9.The Laws of Reciting Shema
A person must recite Shema with great kavanah, fear, awe, and trembling, and concentrate in his heart that he is now proclaiming the sovereignty of the King, Hakadosh Baruch Hu. Even though Shema is recited every day in Shacharit and Ma’ariv, one must try hard to concentrate on the meaning of the words, as if they were new to him (Shulchan Aruch 61:1-2).
In addition to kavanah, the person saying Shema must pronounce the letters precisely, being careful not to swallow any letter nor to emphasize the soft sounds, or weaken the strong ones. Therefore, l'chatchilah, one should make a distinction in sound when pronouncing an alef and an ayin, a chaf and a chet, a kamatz and a patach, a tzeirei and a segol (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim, 61:14-23). The Chachamim say, "One who recites Shema and is careful to pronounce its letters exactly, Gehinnom is cooled down for him" (Berachot 15b). B’dieved, if he did not recite the Shema meticulously, he nevertheless fulfilled his obligation provided that he did not miss a word or a full syllable of a word (Shulchan Aruch 62:1; Mishnah Berurah 1).
A person’s ears must hear what is coming out of his mouth. B’dieved, if he read the words only with his lips but did not hear what he was saying, since he mouthed the words, he fulfilled his obligation. However, regarding one who only recited Shema in his mind, since he did not mouth the words, he did not fulfill his obligation (Shulchan Aruch 62:3; and see earlier in this book 1:9). 6
In principle, though it is proper to recite Shema and the Amidah in Hebrew, if a person recited Shema and prayed the Amidah in a different language, he fulfilled his obligation, provided that he understands that language (see earlier in this book 1:10). However, a few of the major Acharonim write that today we cannot fulfill the obligation of Keriat Shema by reciting it in a different language because there are words that we do not know how to translate accurately. For example, the Hebrew word "v’shinantam" means both learning (shinun) and sharpening (chidud). There is no such single word in other languages. Hence, since the Shema cannot be translated exactly, it may not be recited in a different language (Mishnah Berurah 62:3). 7 10.The Manner in which to Recite Shema
It is permissible to recite Shema while standing, sitting, or lying down on one’s side. Indeed, according to Beit Shamai, one must recite the Shema of the evening while lying down, and the Shema of the morning while standing, as it says, "When you lie down and when you rise up." Yet, the halachah follows Beit Hillel who interpreted the verse to mean the times that one is required to recite Shema – when people lie down (to go to sleep in the evening) and rise (wake up in the morning). According to Beit Hillel, whether the person stands, sits, or lies down is optional (Berachot 10a; Shulchan Aruch 63:1).
We can learn from this halachah that faith is not something detached from this world, something that can only be achieved under specific circumstances. Rather, the faith expressed in saying Shema encompasses all of a person’s life in this world, and therefore it is possible to recite Shema in any position.
In principle, it is permissible to recite Shema even while walking, as it says, "When you are walking on your way." However, the Chachamim maintain that it is not proper for a person to accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven casually. Therefore, one who is walking should stand still when he recites the first verse of Shema (Shulchan Aruch 63:3; Mishnah Berurah 9). It is also forbidden to say Shema while lying on one’s stomach or back, since this is not a respectful recital (Shulchan Aruch 63:1; and see Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 23:3). 8
Because of the importance of the first paragraph, in which we accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven, a person must be careful while saying it not to occupy himself with anything else, and not signal with his eyes, fingers, or lips (Shulchan Aruch 63:6). 11.Tefillin and Tzitzit while Reciting Shema
We must pray and recite Shema of Shacharit with tefillin, as it says in the Shema paragraph, "And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes." The Chachamim say, "A person who recites Shema without wearing tefillin is as if he gives false testimony of himself" (Berachot 14b). Nevertheless, even a person who does not have tefillin is required to recite Shema, since these two mitzvot are not interdependent. If a person cannot fulfill the mitzvah of tefillin, he should at least fulfill the mitzvah of Shema, and he is not considered giving false testimony, since it is due to circumstances beyond his control (Mishnah Berurah 46:33; see earlier in this book 12:9, footnote 10).
It is customary to touch the tefillin of the arm when saying, "Bind them as a sign on your hand," and the tefillin of the head while saying, "And they shall be as frontlets between your eyes," and then to kiss the hand that touched the tefillin (Shulchan Aruch 61:25; Chayei Adam 14:15).
It is also customary to wrap oneself in tzitzit before Shacharit since the third paragraph of Shema discusses the mitzvah of tzitzit. It is customary to hold the tzitziyot with one’s left hand adjacent to the heart during the time one says Shema as a reminder of what is written, "Put these words… on your heart" (Shulchan Aruch 24:2). Some take the two tzitziyot in front and others gather all four tzitziyot. 9
It is customary before the paragraph of Vayomer to take the tzitziyot with one’s right hand (Mishnah Berurah 24:4) or with both hands (Kaf HaChaim 24:8) and while saying the word "tzitzit," kiss the tzitzit, and while saying, "u’re’item oto", ("and you shall see them"), look at them. Some pass them over their eyes and kiss them. It is also customary to kiss the tzitzit at the end of the paragraph while saying "emet." We continue to hold the tzitziyot until the words, "v’nechemadim la’ad," in Birkat Emet V’Yatziv, and then we kiss the tzitziyot again and put them down (Mishnah Berurah 24:4; Kaf HaChaim 24:8, 18). There are additional customs concerning this; however, all these customs are enhancements of the mitzvah and do not prevent one from fulfilling one's obligation if they are not performed. 12. 248 (øî"ç) Words
The Torah provides life and healing to the world and to mankind. This is especially true concerning Keriat Shema, in which the fundamentals of faith and the fulfillment of the mitzvot are included. The Chachamim teach that Shema is comprised of 248 words and that in a person’s body there are 248 organs. When a person recites Shema properly, each and every organ is healed by the word corresponding to it. However, in the three paragraphs of Shema there are actually 245 words, and in order to total 248, the chazan repeats the last three words, "Hashem Elokeichem emet" ("Hashem, your God, is true"), thereby completing the count to 248 (Zohar Chadash Ruth 95:1).
A person who prays individually is missing the last three words. There are a few minhagim concerning their completion. According to the Ashkenazic minhag, before Shema a person says, "Kel Melech Ne’eman" ("Almighty faithful King"). According to the Shulchan Aruch, one should have specific kavanah while pronouncing the first fifteen "vavs" in the opening words of Birkat Emet V’Yatziv ("V’Yatziv, V’Nachon, V’Kayam, V’Yashar, etc.…") because they allude to three names of Hashem and are a substitute for the three missing words (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 61:3).
It is the minhag of most Sephardim that a person praying individually should complete the three missing words on his own and repeat "Hashem Elokeichem emet," instead of the chazan. Although an individual’s repetition of these words is clearly less important than the chazan’s reiteration, nevertheless, there is a certain substitution in it. Additionally, a person who finishes reciting Shema after the chazan concludes "Hashem Elokeichem emet" should repeat those last words so as to complete the three missing words (Kaf HaChaim 61: 15-16). 10
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