|May 27, 2011 / 24 Iyar, 5771
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
From what time may one recite the Shema in the morning? From the time
that one can distinguish between blue and white. R. Eliezer says:
between blue and green. And he has time to finish until sunrise. R.
Joshua says: until the third hour of the day, for such is the custom
of kings, to rise at the third hour. If one recites the Shema' later
he loses nothing, being like one who reads in the torah.
- I, along with some friends, attached techeilet to my tallis the day
before I became a rabbi. And, though I will never be able to fully
communicate why it matters so much to me, the techeilet ("blue" in our
mishnah) has given me comfort- there is a tradition that teaches that
the formula for making the dye for techeilet was lost, and to believe
that what is lost can be found, that the mystics who believed more
than they could see had a sense of God - that inspires me.
- The distinction between white and techeilet, or between techeilet
and green, shouldn't be difficult to see - unless the sun hasn't fully
risen. And both the one who wakes early to daven and the one who
sleeps until the third hour (does that person have children?) are
mentioned in the Mishnah as participants in the mitzvah of reciting
the Shema. And what happens if you miss the Shema-time? You lose
nothing - you're learning. Multiple approaches and outcomes through
the same act.
- But, as my friend Karen Silberman pointed out when we learned this
Mishnah about a year ago, how can saying the Shema "not count?" With
the multiple access points we create in modern religious communities,
how can a sincerely intentioned act not be considered a mitzvah? That
question falls, perhaps, into the pitfall of definition. Is a mitzvah
an elective act, or an expected commandment? Is the final line of the
Mishnah a flexible extension of a closed definition or a reminder of a
goal for which to strive?
Perek Bet (Chapter 2) of Mishnah Berachot has some amazing insights
regarding the recitation of the Shema, and the order of its three
paragraphs. I'll paste the second Mishnah of the chapter below and
follow up with some comments and thoughts:
R. Joshua b. korhah said: why was the section of 'Shema' placed before
that of 'vehaya'? So that one should first accept upon himself the
yoke of the kingdom of heaven and then take upon himself the yoke of
the commandments. Why does the section of 'vehaya' come before that
of 'vayomer'? Because 'vehaya' is applicable both to the day and to
the night, whereas [the section] 'vayomer' is applicable only to the day.
- This phrase, the "Kingdom of Heaven" sounds so Christian - and yet
it means faith, and belief - the things we typically say aren't the
cores of Judaism. I've heard (and taught) so many times that the
essence of Judaism is a code of action. But that isn't the implication
of the Shma's order. Belief precedes action.
- The three paragraphs of the Shma are recited day and night in
modern davenning, but clearly that wasn't the case in the time of the
Mishnah. The discussion (we'll get to) in the Gemara (remember that
the Mishnah, edited in 200 CE is the core text upon which the Gemara
comments, making up the composite text we call Talmud) discusses this
in depth, but the 'plain' meaning of the Mishnah shows a development
in the form of prayer between "then" and "now."
This week's Mishnah lesson was written by
Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Rabbi Menachem Creditor is the spiritual leader of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, CA. He is founder of ShefaNetwork.org: The Masorti/Conservative Movement Dreaming From Within, chair of Bay Area Masorti, international cochair of Rabbis for Women of the Wall, and author of TheTisch, an electronic commentary on Jewish Spirituality.
The opinions expressed in this Unraveller are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the FJMC.
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