As Jewish children are tucked into bed at night many are taught to recite the words above. Jews call these verses ‘the Shema’ and it remains a central feature of their daily devotions. The prayer affirms the essential unity of God, so important an idea for the faith of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. It is also a public declaration of the name of God as the ‘LORD’ or ‘Yahweh’– ‘I am who I am’. This enigmatic expression, which played a key part in the call of Moses’, suggests that God is the foundation of all being, the one whose existence is not dependent on another. So awesome is this name of God that many Jews prefer not to say it out loud.
God is, however, not a philosophical concept for our intellectual contemplation, but the living one who invites us into a deep personal relationship. It is not to be a fleeting acquaintance that is soon forgotten, or a superficial friendship where we keep back much of who we really are. Rather, we are called to love God with our whole being.
When one of the scribes asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment he instinctively began with the words of the ‘Shema’. ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” He added: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’
We are not to forget these words. They are to be on our minds when we go to sleep and when we wake up, when we are at home or when we are abroad. We should carry them with us wherever we go. They are to be a part of our conversation, our everyday talk. The Shema summarises who God is and what God requires of us. Wholehearted love is the appropriate response for us to make to the gracious God who leads us from a world of slavery to the land of promise and peace.