Also known as Shabbat Nachamu, The Shabbat of Comfort after the Ninth of Av Vaethanan. Deuteronomy 3:23 - 8:11
by Rabbi Jeremy Rosen
The first is what we call the Ten Commandments, (Chapter 5:6-18) but they are ten core principles. The Hebrew Aseret HaDibrot translates as the Ten Statements or Declarations. And the Shema is the basis of our spiritual relationship with God.
The Ten Principles lay down the fundamentals of Judaism. The relationship with God, to exclude all other forms of worship is the foundation of Judaism. The idea is that there is an authority above humans even if it is not defined. And the idea of devoting time to a spiritual way of life. Then the relationship with other human beings, starting with our parents. These are the two pillars of Judaism, our relationship with God and with other human beings.
It is ironic that these fundamentals go back to the Israelites three thousand years ago and are accepted by mankind. Yet most Jews and non-Jews pay lip service to them and select which ones they follow according to their own wishes.
The Shema (Chapter 6:4-9) has become our declaration of faith. It is about our relationship with God on a personal level and emphasizes love as the basis of our relationship rather than fear. The Shema also underlines the importance of education. It is concerned with how to live now and how to pass our tradition on.
So how is it that now we have the custom of reciting the Shema before death? It goes back to Rabbi Akivah. He said the Shema as he was being tortured to death by the Romans. He told his pupils that he always wanted to be able to experience a loving relationship with God even in pain, and death. Because this would confirm whether he had made the right choices in life. Nowadays it is fashionable to talk about bucket lists. But they are for people who think about what they have missed out on in life, only in terms of material achievements.
Many years ago, as my late father knew he was dying, he said that his reaction to the news was that it made no difference to his life choices, and was determined to carry on teaching for as long as he could. He said the proof of whether you have made the right decisions in life is if, when faced with death, you change nothing. This is the test of one’s faith.
Jeremy Rosen was born in Manchester, England, the eldest son of Rabbi Kopul Rosen and Bella Rosen. Rosen's thinking was strongly influenced by his father, who rejected fundamentalist and obscurantist approaches in favour of being open to the best the secular world has to offer while remaining committed to religious life. He was first educated at Carmel College, the school his father had founded based on this philosophical orientation. At his father's direction, Rosen also studied at Be'er Yaakov Yeshiva in Israel (1957–1958 and 1960). He then went on to Merkaz Harav Kook (1961), and Mir Yeshiva (1965–1968) in Jerusalem, where he received semicha from Rabbi Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz in addition to Rabbi Dovid Povarsky of Ponevezh and Rabbi Moshe Shmuel Shapiro of Yeshivat Be'er Ya'akov. In between Rosen attended Cambridge University (1962–1965), graduating with a degree in Moral Sciences.