Kavanah For Kriat Shema

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

The Mitzvah of reciting the Shema involves both the act of reciting a series of words as well as having the proper intention, namely, the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. We should note that the concept of Kavanah (proper intention) regarding Kriat Shema is fundamentally different than the concept of performing other Mitzvot. With respect for putting on Tefillin, for example, we must merely have an intention to act in accordance with the Divine Will of HaShem. By contrast, the Kavanah for Kriat Shema involves meditation and the turning and directing of the heart toward HaShem.

The specific Kavanah necessary for Shema involves “Avodah Sheh’baleiv”, service of the heart, which asserts itself in the great experience of the awareness of Gd and His closeness to us. Krias Shema does not demand the state of consciousness required for Shemoneh Esrei, as accepting the yoke of Heaven is not tantamount to entering the Divine Presence. No encounter takes place during Kriat Shema – the element of dialogue is lacking. Instead, the Kavanah of Kriat Shema expresses itself in the form of a declaration of faith.

The Rambam (Hichot Kriat Shema 1:2), in defining the essence of Kabalat Ohl Malchut Shamayim, (accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven), points to the first three pesukim of Shema which contain the basic principles that HaShem is One, that we must love Him, and that we must study His Torah, implying, that these are the three components of this acceptance. The most important of these three principles is the last, the need to study Torah.

(source: MiPeninei HaRav, p 28)

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

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