Egypt. The latter three themes that the gemara mentions here are all connected to the notion of “You shall have no other gods besides Me,” which is the negative side of the value of accepting the yoke of “I the Lord am your God,” as we explained above.

[10] In a forthcoming shiur, we will discuss the unique contribution of remembering the Exodus to the mitzva of recognizing the oneness of God.

[11] The prevailing interpretation is that the theme of the first passage is God’s kingship, whereas the theme of the third passage is the Exodus from Egypt. However, according to our suggestion, the third passage contains both themes, due to the unique language describing the Exodus in that passage. Admittedly, even according to our approach it is important to note that the dual theme is merely an ideal method of fulfilling one’s obligation, rather than a strict requirement. In other words, it is indeed possible to fulfill one’s obligation of remembering the Exodus without mentioning God’s kingship at all.

[12] See R. Tzadok Ha-Kohen of Lublin’s explanation (Tzidkat Ha-Tzaddik 5) regarding the line from the Viduy service of Yom Kippur, “For the sin we have sinned before You by casting off the yoke.” According to R. Tzadok, we recite this confession because the obligation of accepting the yoke of God’s kingship applies forever; one may not allow this yoke to slip off for even a moment.

[13] It may be that this was the intent of R. Chaim of Brisk and R. Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, whose opinions we presented in the previous shiur.