Shema Yisrael (Hear O Israel): Hearing and Seeing

Question

Dear Rabbi,

Why does the Shema say “Hear O Israel” that there is one God, instead of saying “See O Israel”? Why the choice of the sense of hearing and not the sense of seeing?

Thanks!

 

, , , 2 weeks

Answers

  1. This sentence that you mention awakens, to this day, Jewish consciousness in the heart of every Jew. It is the first sentence a Jewish child learns, and it is the last sentence on his lips when he leaves this world. It is the sentence inscribed on the banner which the Jews have carried throughout history and with this sentence they declare that God will ultimately “reconquer” mankind. It is the last sentence that a Jew who has been alienated from his people would discard. Whenever a Jew lies down or rises, wherever he builds his home and places his doors, this verse reminds him of his life’s mission and the principles that guide his thought and conduct.

    You ask: Why do we say, “Hear, Oh Israel,” and not, “See, Oh Israel?” Excellent question! I will ven strngthen your question! Moshe had just recounted how the people’s knowledge of God was based on seeing, and not on hearing! (“You have been made known by sight that God alone is God; there is none beside Him,” Devarim 4:35). Indeed, their knowledge of God was based on seeing.

    However, only once time in history did God enter the earthly present and reveal Himself — when laying the foundation for the creation of His people when He gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai. From then on, one generation will verbally tell another generation about that Revelation. This is a process of speech and hearing! And by means of this tradition, the revelation will remain the indisputable basis for all the thoughts and actions of every man of Israel. Therefore, “Hear, Oh Israel.” 

    Had we been instructed to “see,” man would have been led to search his experiences in nature and history for the existence of God, reaching conclusions only by speculative inference and deduction — mere belief. But our knowledge of God is bound with the certainty of revelation, rooted in a sensory perception which the entire nation experienced. Our ancestors saw God in nature and history when He redeemed them from Egypt. But they heard God when He gave them the Torah. This testimony, attested to by the entire nation – a unique experience in the world history – is the basis of our knowledge of our existence and our purpose.

    Best wishes from the AskTheRabbi.org Team