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Chapter Fifteen-Part Three

Kavanah in Keriat Shema


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

6.Kavanah While Reciting the First Verse
One must have upmost kavanah while reciting the first verse of the Shema, in accepting the yoke of Heaven, as it is written (Deuteronomy 6:6), "Put these words... in your heart." Therefore, a person must concentrate in his heart on the words he is saying while reciting the first verse. If he did not concentrate on the words he recited, he did not fulfill his obligation (Berachot 13b; Shulchan Aruch, 60:5, 63:4).
Even a person who concentrates on the full meaning of every word with kavanah must try not to let his mind wander to other thoughts in the middle of the verse. However, b’dieved, as long as he was also thinking of the meaning of the words, he fulfilled his obligation. 2
Thus, when saying "Shema Yisrael," it is proper to reflect upon how the mitzvah of accepting the yoke of Heaven is destined for Israel, a nation that was created in order to reveal the belief in the unity of Hashem in the world. The word "Hashem," which is not read as it is written, is spelled, "yud" "heh" "vav" "heh" and pronounced "A-donai." While saying it, one should have in mind the way it is pronounced, that Hashem is the Master (Adon) of everything, and concentrate on the way it is written, that He was, is, and will be (Hayah, Hoveh, V’yihiyeh). In reciting the word "Elokeinu," one should know that God is firm and omnipotent, Master of all existing powers, and that He rules over us (Shulchan Aruch 5:1). When a person says "Echad," it should be with the kavanah that Hashem is the only ruler of the world, in the heavens and the earth, and the four directions of the world. This meaning is implied in the letters of the word "Echad": "Alef" – that He is One, "Chet" – signifying the seven heavens in addition to the earth, and "Dalet" – representing the four directions. One must extend the pronunciation of the letter dalet as long as it takes for him to think of the fact that HaKadosh Baruch Hu is One in His world and that He rules in the four directions of the world (Shulchan Aruch 61:6; and see Mishnah Berurah 18).
B’dieved, even if a person did not have in mind the exact meaning of the Name of Hashem and each and every word, but he understood their overall significance – the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven – he fulfilled his obligation. 3
However, if his mind wandered and he did not concentrate on even the general meaning of the words – the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven – then he did not fulfill his obligation, and he must repeat the words and recite them with their meaning in mind. If he remembers this immediately upon finishing the first verse, he must wait a bit, so as not to be seen as one who is reciting Shema twice, and then repeat the first verse quietly. If he remembers in the middle of the first paragraph, he must stop, start from the beginning of the first paragraph, and recite the whole passage in order. If he remembers in the middle of the second paragraph, he finishes that paragraph, after that goes back and repeats the entire first paragraph, and then skips to the third paragraph, Vayomer. He need not repeat the second paragraph because he already had the appropriate kavanah while saying it and b’dieved, the order of the paragraphs does not prevent him from fulfilling his obligation (Mishnah Berurah 63:14; Kaf HaChaim 17-18).
In order to arouse kavanah, it is customary to read the first verse out loud and to cover one’s eyes with his right hand so as not to look at anything else that might interfere with his concentration (Shulchan Aruch 61:4-5; Mishnah Berurah 17).

7.The Second Verse and Its Kavanah
Immediately following the first verse, we say quietly, "Baruch shem kevod malchuto l’olam va’ed," ("Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity"). Although this sentence does not appear with the Shema paragraph and is not a verse from the Torah, the Chachamim instituted its recital as part of Shema based on ancient tradition.
It is told in the Talmud (Pesachim 56a) that before Yaakov Avinu died, all of his children gathered around him. Yaakov wished to reveal the end of days, but at that moment the Shechinah left him and he could not show them the future. He asked his sons, "Perhaps one of you is not righteous, like Yishmael, who came from Avraham, and Eisav, who came from my father Yitzchak, and that is preventing me from revealing to you the end of days?" Everyone opened their mouths and said, "‘Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One.’ Just like there is only One in your heart, there is only One in our hearts." At that moment, Yaakov said, "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity." Chazal ask, "Now what should we do? Should we recite this sentence [in Shema] even though it is not written in the Torah portion? Or should we refrain from saying it even though Yaakov Avinu said it?" Therefore, they established to recite it quietly.
This sentence is considered to be a continuation of the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven found in the first verse, and therefore also requires kavanah on the meaning of the words. If a person recites it without the proper kavanah he must go back and repeat it with the proper kavanah (Mishnah Berurah 63:12).
One should pause briefly between "l’olam va’ed" ("for all eternity") and "V’ahavta" ("You shall love") in order to distinguish between the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven and the rest of the paragraph. Also, it is proper to pause between the first verse and "Baruch shem" ("Blessed be the name…") to differentiate between the acceptance of the yoke of Heaven as commanded by the Torah and the enactment of the Chachamim (Shulchan Aruch and Rama 61:14). 4
Although the belief in the oneness of God holds unfathomable depths and meanings, we will nonetheless briefly discuss its significance. The first verse, Shema Yisrael, expresses the absolute and unifying higher belief and is called "yichud elyon" (the supernal unification). In this realm of higher understanding, nothing else substantially exists in the world besides Hashem. He is One in His world, and we are all insignificant in relation to Him. Since Hashem’s infinite power is not visible to us, it is difficult to grasp the supernal union permanently. Therefore, only twice daily, when we recite the verse Shema Yisrael, are we commanded to rise to its level. The second verse is called "yichud tachton" (the lower unification), and by saying it, we accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven according to the belief that is revealed in this world. This is the belief that the world is not void, rather tangible and existent, and Hashem Blessed Be He gives it life and rules over it. By His will He creates life, or God forbid, takes it away. In so doing, His Name and kingdom are revealed in the world, as we say, "Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for all eternity" (Tanya, Sha’ar HaYichud V’HaEmunah, and Nefesh HaChaim, Sha’ar 3).

8.Mitzvot Require Kavanah
The Amora’im and the Rishonim disagree regarding the question, do mitzvot require kavanah? When the Torah commands us to perform a certain mitzvah, is the actual performance enough, or must a person have in mind the correct intent in order to fulfill the commandment? The halachah rules that mitzvot require kavanah. Just as a person has a body and a soul and one cannot live without the other, so too, the mitzvot need both body and soul, the body being the act of the mitzvah, and the soul being the kavanah that accompanies it.
Therefore, regarding a person who is reading the Torah portion of Parashat Va’etchanan, in which the Shema paragraph is written: when the time to recite Shema arrives, if he has kavanah in his heart to fulfill the mitzvah of reciting Shema, he has fulfilled his obligation. However, if he continues reading as he was, without having kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah of saying Shema, he has not fulfilled his obligation (Berachot 13a; Shulchan Aruch 60:4).
It is therefore apparent that when reciting Shema, we must concentrate on two meanings. First, as with all the mitzvot, we must have in mind that in performing this act, we are fulfilling Hashem’s commandment. Second, pertinent specifically to the mitzvah of reciting Shema, we must concentrate on the meaning of the words that we are saying. Since the essence of this mitzvah is to accept the yoke of Heaven, we are obligated to focus on the meaning of our words. As we have learned in halachah 6, if one did not concentrate on the meaning of the words in the verse Shema Yisrael, he did not fulfill his obligation and must go back and read it with the required kavanah.
We will now return to discuss the general kavanah required in the performance of all the mitzvot. Sometimes, one has implicit kavanah, and that suffices b’dieved. For instance, a person who comes to pray in a synagogue, and in his prayers he recites the Shema paragraph, even though he did not explicitly intend to perform the mitzvah of reciting Shema, he fulfilled his obligation. For if we were to ask him, "Why did you say Shema?" he would immediately answer, "To perform the mitzvah." Thus, in his recital he had implicit kavanah to fulfill his obligation. Similarly, someone who puts on tefillin, even though he didn’t meditate on what he was doing, it is nonetheless clear that his only intention could have been to fulfill the mitzvah, and because implicit kavanah was present, he fulfilled his obligation (Yerushalmi Pesachim 10:3; Chayei Adam 68:9; Mishnah Berurah 60:10). 5
Many people do not know that the main reason for the recital of the Vayomer paragraph is to fulfill the commandment of remembering the Exodus from Egypt, which is mentioned at the end of the paragraph. Those unaware of this fact do not fulfill their obligation. For even if we were to ask them why they said the Vayomer paragraph, they would not know that it was in order to remember the Exodus. Apparently, there was not even implicit kavanah within them. Therefore, it is important to teach that the reason for the recital of the Vayomer paragraph is to remember the Exodus from Egypt.

^ 2.See Bei’ur Halachah 101:1 s.v. "Hamitpalel," based on the Rashba brought by the Beit Yosef 63:4. The Rashba indicates that one must not let his mind wander and thereby not have kavanah to accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven. However, b’dieved, if he had kavanah and also dreamed in the middle, his dreaming did not nullify his kavanah.
^ 3.Chazal explain that this kavanah for the word "Echad" is only l'chatchilah, as it is told in Berachot 13b that Rabbi Yirmiyah greatly extended the word "Echad." Rabbi Chiya said to him, "Because you have anointed Him up and down and in all four directions, it is not necessary to have further kavanah." So it is regarding the kavanah in saying Hashem’s Name. If the halachah is such that one who does not have the kavanah specified in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 5 does not fulfill his obligation, the Talmud should have specifically explained this obligation. Additionally, it seems from the words of the Mishnah Berurah 62:3 that the required kavanah is for a general understanding of the verse. He writes that it is best that even one who does not understand the holy tongue recite Shema in Hebrew, since it is highly unlikely to find a Jew who does not understand the meaning of the first verse. This implies that he is referring to a general understanding.
^ 4.In the opinion of the Levush and Magen Avraham, since the Chachamim instituted saying "Baruch shem…," if a person skipped it, he did not fulfill his obligation and he must go back and recite the Shema paragraph. However, according to the Shiltei HaGiborim, Bach, and Bei’ur Halachah (61:13, s.v. "Acharei"), he fulfilled his obligation. Their proof is from Berachot 13a, where it is written that a person who read the paragraph of Shema from the Torah, and had kavanah in his heart to perform the mitzvah of reciting Shema, fulfilled his obligation (even though the verse "Baruch shem…" is not written in the Torah.) According to this, if a person starts V’ahavta and realizes that he did not have kavanah when he said "Baruch shem…" he is not required to repeat it. This is also written in the Aruch HaShulchan 61:6. However, according to the Levush and Magen Avraham, one is required to go back and recite it again, and so writes Kaf HaChaim 61:45. Additionally, in 63:16, he writes according to the Ari that if one goes back to repeat "Baruch shem…" he must start over from "Shema Yisrael."
^ 5.Likewise, a person who comes to synagogue to hear the blowing of the shofar, or the reading of the megillah, even though he did not explicitly have kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah, he fulfilled his obligation b’dieved, for the fact that he arrived at the synagogue indicates his desire to fulfill the mitzvah, and that he had implicit kavanah. However, if he was in his house and he heard the shofar being blown, or the megillah being read from the synagogue, and he did not explicitly have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah, he did not fulfill his obligation. Nevertheless, according to those poskim who believe that mitzvot do not require kavanah, he did fulfill his obligation.
The origin of the disagreement can be found in Berachot 13a and Rosh Hashanah 28-29a. According to Rava, mitzvot do not require kavanah; however, Rabbi Zeira is of the opinion that mitzvot do need kavanah. The following are the opinions of a few of the poskim: the Tosafot and Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah write that mitzvot do not require kavanah, in contrast to the Ba’al Halachot Gedolot, Rif, and Rosh who maintain that mitzvot do require kavanah. That is also how the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 60:4, rules. The Bei’ur Halachah explains that even those who maintain that mitzvot do not need kavanah still assert that two other conditions must be present: 1) when he is performing the mitzvah the person must know that such a mitzvah exists; for example, to recite Shema or eat matzah. If he knew this and at that particular moment he did not have even implicit kavanah to fulfill the mitzvah, according to them, he still fulfilled his obligation. 2) He must have in mind to perform the act and cannot be like a mitasek – one who is merely busying himself. In other words, if he unthinkably puffed into the shofar and kosher sounds came out, he did not fulfill the obligation of the mitzvah.
Further, there is dispute as to whether lack of kavanah in performing rabbinic commandments prevents a person from fulfilling his obligation. The Magen Avraham writes in the name of the Radbaz that the lack of kavanah while performing rabbinic commandments does not prevent a person from fulfilling the mitzvah. His reasoning is that we are unsure as to whom the halachah follows, and therefore, concerning biblical commandments we go according to those poskim who are stringent, and regarding rabbinic commandments we follow those who are lenient. However, according to the Eliyah Rabbah, Gra, and Chida, rabbinic commandments also require kavanah, and that is what is implied in the Shulchan Aruch. In any case, regarding berachot (even those recited on biblical commandments) we take into consideration those poskim who believe that mitzvot do not require kavanah, since "safek berachot l’hakel" – if there is doubt regarding the recital of berachot, we are lenient. Therefore, a person who did not have kavanah at the start, although required to go back and fulfill the mitzvah, he may not recite the blessing again due to the uncertainty that perhaps the halachah goes according to those who maintain that mitzvot do not require kavanah (Mishnah Berurah 60:10 and Bei’ur Halachah there).
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