The Shema's Second Paragraph: Concern Over Israel's Affluence
The Central Importance of the Shema in Jewish Liturgy
The Shema has long been one of the central prayers in Jewish liturgy. It is the first topic discussed in the ancient rabbinic law code, the Mishnah, and its opening line became the ideal for a martyred Jew’s final words. Although we often think of the Shema as having three paragraphs (Deut 6:4-8, 11:13-21, and Num 15:37-41), the first two are much more closely connected: they are both from the book of Deuteronomy and similar in structure and content. They appear together not only in prayers, but also in the mezuzah and tefillin.
The centrality of these two paragraphs is likely connected to how, in the words of the modern biblical commentator Nahum Sarna, they “express fundamental doctrines of Judaism.” But what are these doctrines exactly?
The Doctrines of the Shema
Sarna explains that the first paragraph “proclaims the existence and unity of God, the call for the loving surrender of the mind and will to His demands, the charge to make God’s teaching the constant subject of study and to ensure the education of the young.” The second paragraph, he argues, in addition to the shared content with the first, declares Israel’s “faith in Divine righteousness with its corollaries that society is built on moral foundations, that there is reward for virtue and punishment for evil.”
While Sarna sums up the message of the first paragraph well, his summary of the second paragraph’s message relies on a mistaken medieval reading, which fails to account for why the two sections are juxtaposed in the liturgy based on their multiple similarities in Deuteronomy. Instead, I suggest that in order to understand the second paragraph, we must focus on the multiple and sustained lexical linkages with the first paragraph, and how paragraph 2 lexically reorganizes the first and rethematizes its topics.
Reframing the Love
The second paragraph announces its link with the first paragraph already in its first verse,
|Paragraph 1 (6:5)||Paragraph 2 (11:13b)|
|You shall love YHWH your God with all your leiv (i.e., from emotion to mind) and with the whole of your nefesh (i.e., from body to soul) and with the whole of your me’od (i.e., with all you got),||…loving YHWH your God and serving Him with all your leiv and nefesh|
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ.
…לְאַהֲבָה אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וּלְעָבְדוֹ בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם.
But the overall framing of the paragraphs is quite different. In addition to the other adjustments—the second paragraph adds the service of YHWH and subtracts the reference to a person’s me’od—the first paragraph begins with the imperative “you shall love YHWH your God,” whereas the second paragraph refers to “loving God” descriptively as part of what seems to be a condition (v. 13a):
וְהָיָה אִם שָׁמֹעַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ אֶל מִצְוֹתַי אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוֶּה אֶתְכֶם הַיּוֹם…
If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day… (NJPS)
In other words, this paragraph is about the Israelites keeping the commandments, which is itself an expression of loving God.
A Conditional Sentence?
What is the relationship between the opening verse “if you obey the commandments” and the next piece (vv. 14-15)?
וְנָתַתִּי (או: ונתן) מְטַר אַרְצְכֶם בְּעִתּוֹ יוֹרֶה וּמַלְקוֹשׁ וְאָסַפְתָּ דְגָנֶךָ וְתִירֹשְׁךָ וְיִצְהָרֶךָ. וְנָתַתִּי (או: ונתן, או: ונתת) עֵשֶׂב בְּשָׂדְךָ לִבְהֶמְתֶּךָ וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ.
(Then) I (or: He) will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late. You shall gather in your new grain and wine and oil. And I (or: He, or: you) will also provide grass in the fields for your cattle and thus you shall eat your fill.
Many read this as a standard conditional sentence: if you obey the commandments (v. 13) then I will grant rain and provide grass (vv. 14-15). If so, then vv. 14-15 would be aimed at inducing obedience. But this reading is belied by the next part of the passage.
Lack of Standard Negative Clause
Following the assurance of rain upon performance of commandments, the text moves on to describe what happens if Israel does not perform the commandments (vv. 16-17):
הִשָּׁמְרוּ לָכֶם פֶּן יִפְתֶּה לְבַבְכֶם וְסַרְתֶּם וַעֲבַדְתֶּם אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתֶם לָהֶם. וְחָרָה אַף יְ-הוָה בָּכֶם וְעָצַר אֶת הַשָּׁמַיִם וְלֹא יִהְיֶה מָטָר וְהָאֲדָמָה לֹא תִתֵּן אֶת יְבוּלָהּ וַאֲבַדְתֶּם מְהֵרָה מֵעַל הָאָרֶץ הַטֹּבָה אֲשֶׁר יְ-הוָה נֹתֵן לָכֶם.
Take heed not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For YHWH’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon be lost from the good land that YHWH is assigning to you.
This is not a standard “negative clause” however, which would be “if you do not do this, then I will not provide x” (or “then I will punish with y”). For example, Deuteronomy 28, which is totally dedicated to the consequences of obedience and disobedience, begins with “If you obey” (28:1), and then turns to “But if you do not obey” (28:15).
Rethinking the Conditional Clause
Since the text is not following the pattern of “if you do good then x and if you do bad then y,” I suggest that we do not translate the opening clause in 13a as the protasis (i. e., the conditional “if” clause) of a condition, and vv. 14-15 as the apodosis (i.e., the “then” clause) but rather the entire complex of vv. 13-15 is the protasis, while v.16 is the apodosis:
[vv. 13-15 Apodosis:] Were you to heed my commandments that I enjoin upon you this day… And were I to provide rain for your land in season…. [v. 16 protasis:] Then take heed not to be lured away to serve other gods.
In this reading, the waw that begins verse 17 should be understood as “otherwise” not “for,” yielding the following overall conception:
If you heed my commandments and I provide rain and crops, take heed not to worship other gods, otherwise, YHWH’s anger will flare up, the bounty will cease, and you will lose the land.
Concerns about Affluence in Deuteronomy
The second paragraph of Shema is worried about the effects of affluence on the loyalty of the people; both because material success leads to arrogance and thus, rebellion against God, and it inspires the worship of fertility gods who were believed by many in the ANE, including the Canaanites, to be the cause of agricultural fecundity. These concerns appear in other places in Deuteronomy.
Ha’azinu: “Jeshurun Grew Fat and Kicked” (Deut 32)
That Israel will become rebellious and abandon YHWH for other gods as a consequence of their success appears as a prediction in the Ha’azinu poem:
דברים לב:טו וַיִּשְׁמַן יְשֻׁרוּן וַיִּבְעָט
שָׁמַנְתָּ עָבִיתָ כָּשִׂיתָ
וַיִּטֹּשׁ אֱלוֹהַ עָשָׂהוּ
וַיְנַבֵּל צוּר יְשֻׁעָתוֹ.
לב:טז יַקְנִאֻהוּ בְּזָרִים
לב:יז יִזְבְּחוּ לַשֵּׁדִים לֹא אֱלֹהַ
אֱלֹהִים לֹא יְדָעוּם
חֲדָשִׁים מִקָּרֹב בָּאוּ
לֹא שְׂעָרוּם אֲבֹתֵיכֶם.
לב:יח צוּר יְלָדְךָ תֶּשִׁי
וַתִּשְׁכַּח אֵל מְחֹלְלֶךָ.
Deut 32:15 So Jeshurun grew fat and kicked –
You grew fat and gross and coarse –
He forsook the God who made him
And spurned the Rock of his support.
32:16 They incensed Him with alien things,
Vexed Him with abominations.
32:17 They sacrificed to demons, no-gods,
Gods they had never known,
New ones, who came but lately
Who stirred not your fathers’ fears.
32:18 You neglected the Rock that begot you,
Forgot the God who brought you forth. (NJPS)
Eating Your Fill and Forgetting God – Thrice Repeated
Deuteronomy highlights the linkage between affluence and the abandonment of God by repeating in three different places that eating one’s fill can lead to forgetting God:
- Deuteronomy 6 – Immediately following the first paragraph of Shema, the text continues (Deut. 6:10-12, 15):
וְהָיָה כִּי יְבִיאֲךָ יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע לַאֲבֹתֶיךָ לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֶת לָךְ עָרִים גְּדֹלֹת וְטֹבֹת אֲשֶׁר לֹא בָנִיתָ. וּבָתִּים מְלֵאִים כָּל טוּב אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִלֵּאתָ וּבֹרֹת חֲצוּבִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא חָצַבְתָּ כְּרָמִים וְזֵיתִים אֲשֶׁר לֹא נָטָעְתָּ וְאָכַלְתָּ וְשָׂבָעְתָּ. הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת יְ-הוָה אֲשֶׁר הוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים… פֶּן יֶחֱרֶה אַף יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בָּךְ וְהִשְׁמִידְךָ מֵעַל פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה.
When YHWH your God brings you into the land that He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to assign to you great and flourishing cities that you did not build, houses full of all good things that you did not fill, hewn cisterns that you did not hew, vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant and you eat your fill, take heed that you do not forget YHWH who freed you from the land of Egypt… Lest YHWH your God grow angry at you and wipe you off the face of the land.
This unit uses the term “take heed” and the expression “and you eat your fill,” both of which appear in the second paragraph of Shema.
- Deuteronomy 8 –The point is repeated in Deuteronomy Deut 8:11-14, 19, using similar language:
הִשָּׁמֶר לְךָ פֶּן תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹר מִצְוֹתָיו וּמִשְׁפָּטָיו וְחֻקֹּתָיו אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם. פֶּן תֹּאכַל וְשָׂבָעְתָּ וּבָתִּים טוֹבִים תִּבְנֶה וְיָשָׁבְתָּ. וּבְקָרְךָ וְצֹאנְךָ יִרְבְּיֻן וְכֶסֶף וְזָהָב יִרְבֶּה לָּךְ וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר לְךָ יִרְבֶּה. וְרָם לְבָבֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ הַמּוֹצִיאֲךָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם מִבֵּית עֲבָדִים…. וְהָיָה אִם שָׁכֹחַ תִּשְׁכַּח אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ וְהָלַכְתָּ אַחֲרֵי אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַעֲבַדְתָּם וְהִשְׁתַּחֲוִיתָ לָהֶם הַעִדֹתִי בָכֶם הַיּוֹם כִּי אָבֹד תֹּאבֵדוּן.
Take heed lest you forget YHWH your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His statutes that I enjoin upon you this day. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget YHWH your God who freed you from the land of Egypt from the house of slavery… And if you really forget YHWH your God and follow other gods and serve them and bow down to them, I put you on notice this day that you shall surely perish.
- Deuteronomy 31 –This same constellation of concepts appears in Deuteronomy 31:20:
כִּי אֲבִיאֶנּוּ אֶל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתִּי לַאֲבֹתָיו זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ וְאָכַל וְשָׂבַע וְדָשֵׁן וּפָנָה אֶל אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַעֲבָדוּם וְנִאֲצוּנִי וְהֵפֵר אֶת בְּרִיתִי.
When I bring them into the land flowing with milk and honey that I promised on oath to their fathers, and they eat their fill and grow fat and turn to other gods and serve them, spurning Me and breaking My covenant.
All these sources make the same point as our section, namely, that affluence can lead to apostasy.
Concerns about Affluence in the Prophets
The theological threat of material excess engaged also the prophets Hosea, Ezekiel, and Isaiah. Hosea throughout (2:10, 4:7, 10:1, 13:6) links satiety with apostasy. He cites God’s complaint that Israel did not consider:
הושע ב:י וְהִיא לֹא יָדְעָה כִּי אָנֹכִי נָתַתִּי לָהּ הַדָּגָן וְהַתִּירוֹשׁ וְהַיִּצְהָר וְכֶסֶף הִרְבֵּיתִי לָהּ וְזָהָב עָשׂוּ לַבָּעַל.
Hos 2:10 It was I who bestowed on her the new grain and wine and oil; I who lavished silver on her and gold — that they used for Baal.
The references to grain, wine, and oil reappear in that order in our section (Deut. 11:14); the mention of silver and gold matches that of the aforementioned Deut. 8:13.
In the same vein, Ezekiel (16:17-19) complains that it was specifically the gold, silver, and agricultural products lavished upon Israel by God that were diverted to idolatry:
וַתִּקְחִי כְּלֵי תִפְאַרְתֵּךְ מִזְּהָבִי וּמִכַּסְפִּי אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָךְ וַתַּעֲשִׂי לָךְ צַלְמֵי זָכָר וַתִּזְנִי בָם. וַתִּקְחִי אֶת בִּגְדֵי רִקְמָתֵךְ וַתְּכַסִּים וְשַׁמְנִי וּקְטָרְתִּי (נתתי) [נָתַתְּ] לִפְנֵיהֶם. וְלַחְמִי אֲשֶׁר נָתַתִּי לָךְ סֹלֶת וָשֶׁמֶן וּדְבַשׁ הֶאֱכַלְתִּיךְ וּנְתַתִּיהוּ לִפְנֵיהֶם לְרֵיחַ נִיחֹחַ וַיֶּהִי נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְ-הוִה.
You took your beautiful things, made of the gold and silver that I had given you, and you made yourself phallic images and fornicated with them. You took your embroidered cloths to cover them; and you set My oil and My incense before them. The food that I had given you — the choice flour, the oil, and the honey, which I had provided for you to eat — you set it before them for a pleasing odor. And so it went — declares the Lord YHWH.
Similarly, Isaiah emphasizes the importance of Israel removing the idols from its midst if they want to keep receiving God’s bounty (Isa 30:21b-23):
זֶה הַדֶּרֶךְ לְכוּ בוֹ כִּי תַאֲמִינוּ וְכִי תַשְׂמְאִילוּ. וְטִמֵּאתֶם אֶת צִפּוּי פְּסִילֵי כַסְפֶּךָ וְאֶת אֲפֻדַּת מַסֵּכַת זְהָבֶךָ תִּזְרֵם כְּמוֹ דָוָה צֵא תֹּאמַר לוֹ. וְנָתַן מְטַר זַרְעֲךָ אֲשֶׁר תִּזְרַע אֶת הָאֲדָמָה וְלֶחֶם תְּבוּאַת הָאֲדָמָה וְהָיָה דָשֵׁן וְשָׁמֵן יִרְעֶה מִקְנֶיךָ בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא כַּר נִרְחָב.
“This is the road; follow it.” Then you will treat as unclean the silver overlay of your images and the golden plating of your idols. You will cast them away like a menstruous woman. “Out!” you will call to them. And (God) will provide rain for the seed with which you sow the ground, and the bread that the ground brings forth shall be rich and fat. Your livestock, in that day, shall graze in broad pastures.
Hosea and Ezekiel approximate the first part of the remedy in our passage, namely, the withholding from Israel of the element that led them astray. Without these material assets, Israel will have little to inspire them to thank their new, false gods.
Isaiah’s approach differs, however. His remedy is to insist on Israel complying with the divine command. Once the idols of gold and silver are cast away, God can safely go ahead and provide the affluence-engendering rain without fear of its idolatrous seductiveness. This approach is similar to what we find in the next part of our passage, but with a twist.
Deuteronomy’s Educational Solution
Instead of just saying, as Isaiah, “This is the road; follow it,” our section of Deuteronomy provides an educational stratagem through a series of positive measures aimed at binding Israel to God. In addition to loving God, with which both passages open, both include some practical measures, and here we return to where the two passages are parallel:
|First Paragraph (Deut 6:7-9)||Second Paragraph (Deut 11:18-19)|
|Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.||Rather you shall place these words of Mine on your leiv and on your nefesh by binding them as a sign on your hand and letting them serve as a symbol on your forehead. And teach [or: by teaching] them to your children to talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. And inscribe [or: by inscribing] them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.|
וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל יָדֶךָ וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזוּזֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.
וְשַׂמְתֶּם אֶת דְּבָרַי אֵלֶּה עַל לְבַבְכֶם וְעַל נַפְשְׁכֶם וּקְשַׁרְתֶּם אֹתָם לְאוֹת עַל יֶדְכֶם וְהָיוּ לְטוֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֵיכֶם. וְלִמַּדְתֶּם אֹתָם אֶת בְּנֵיכֶם לְדַבֵּר בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזוּזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.
These measures consist of the aforementioned love of God, the binding of tefillin, the teaching of Torah, and the posting of the section on the doorpost that is later referred to by the term for doorpost — mezuzah. These educational strategies are part of the educational thrust of Deuteronomy. The idea is that the more Israel is bound to God the less it will be taken in by the seductions of material success. Precisely at the moment of relishing material success, expressions of gratitude to God are most warranted.
The position of Deuteronomy of the linkage between the love of God, the keeping of the commandments, and the flourishing and enduring in the Land, which is the theme of the second paragraph of Shema, is summed up in the end of chapter 30:16-20, where choosing to follow the commandments and cling to God is described as “choosing life.”
Relationship between the Two Paragraphs
We already noted that the second paragraph of Shema adds vv. 14-17, which have no parallel in the first paragraph and which seek to maintain the loyalty to God through a framework of inducements and disincentives. But even the parallel sections are reworked in the second paragraph in subtle ways. Most significant is the way that the second paragraph reorders the elements it adapts from the first:
|Paragraph 1||Paragraph 2|
|Self (v. 6),
Teaching children (v. 7),
Tefillin (v. 8),
Mezuzah (v. 9)
|Self (v. 18),
Tefillin (v. 18b),
Teaching children (v. 19),
Mezuzah (v. 20).
The first and last remain constant; the middle two are transposed. Perhaps the starkest shift in this section is the way that 11:19b, “When you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up” (בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ), although a verbatim citation of the first paragraph (6:7b), even retaining the singular form though the accompanying verbs are in the plural, adjusts the meaning of the phrase based on its new context. In the first paragraph, this verse on constant engagement applies to you; in the second paragraph, it applies to your children. The command is to get them to do as you did in the first paragraph.
Thus, the transposition here seems to be an attempt to emphasize the importance of educating children, an emphasis already apparent in the first paragraph and but enlarged upon here. The importance of educating children is noted elsewhere in Deuteronomy as well. For example, in chapter 31, all the people—including the children—gather to hear the teaching (vv. 12-13):
לְמַעַן יִשְׁמְעוּ וּלְמַעַן יִלְמְדוּ וְיָרְאוּ אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם וְשָׁמְרוּ לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת כָּל דִּבְרֵי הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת. וּבְנֵיהֶם אֲשֶׁר לֹא יָדְעוּ יִשְׁמְעוּ וְלָמְדוּ לְיִרְאָה אֶת יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם כָּל הַיָּמִים אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם חַיִּים עַל הָאֲדָמָה…
That they may hear and so learn to revere YHWH your God and to observe faithfully every word of this Teaching. Their children, too, who have not had the experience, shall hear and learn to revere YHWH your God as long as they live in the land…
Moreover, with the adjustment of the order, the reference to mezuzah in the second paragraph (v. 20) now follows the commandment to teach the children by modeling constant engagement with the words of the Torah (v. 19). In context, therefore, the affixing of “these words” to the doorposts (v. 20) becomes another way of demonstrating to one’s children one’s commitment.
Surrounded with Torah for Protection in Proverbs
The connection between surrounding oneself with torah and maintaining one’s faithfulness to God is highly reminiscent of Proverb’s depiction of how surrounding oneself with wisdom keeps a person away from wickedness.
משלי ו:כ נְצֹר בְּנִי מִצְוַת אָבִיךָ וְאַל תִּטֹּשׁ תּוֹרַת אִמֶּךָ. ו:כא קָשְׁרֵם עַל לִבְּךָ תָמִיד עָנְדֵם עַל גַּרְגְּרֹתֶךָ. ו:כב בְּהִתְהַלֶּכְךָ תַּנְחֶה אֹתָךְ בְּשָׁכְבְּךָ תִּשְׁמֹר עָלֶיךָ וַהֲקִיצוֹתָ הִיא תְשִׂיחֶךָ… ו:כדלִשְׁמָרְךָ מֵאֵשֶׁת רָע…
Prov 6:20 My son, keep your father’s commandment; do not forsake your mother’s teaching. 6:21 Bind them on your leiv always; wind them on your throat. 6:22 When you walk, it will lead you; when you lie down, it will watch over you; and when you are awake it will be your discourse… 6:24 To keep you from an evil woman…
משלי ז:א בְּנִי שְׁמֹר אֲמָרָי וּמִצְוֹתַי תִּצְפֹּן אִתָּךְ… ז:גקָשְׁרֵם עַל אֶצְבְּעֹתֶיךָ כָּתְבֵם עַל לוּחַ לִבֶּךָ… ז:הלִשְׁמָרְךָ מֵאִשָּׁה זָרָה…
Prov 7:1 My son, heed my words; and store up my commandments with you…7:3 Bind them on your fingers; inscribe them on the tablet of your leiv… 7:5 To keep you from a foreign woman…
What Proverbs sees as a way of keeping one from other women, Deuteronomy sees as a way of keeping one from other gods. What wisdom is for Proverbs, Torah is for Deuteronomy. In any case, the implied parallel between monogamy and monotheism is based on the biblical trope of whoring after other gods.
Multiplying in the Land
Whereas the first paragraph ends with the reference to the placing of these words on the doorposts, the second paragraph adds one final verse (11:21), which returns to the incentives:
לְמַעַן יִרְבּוּ יְמֵיכֶם וִימֵי בְנֵיכֶם עַל הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהוָה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לָתֵת לָהֶם כִּימֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם עַל הָאָרֶץ.
So that your days and the days of your children may multiply in the land that YHWH swore to your ancestors to give them as long as there is a heaven over the earth.
Although this continues the theme of incentivizing that we saw in vv. 13-17, instead of placing it with these verses, it now flows from the requirements to speak words of torah, place it on your heart and your doorposts, and teach it to your children.Since the end goal is that your children endure in the land, the requirement for teaching cannot stop with reviewing the matters with them as in the first paragraph, but it requires getting them to do as you do, namely, to talk about “these words” in all places all the time so that they may also live long on the land.
Largesse Without Betrayal
In sum, the second paragraph is not about reward and punishment; it does not even directly threaten expulsion.Rather, the second paragraph of Shema takes up one of Deuteronomy’s core challenges, namely, how to shower Israel with largesse without inducing betrayal. By having the second paragraph rework themes from the first paragraph, the point is made that love and loyalty to God are bound up with adhering to the commandments and withstanding the temptations of idolatry.
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Prof. Rabbi Reuven Kimelman is Professor of Classical Judaica at Brandeis University and rabbi of Beth Abraham Sephardic Congregation of New England, Brookline, MA. He holds a Ph.D. from Yale University in religious studies. He is the author of The Mystical Meaning of ‘Lekhah Dodi’ and Kabbalat Shabbat’ and the forthcoming The Rhetoric of the Jewish Liturgy: A Historical and Literary Commentary on the Prayer Book. His audio course books are The Hidden Poetry of the Jewish Prayer Book and The Moral Meaning of the Bible.
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