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Six Little Words

Friday, 30 April 2010

watch•word \wäch-wərd\ n (15c) 1 : a word or phrase used as a sign of recognition among members of the same society, class, or group 2 a : a word or motto that embodies a principle or guide to action of an individual or group : SLOGAN b : a guiding principle

I recently asked a room full of students if they could give me a definition of the word “watchword.” They couldn’t. After several awkward moments, a couple of the older students were able to mumble something that was in the vicinity of “slogan,” but it was clear that no one was able to provide a straightforward answer.

“We now declare the watchword of our faith.”

How many times have we heard this word used to describe the Sh’ma? How many times have we heard this word used to describe the Sh’ma and wondered what it really means?

1 : a word or phrase used as a sign of recognition among members of the same society, class, or group
The first line of the Sh’ma is often the first prayer that we learn. Traditionally recited upon retiring at night and rising in the morning, it is not surprising that even the youngest child knows the Sh’ma. One of the most moving parts of a conversion ceremony is when the candidate, embracing the Torah in his or her arms, proclaims the Sh’ma. It does indeed indicate membership in our Tribe.

2 a : a word or motto that embodies a principle or guide to action of an individual or group : SLOGAN
Those six Hebrew words comprise the core belief of Judaism; Listen, O Israel, the Eternal our God, the Eternal is One. One God. Our God. And, by implication, we are God’s People. This is how we see ourselves. In relation to the One God.

2 b : a guiding principle

The Sh’ma is the constant reminder we have of God’s Presence in our lives. Twice a day, at the very least, we declare our creed. It’s not for God’s Sake, but for our own. We need the reminder so that we conduct ourselves as is befitting of a people in Covenantal Relationship with the Holy One.

As we make our way through the days of Iyar and into the month of Sivan, we prepare ourselves to renew that Covenant. May our days be guided by those six Hebrew words.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Monday, 3 May 2010 8:28 pm

    this was lovely! as you know, i’m not always “at one” with formal prayer, but even i find comfort and spirituality in the sh’ma. interestingly enough, my kids do, too. we read the board book “tot shabbat” many, many times a day and when i sing the last part– a wave of total and complete peace takes over. just for that moment, but still, it’s peace!! thanks for this.

  2. Tuesday, 4 May 2010 3:58 pm

    Any chance I get to discuss the Shema I take it. When I teach in religious school or at dinner with my kids. I sometimes teach Hebrew to adults even conversational and I find myself discussing this prayer. Six little words of great significance. Thank Sarah for writing about it here.

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