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Drash Shema


Drash, By Ann Kline February 2002

We think of the Shema, those six words - Shema Yisrael, Adonai Elohanu, Adonai Echad - as a statement of a profound truth. God is One.  But the Shema is like a prism, it refracts truth from many angles.  I'd like to share my experience of the Shema not as a fixed statement, but as an expression of movement - a choreography - of something dynamic and constantly evolving - namely, our relationship with God.

It starts with Shema, Yisrael - Hear, Israel.  Listen up. Pay attention. And for Israel, think here not the nation Israel - but your own name. Like Jacob, wrestling with his faith, we are called out of our sense of separateness into relationship with something more. Something speaks to us, telling us of something deeper within ourselves.  Maybe it manifests in small ways - we take care of ourselves a little better, we dig out our old easel and paintbrushes, or an old instrument we used to play, or we start writing poetry or reading different kinds of books.  But what  we are doing is paying attention, and responding to that small whispering voice inside us that says - there's something more to life than what I've been imagining.  Some meaning I'm a part of.  Some truth that I'm living and needs to be expressed.

It leads us to Adonai. I'm not speaking here of some lordly being but rather of something that starts to shape us, to form us - more the way Marcia Prager talks of Adonai in her book The Path of Blessing.  There's a yearning or desire that pulls us forward looking for more connection to what is true in ourselves, and about ourselves. (Maybe think of it as God looking for us, asking, "Where are you?" and our desire to respond). This dynamic keeps moving us forward, toward connection with Elohanu, Our God, that of God that is manifest in the world around us - our relationships with our families, our neighbors, our co-workers, the environment, the problems and gifts of this world.  We start paying more attention to how we are in the world. We begin to recognize that we are always in relationship - with ourselves, with others - and that how we are in these relationships matters.

We begin to recognize that becoming more truly and honestly who we are for ourselves is an invitation to real engagement, real  freedom to be fully responsible for who we are.  And as we feel freer to be in real relationship with ourselves and others, we become more aware that all of this is part of ? Adonai, the one movement, the one action, of God working in this world through us and all that we are and do.

And we begin to realize that all that we thought was fragmented and separate is truly One, united, connected and inseparable. That it is all of God- who we are, how we live, our relationships with each other and the world - all One in God, in whom we live and breath and who lives and breathes in us.  What I'm describing is not a hierarchy, but a dynamic cycle that we are invited into again and again every time we repeat the Shema, every time we stop and listen to who we are and how we are being in this world.. Every time we say the Shema, we are invited to move more and more from willful isolation to genuine relationship.  (Not my phrase but my apologies, I can't remember the person to credit.)

The Shema to me is ultimately a prayer of healing, uniting fragmented parts of our experience into wholeness. If this seems a little vague or confusing, there is an Hasidic story that says it much better than I could.  Rabbi David Zeller tells the whole story on his audio tape The Tree of Life, but its too long for me to tell it all. So we'll start at the point when a man is about to enter a tailor's shop.  And he knows that when he meets the tailor, he will be seeing a lamed-vav tzaddik.  A lamed-vav tzaddik is one of the 36 very holy, spiritually evolved sages, whose whole way of being in the world is united with God, every breath is one with God.  The thing about lamed vav tzaddikim (I hope I got that right) is that you don't know when you've met one, because they are ordinary people doing ordinary things.  But this man knew that he was about to meet one.  So what do you say when you meet such a holy person - how's tricks?  The man decides to tear his pants, so he will have some reason to meet the tailor.  He goes in, hands off the pants and sits down on a bench. The tailor threads the needle and just as his needle pierces the fabric, the man feels a prick somewhere inside himself.  The needle and thread pull the two edges of the tear together, and as soon as the edges meet, the man feels - Ahhh - a great sense of relief and peace.  And this continues with the pricks and the Ahhhs, that wonderful peace. And the man starts to get it; he thinks, he's not just mending my pants, he's mending my soul.  At this moment, a young hasid enters and sits next to him on the bench.  After awhile, the hasid gets up and gives a little bow of respect to the tailor. Thank you, he says, for letting me watch you heal the world.  And the man thinks, Oy. What a dufus I've been.  Here I was thinking he was healing my soul when in fact, he was healing the whole world.

When we say the Shema we can all be like that tailor, pulling the parts of our relationships with ourselves, with others, and with this world, into the broader dimension of our relationship with God, and further, into God's activity and healing promise for this world.  When we say the Shema, we can all be making stitches toward  tikkun olam.  And all we have to do is start listening, start paying attention.

 Given at Tifereth Israel, February 2002