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Tuesday, 8 December 2015

Protecting yourself from your demons

Daf Yomi Sotah 42

During WWII, a number of European Jewish children were sheltered by Christians.  Knowing that they faced near-certain death, their parents handed them over to local orphanages for ‘safekeeping.’  Tragically, most of these parents never made it out alive to come back for their children.  And so, following the war, Rabbi Isaac Herzog, the first chief rabbi of Israel set out on a mission to bring the children home to the Jewish people.  As he went from orphanage to orphanage, convent to convent, however, he received the same response, ‘Sorry, we have no Jewish children here.’

He had no documentation to prove the kids were Jewish.  But he had heard the stories and deep down he just knew that there had to be hundreds, if not thousands, of these missing children still in the Christian convents.  One day, he hit upon a plan.   He walked into the orphanage and screamed out Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad.  And instinctively, many of the youngsters suddenly raised their right hands to cover their eyes, demonstrating their true roots!  Having proven their Jewishness beyond a shadow of a doubt, Rabbi Herzog managed successfully to save the children and bring them back home to Israel and the Jewish people.

Before going out to war, the Torah states, “The cohen shall come forward and speak to the people.  And he shall say to them: Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel), you are drawing near this day to do battle against your enemies.  Let not your hearts grow faint, do not fear, do not panic, and be not broken before them!”
The Gemara asks: Why does the cohen say the words, “Shema Yisrael?”
Rabbi Yochanan answers in the name of Rashbi: The Almighty says to Israel, ‘Even if you have fulfilled nothing other than the recitation of the Shema morning and evening, you will avoid falling into the hands of the enemy.’

The Shema prayer is our most fundamental declaration of allegiance to Heaven.  When we recite the Shema, we say that Hashem is our G-d, meaning to say that the G-d of the infinite is the G-d of the finite.  The G-d that is above and beyond this world is at the same time intimately involved with this world and our lives.   And despite His immanence and transcendence, He is an utter unity, throughout the seven heavens and the Earth and throughout the four corners (directions) of the Earth.

We then proceed to bless name of His glory that fills the universe and declare our love for Him. We commit to the Torah for ourselves and future generations, and we acknowledge the symbols of Judaism we place upon our selves (tefillin) and homes (mezuzah).  In the second paragraph we acknowledge Heaven’s system of reward and punishment, along with our love for the Holy Land; and in the third paragraph we commit to the mitzvos and remember the Exodus.

When you recite those simple three paragraphs – declaring your commitment to the tenets of our faith – morning and evening, our Sages promise that you will “avoid falling into the hands of the enemy.”  Who is the enemy?  We all have internal and external enemies.   Internally, you are constantly at battle with your yetzer hara – the little voice that wants you to indulge in the desires of this world, instead of staying focused on your Divine mission.  When you recite the Shema and think about the meaning of the words, you are guaranteed protection from your yetzer hara!

Externally, we all face of host of enemies daily.  Enemies could be as basic as flat-tire demons that make you late for work or as complex as menacing coworkers that will do anything to impede your success in the company, or slippery-ice demons that are lurking in the shadows ready to trip you up and injure your hip bone.  When you recite the Shema morning and night, you are protected from all these enemies!  Just like the Holocaust children who were saved by the Shema, this awesome prayer will protect you too from all the perils of life.

The Shema has incredible power.  Sure, you should strive to pray three times a day in its entirety.  But if all you ever say each day is the Shema, morning and evening, you will effect protection from all your enemies.  May you merit never forgetting to recite the morning or evening Shema with tremendous kavanah (focus)!

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