The connection that Jews have with one another is not based on shared doctrinal views—their connection is organic. It is a “living” connection based on a shared history, a shared culture, a shared language, a shared struggle and perhaps more importantly, a shared covenantal “calling.” But, you may say, “The Jewish people have been scattered all over the earth, what do they really have in common?” All of this and more!
Even though doctrinal positions do distinguish various groups from one another within Judaism, Jewish groups do not have a “Statement of Faith” which emphasizes those differences in the way that denominations are separated from one another in Christianity—primarily because they share something that transcends their differences. It is the “Sh’ma.” The Sh’ma (sometimes spelled Shema) has been called the “watchword” of Judaism—it is perhaps, the most powerful “charge” that Moses called the Jewish people to uphold (Deu 6:4).
שמע ישראל יהוה אלהינו יהוה׀ אחד׃
Sh’ma Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad!
Hear O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
The word שמע (Sh’ma) in this passage is imperative! It is a command to hear! But, not just to hear with one’s ears—to hear with one’s heart! It is a statement not only about God but about the character of our covenantal connection to God, i.e., as much about what He has called us to as about Who He is!
In a handwritten Torah Scroll, the last consonant of the word Sh’ma (the ayin) and the last consonant of the word echad (the dalet) are enlarged (see above). Taken together, these two consonants form the word עד (ed). This word means “witness.” It is used of one who can testify personally to a fact or occurrence (Isa 8:2), to one who gives corroborating testimony in court (Deu 5:20), to one whose testimony is decisive in a legal case (Gen 31:50), to one whose testimony is decisive in establishing the right or wrong of a dispute (Job 16:19; Jos 24:22), and also to “things,” e.g., the Covenant (Gen 31:44) and an altar (Isa 19:20).1
Therefore, the Sh’ma not only testifies to truths about God and the character of His covenantal relationship with Israel—they are actually woven into the very fabric of the collective heart and soul of the Jewish people in a way that makes them a corporate testimony to these things too. The implications are staggering.
This is the subject of our 4-part series on the Sh’ma.
1 Holladay Hebrew Lexicon