The Shema is probably Judaism’s best-known prayer, and you can find it right in this week’s Torah portion, Vaet-hanan. In fact, you can find the entire first paragraph of it, including Ve-ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). But there’s one sentence in our siddur, one that we recite right after the famous first line, that doesn’t appear in the Torah: “Barukh shem kevod malkhuto l’olam va’ed—Praised be God’s glorious sovereignty for all eternity.”
Where does that phrase come from, if not from the Torah? One of my favorite rabbinic midrashim tells a story that reminds me very much of what I’ve witnessed in camp this summer. It’s based on the final address that our patriarch Ya’akov makes on his deathbed to his sons, when he said, “Gather together that I may tell you what will befall you in the End of Days” (Genesis 49:1). Here’s the midrash:
“Ya’akov sought to reveal to his sons the End of Days, but the Shekhinah departed from him [and he lost the ability to prophesy]. He said, ‘Is there, Heaven forbid, some blemish in my family [that makes me unworthy of receiving God’s message]? That was what happened to Avraham, who brought forth Yishma’el, and to Yitzhak, from whom Esav came forth!’ His sons replied, ‘Shema, Yisrael—Hear, o [our father] Yisrael, Adonai is our God, Adonai alone.’ By this they meant to say: just as in your heart God is One, so in our hearts God is One. To this Ya’akov replied, ‘Praised be God’s glorious sovereignty for all eternity.’” (Devarim Rabbah 2:25)
We are truly Bnai Yisrael, descendants of Ya’akov/Yisrael. Just as we worry if our children will carry forward our spiritual inheritance, the gift we call Judaism, so did our ancestor for whom we are all named. And Ya’akov had cause for concern, knowing that his own twin brother and uncle declined to embrace the God of their ancestors. Having seen a 50 per cent dropout rate in the previous generations, he wondered aloud what would become of his children. “Don’t worry, Abba,” they say in unison.” We’ve learned your spiritual lessons well, and we pledge to carry them forward.”
I’m not only a congregational rabbi and Judaic mentor at camp, I’m also a Ramah Berkshires parent. I, too, hope that the Jewish values and observant lifestyle in which we’ve raised our kids and immersing them in the Ramah experience will inspire them to live similarly as they become emerging adults. I am like any other parent—a bit nervous! But I can report proudly that as I witnessed your children reading Eikhah on the stadium courts as we began to observe Tish’ah B’Av, when I see their responsiveness to engaging in Torah in our Yahadut sessions, and when I hear the energy of their singing Birkat Hamazon after meals, I hear them saying one singular thing: “Shema, Yisrael—Hear, my loving parent, descendant of Israel—you have taught me well, and chosen well by giving me the gift of Ramah.”
Trust me, they make me proud. I hope you share my pride.
Rabbi David Wise