Shema – Aggadah


The Shema is a cornerstone of the faith of the Israelites and an essential component of the morning and evening prayers. The author will develop themes of faith and practice through 2 articles on this web site “Shema – The Mitzvoth” and “Shema –Aggadah”. This article will focus on the mitzvoth of the Shema from the lens of Aggadah through the pardes method of exposition, quoting from scripture, Talmud, Midrash, Zohar, Maimonides, and Shulchan Aruch.

The Shema consists of 3 paragraphs from the Torah. The following table shows the verse numbers and theme of each paragraph.

Verse NumbersTheme
Deuteronomy 6:4-9Acceptance of Hashem
Deuteronomy 11:13-21Acceptance of Mitzvoth
Numbers 15:37-41Tzitzit (Fringes)


The three paragraphs of the Shema contain 10 mitzvoth as listed by the Sefer HaChinukh which is a compendium and explanation of the 613 commandments of the Torah. The following table lists the number of the mitzvah from this reference, the actual mitzvah, and associated verse in the Torah. For ease of reference the mitzvoth are listed in the order of the Shema.

First Paragraph of Shema

417Believe in unity of HashemDeuteronomy 6:4
418Love HashemDeuteronomy 6:5
419Study the TorahDeuteronomy 6:7
420Recite the ShemaDeuteronomy 6:7
421Don Tefillin of the handDeuteronomy 6:8
422Don Tefillin of the headDeuteronomy 6:8
423Affix mezuzah to doorpostDeuteronomy 6:9

Second Paragraph of Shema

433Pray to HashemDeuteronomy 11:13

Third Paragraph of Shema

386Wear tzitzitNumbers 15:38
387Do not follow after desiresNumbers 15:39

The following paragraphs will explain each mitzvah and examine them in the reciprocal relationship between Hashem and the Israelites. 

Believe in Unity of Hashem

The Torah commands the Israelites to believe in the unity of Hashem as master of the world.  Hence Judaism does not accept any partnership with Hashem in a divine sense (e.g. trinity) as the verse states Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel (שמע ישראל ): Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one (אחד)”. Maimonides (Laws of Fundamentals of Torah 1:7) writes, “Hashem is one and not two or more. Hashem is unified in a manner which surpasses any unity that is found in the world … and not like a body that is divided into different portions and dimensions.”

The author would like to point out the gematria of the word שמע (410) is the same as the word קדוש (holy) meaning that Israelites shall strive for holiness as the verse states (Exodus 19:6), “You (Israelites) shall be unto Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation.” It is interesting to note that this is the first time the word קדוש (holy) appears in the Torah. This sets the connotation for this word in terms of holiness for the nation of Israelites based upon accepting ad fulfilling the mitzvoth of the Torah. This verse also precedes the giving of the Torah at Sinai.    

The Hebrew word (אחד) meaning one or unity is composed of individual letters each with their own numerical value (gematria) and interpretation as shown in the following table. (The technique of gematria applies both to the word in total and individual letters.)

LetterNumerical ValueMeaning
א1Hashem is one
ח8Hashem rules over the 7 heavens and earth (7+1=8)
ד4Hashem rules over the 4 directions of the earth

The Talmud (Chagigah 12b) defines the roles of each of the seven spiritual heavens.

The Zohar (2:160b) notes that, in the Torah scroll, the letters ד,ע of the opening (שמע) and closing (אחד) words of the 1st verse of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4) are written in a larger font to spell the word עד (testimony or witness). This implies that an Israelite bears witness to Hashem’s unity by reciting the Shema. In turn the Shechinah bears testimony to Hashem about those who declare His (divine) unity. In addition the Zohar (ibid.) notes that the 6 words in this verse allude to the six directions (i.e. 4 cardinal directions, above, and below) meaning that by reciting this verse one acknowledges Hashem’s presence and unity in the universe. The Zohar (2:161a) then quotes Isaiah 49:3, “Hashem said to me (Isaiah), “You are My (divine) servant, Israel, about whom I will take pride.”

Following the approach of the Zohar to permute letters, the word עבדי may be split into 2 words עד בי, meaning in me is testimony, implying that one who recites the first verse of the Shema with the proper concentration bears testimony to Hashem and thereby is considered as a servant of Hashem.          

The Zohar (3:258a) permutes the 6 letters of these words to obtain the following words עד (testimony) and אשמח (I will rejoice). (This permutation only works with the original Hebrew text and does not apply to other languages). These words show that declaring unity of Hashem should be performed with joy as expressed by Kind David (Psalms 104:34), “May my speech be pleasing to Him; I shall rejoice (אשמח) with Hashem.”

Appendix 1 “Secrets of the Shema” provides additional expositions on the first verse of the Shema.   

Relationship with Hashem

The Talmud (Chagigah 3a) notes the reciprocal relationship between Hashem and the Israelites with respect to the mitzvah of believing in the unity (or uniqueness) of Hashem. Hashem said to the Israelites, “You (Israelites) have made Me (Hashem) unique (חטיבה אחת ) in this world through the first verse of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), “Hear, O Israel (שמע ישראל ): Hashem is our G-d, Hashem is one (אחד)”. Therefore I (Hashem) will make you (Israelites) unique in this world as the verse states (1 Chronicles 17:21), “Who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the world?”

The Talmud uses the unusual wording (אחת חטיבה) (literally one cutting) to express this uniqueness leading to the following interpretations:

MaharshaChopping (wood)Separate
Iyun YaakovCutting (covenant) Everlasting

Rashi understands this wording as praise because the Talmud previously quotes Deuteronomy 26:17-18 which expresses mutual praise between Hashem and the Israelites. By contrast the Maharsha explains that the word חטיבה is derived from the root חטב, to chop as in Deuteronomy (29:10) מחטב עציך , (hewer of your wood), which means to separate, implying that the Israelites are separate from the nations of the world. The commentator Iyun Yaakov connects the root word חטב to כרת (cut or make a covenant) implying that Hashem made a unique and everlasting covenant with the Israelites. The verse states (Exodus 34:10), “Hashem promised: I will make a covenant (כרת ברית ); in the presence of all your people (Israelites). I will make distinctions … upon all the earth and among all the nations.”  

In a similar vein the Midrash (Song of Songs Rabbah 2:16:1 or 2:34) relates the uniqueness of Hashem through Deuteronomy 6:4 to the uniqueness of the Israelites (2 Samuel 7:23), “Who is like Your people, Israel, a unique nation in the world, whom Hashem redeemed from Egypt?”   

This reciprocity extends to the ideal of holiness because Hashem commands the Israelites to be holy because Hashem is holy (Leviticus 19:2) meaning that the divine soul granted to man by Hashem seeks holiness. 

Love Hashem

Man’s Duties

The verse states (ibid. 6:5), “You shall love Hashem … with all your heart, soul, and resources”, thus commanding the Israelites to perform commandments with love and not by rote. The Talmud (Berachot 54b) precisely defines the terms “heart, soul, and resources” of this verse as follows:

Term – EnglishTerm – HebrewInterpretation
HeartלבבךSubdue the evil inclination
ResourcesמאדךSacrifice of Money

Subdue the Evil Inclination

Hashem created man with dual inclinations, labeled by the Talmud (ibid.) as good and evil. The Hebrew word לבבך (your heart in English) alludes to this duality with the additional letter (ב). The good inclination also called the divine soul naturally seeks spirituality by serving the creator with love and enthusiasm. The evil inclination also called the animal soul seeks physicality by pursuing earthly desires (e.g. marital relations, food, and entertainment.) In reality animal desires are not inherently evil because Hashem created man with this inclination. Rather one serves Hashem with this inclination by first controlling it, then sublimation, and finally transformation to good. Failure to control this inclination leads to evil, hence the term evil inclination. 


The Torah commands an Israelite to love Hashem with all his heart, soul (נפשך), and resources. The Talmud (Berachot 54a and Sanhedrin 74a) defines loving Hashem with the soul, as avoiding idolatry even if it involves martyrdom. In addition to idolatry the Torah commands Israelites to offer their lives in the face of murder and some forbidden marital relations. There are many details in the laws of martyrdom which are explained in the article “Sanctification of Hashem” on this web site:

Sacrifice of Money

The Talmud (Berachot 54a) interprets the word resources (מאדך) as referring to money or wealth.  Targum Onkelos and Targum Yonatan ben Uziel understand this word “resources” as referring to property or money, respectively. The Talmud (ibid. 61b) asks, “Why does the Torah mention money with respect to the love of Hashem? If the Torah commands martyrdom to avoid transgressing a major commandment then certainly one must give his money to avoid transgressing this commandment.” The Talmud answers that some people value their money over their lives. The Rema on Yoreh Deah 157:1 rules that one must sacrifice his wealth rather than transgressing any negative commandment, not just idolatry. 

Levels of the Soul

The Midrash (Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:37), elaborates on loving Hashem with all your soul to allude to the 5 mystical levels of the soul. An article on this web site “Five Levels of the Soul” discusses this topic in depth:

The Talmud (Berachot 10a) lists the 5 attributes of the soul which corresponds to the number of times the expression “Let my soul bless (Hashem)” (נפשי ברכי) appears in the book of Psalms (i.e. 103,1, 2, and 22, 104:1 and 35). The number 5 may also allude to the 5 levels of the soul.

The following table lists the attributes of the soul including the order in which they appear in the Talmud and Midrash (ibid.) to highlight the difference between the two sources.

1Fills the body1Fills the body
2Sees but not seen6Sees but not seen
3Sustains the body2Sustains the body
4Is Pure5Is Pure
5Enclosed in hidden rooms3Unique
N/AN/A4Never Sleeps

The expression “Enclosed in Hidden Rooms” may refer to the soul’s ability to connect with Hashem to understand the mysteries of the physical and spiritual worlds. Perhaps the Midrash chooses 6 attributes of the soul to correspond to the six words of the 1st verse of the Shema.

Both the Talmud and Midrash draw a comparison between the divine soul and Hashem in that the soul fills the body, sees but is not seen, sustains the body with life, and is pure. The two sources differ in that the soul is enclosed in hidden rooms (Talmud) and is unique and never sleeps (Midrash). Similarly by means of analogy Hashem has these properties in reference to the physical world. Since it is impossible to accurately describe Hashem, the analogy provides a framework to understand how Hashem interacts with man through the five levels of the soul.

Love of People

In addition to loving Hashem, the Sifrei (Deuteronomy Paragraph 33) advises that one should follow the example of Abraham who made Hashem beloved to the people of his generation through his personality, kindness, and religious convictions. Abraham was able to influence people to abandon idolatry and embrace monotheism. The Torah alludes to this influence in (Genesis 12:5), “The souls they (Abraham and Sarah) had acquired (literally made) in Haran.  Targum Onkelos on this verse translates the word “made” as converted to monotheism.

In a similar vein, the Talmud (Yoma 86a) states, “You shall make the name of Heaven beloved by influencing others. How should one do so? One should read the Torah, learn the Mishna, and serve Torah scholars (i.e. Talmud). In addition he should be pleasant with people in his business transactions. What do people say about such a person? Fortunate is his father who taught him Torah, fortunate is his teacher who taught him Torah (including Mishna), woe to the people who have not studied Torah. This person who studied Torah, see how pleasant are his ways and proper are his deeds. The verse (Isaiah 49:3) states about him and others like him: You are My (divine) servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.”

Reciprocal Love

In addition to the Israelites loving Hashem, Hashem reciprocates by loving the Israelites. The author provides examples from:

  • Scripture
  • Prayers
  • Zohar


The Torah indicates that Hashem loves the Israelites because of the patriarchs and the potential of their descendants.

Deuteronomy 4:37 – “He (Hashem), who loved your forefathers, chose their descendants. Therefore Hashem brought you out of Egypt … with His (divine) great strength.”  

Deuteronomy 7:7-8 – “Not because you are more numerous than any people did Hashem desire and choose you (Israelites), for you are the fewest of all peoples. Rather because of Hashem’s love and the oath He swore to your forefathers.”

Malachi 1:2-3 – “Hashem said: I loved you (Israelites). (In turn) you said: How have You loved us?  Hashem responded: Was not Esau a brother to Jacob? Yet I loved Jacob and hated Esau.” 

In these two verses Hashem expresses his love for Jacob and his descendants and dislike of Esau and his descendants even though Jacob and Esau were twins. The preference is not based upon racial lines since the descendants of Jacob and Esau are both Semitic. Rather the preference is based upon religious conviction and consequent actions with Jacob’s descendants embracing monotheism and the ways of the Torah. By contrast Esau’s descendants were idolaters and prone to war (Numbers 20:18).


The sages of the second temple era instituted blessings immediately before and after the Shema which emphasize the love of Hashem for the Israelites by giving them the Torah and its commandments. The evening blessing begins, “With an everlasting love You (Hashem) have loved the House of Israel, Your nation.” This blessing concludes, “Blessed are You (Hashem) Who loves His nation Israel.” For the morning blessing there are different versions for Ashkenazi and Sephardic liturgies. According to the former practice the morning blessing begins, “With an abundant love You (Hashem) have loved us.” According to the latter practice the blessing begins, “With an everlasting love You (Hashem) You have loved us.” According to both practices the blessing concludes, “Blessed are You (Hashem) who chooses His nation (Israel) with love.” The Talmud (Berachot 11b) indicates that the expression “With an everlasting love” is derived from Jeremiah 31:2, “With everlasting love I (Hashem) have loved you. Therefore I (Hashem) have drawn you (Israelites) to Me with kindness.”      

Although Hashem’s love of Israel is everlasting, the Torah in several places (e.g. Leviticus 26:14-43 and Deuteronomy 28:15-68) warns the Israelites of Hashem’s extreme corrective action if they do not follow the laws of the Torah. During this corrective action Hashem will even allow the enemies of Israel to rejoice when they subjugate them as the verse (Deuteronomy 28:63) says,” It will be, just as Hashem rejoiced over you for your benefit … so will the Hashem cause (your enemies) to rejoice over you to annihilate you.” The Talmud (Megillah 10b) notes that although the words “your enemies” are not mentioned in the verse they are implied because Hashem cannot rejoice over the suffering of Israel.  Hence this action is corrective and not vindictive as the verse states (Deuteronomy 8:5), “Just as a man chastises his son, so does Hashem, chastise you.” In addition Hashem has guaranteed the survival of the Israelites as the verse states (Leviticus 26:44), “Despite all of this (corrective action mentioned in the previous verses) …I (Hashem) will not despise nor reject them (Israelites) to annihilate them. (Since) I will not break My covenant with them (which is everlasting).”   

Zohar (2:163a)

The Zohar (ibid.) provides a colourful parable highlighting the struggle between the good vs. evil inclinations and the great reward for subduing the latter. Outside of the palace of the king lived a beautiful courtesan. The king said, “I want to test the will of my son regarding me (i.e. can he refrain from sinning with her).” Then he summoned the courtesan and said to her, “Go and seduce my son, so I can test him.” Following the king’s command she tried to seduce the son by hugging and kissing him. If the son is proper he will obey the will of his father and avoid her advances. Therefore the king will be happy with his son, permit him to enter the inner hall, and receive gifts with honour. If the son is not proper, he will sin with the courtesan and lose the great reward.

In this parable the king represents Hashem, the son refers to the Israelites, and the courtesan plays the role of the evil inclination. Although Hashem wants to grant great reward in the world to come, the Israelites must earn this reward by subduing the evil inclination. In this vein the Mishna states (Avot 5:23 in the printed Mishna and 5:26 in the prayer book), “According to the effort (literally pain) is the reward” or in the vernacular “No pain no gain.”   

Connection of Mitzvoth

The author would like to point out a connection between the mitzvah of believing in the unity of Hashem and the love of Hashem through a shared gematria of 13, namely one (אחד) and love (אהבה).  Hence the belief in the unity of Hashem should lead to love of Hashem because there is no other supreme being as the verse states (Deuteronomy 4:39), “You shall know this day and consider it in your heart, that Hashem is in heaven above and upon the earth below. There is none else. “   

The mitzvah of loving Hashem is a broad topic and is dealt in depth on this website:

Study the Torah

The Torah cites the mitzvah of studying the Torah (Deuteronomy 6:7), “You shall teach them to your sons and speak of them when you sit in your house”, in terms of teaching one’s sons. Of course one cannot teach unless one has studied the subject.   

The Sifrei (Deuteronomy Paragraph 33) asks, “How does one love Hashem?” The Sifrei (ibid.) answers that that through the study of the Torah one recognizes Hashem and attaches to His (divine) ways, thereby linking the mitzvah of studying the Torah to the adjacent mitzvah of loving Hashem.

The Talmud (Kiddushin 30b) states that studying Torah is the best antidote against the evil inclination. If one studies Torah, he will not be delivered into the hands of the evil inclination. This does not mean that one who studies Torah is not tempted and will never sin. Rather this person will have a stronger resistance to temptation and can recover quickly from stumbling since he is more concerned with Torah study than material pursuits.     

The Talmud (Kiddushin 30a) notes that the Torah uses the word ושננתם instead of the usual word for teaching ולמדתם to emphasize that teaching must lead to a thorough knowledge of the subject as the Talmud relates “If someone asks you a question answer him immediately.” In addition the word ושננתם derives from the root שנן which means to sharpen indicating that study must lead to sharpness in Torah. In fact the Talmud (Taanit 7a) compares Torah study in pairs or in groups to sharpening knives (i.e. one against the other). The student should also be taught in a manner that leads to joy in Torah study and should not be seen as a burden (Zohar 3:269a). Hence the Zohar (ibid.) advises the parent or teacher to act as a role model otherwise the student may lose interest in his Torah studies as the verse says (Deuteronomy 6:7), “Speak of them (words of Torah) when you sit in your house, and when you walk on the way” or in the vernacular “Walk the talk”. 

The author would like to add that the gematria of the word ושננתם (846) is the same as לעשותם meaning to perform them (the mitzvoth) and תולדות meaning generations, implying that serious Torah study should lead to observance of the mitzvoth and continuity of this observance through one’s offspring or students.

Secrets of the Torah

Man is naturally inclined to attempt to understand the mysteries of life by his innate intelligence and divine soul. Although there are many verses in scripture that refer to these mysteries (e.g. Ezekiel 1:1-28) the author will focus on a verse in Psalms which refers to the secrets of the Torah using the following sources:

  • Scripture with commentaries (Psalms 25:14).
  • Zohar (2:234a).
  • Tanya (Chapter 10).


The verse reads, “The secret of Hashem is with those who revere Him. His covenant is to let them know it.” Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak), medieval biblical commentator and philosopher, explains that Hashem will only reveal the secrets of the Torah to those that study the Torah seriously and follow its commandments.


In a similar vein, the Zohar states that the secrets of the highest abode are reserved for those that continually revere Hashem. However the revealed Torah, which relates to the covenant of Sinai, is available to all students of the Torah.            


In his work, Likutei Amarim Tanya, the founder of Chabad Hassidut, discusses the different levels of righteous people in terms of initially subduing and then transforming the evil inclination. The completely righteous person has fully transformed the evil inclination into good meaning that this person has no interest in physical pleasures and only strives to serve Hashem through studying Torah and fulfilling its commandments. The Tanya calls these righteous individuals “men of elevation” (בני עליה) based upon the Talmud (Succah 45b). Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar, notes that men of elevation are exceedingly rare and states that if there were only two in his generation that reached this level it would be himself and his son. Therefore it is fitting that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai was privileged to receive the secrets of the Torah and record some of them in the Zohar based upon the verse in Psalms 25:14, “The secret of Hashem is with those who revere Him (i.e. man of elevation).” The Tanya also mentions that there are different levels of the righteous and correspondingly Hashem will reveal the secrets of the Torah at different levels of depth.   

Recite the Shema

The Torah states (Deuteronomy 6:7), “You shall teach them to your sons and speak of them … ודברת when you lie down (i.e. in the evening) and when you rise up (i.e. in the morning).” At a literal level, the verse means that one should speak words of Torah every day (i.e. evening and morning). Since Torah study also applies in the afternoon the Talmud (Berachot 21a) interprets this verse as referring to the mitzvah of reciting the Shema.


The following table shows the order of the Shema, verse numbers, theme of each paragraph, and order in the Torah.

Order in ShemaVerse NumbersThemeOrder in Torah
1Deuteronomy 6:4-9Acceptance of Hashem2
2Deuteronomy 11:13-21Acceptance of Mitzvoth3
3Numbers 15:37-41Tzitzit (Fringes)1

The Sefer Chinuch (Mitva 420) explains that Hashem commanded the Israelites to declare His sovereignty and unity twice daily to counteract man’s tendency towards physicality.

Gematria of 612

The following table shows how the gematria of the word ודברת (you shall speak) (i.e. 612) applies to the 3 paragraphs of the Shema. The table includes the paragraph number of the Shema, word or phrase with a gematria of 612, associated verse, and theme the word or phrase.

ParagraphWord or PhraseVerseTheme
1ברית (Covenant)Deuteronomy 5:2Accept Torah
2ברית (Covenant)Deuteronomy 7:2Avoid Idolatry
3 כל מצות י-ה-ו-ה Numbers 15:39Accept Mitzvoth
Accept Torah

The verse reads Deuteronomy 5:2, “Hashem our G-d made a covenant (ברית) with us in Horeb (Sinai) indicating that reciting the Shema reinforces the covenant between Hashem and the Israelites. In addition the previous verse (ibid. 5:1) uses the expression “Hear O Israel” connecting this covenant to the Shema. The full verse follows (ibid. 5:1), “Moses called all Israel and said to them: Hear, O Israel (שמע ישראל ), the statutes and ordinances which I speak … learn them and observe them.” Furthermore these verses precede the 10 commandments fortifying the link between the Shema and these commandments as elaborated in the article “Shema – Ten Commandments” on this web site.

Avoid Idolatry

The second paragraph of the Shema contains a warning against idolatry as the verse states (ibid. 11:16), “Beware, lest your heart be misled … and worship idolatrous gods and bow down to them.”The Torah (ibid. 7:2) similarly warns against idolatry by forbidding the Israelites to make a covenant with the Canaanites as the verse states, “You shall utterly destroy them and not make a covenant ברית with them.” Hence the gematria of 612 links the word ודברת (you shall speak) to ברית (covenant) reinforcing the warning against idolatry in the Shema.

Accept Mitzvoth

The third paragraph of the Shema exhorts the Israelites to perform all of the mitzvoth of Hashem as the verse commands (Number 15:39), “You should remember all the commandments of Hashem (כל מצות י-ה-ו-ה) to perform them.” The gematria of the expression “all the commandments” in Hebrew is 612 which is the same as ודברת (you shall speak) implying that reciting the Shema and wearing tzitzit causes one to reflect on the commandments of Hashem as explained in the section “Wear Tzitzit” in this article.     

Don Tefillin of the Hand   

The Torah states (Deuteronomy 6:8),” You shall bind them for a sign upon your hand.” The Talmud (Menachot 34b) interprets this sign as the hand tefillin (phylactery).  Although the Torah did not describe the nature of the “sign upon your hand” the oral Torah defines this sign as a black leather casing containing 4 paragraphs from the Torah with leather straps to attach to the arm.


The casing holds one piece of parchment which contains the 4 paragraphs that mention tefillin.  The following table shows the order of these paragraphs as they occur in the Torah, the verse numbers, and the theme of the paragraphs.

1Exodus 13:1-10Exodus from Egypt – Laws of Passover
2Exodus 13:11-16Exodus from Egypt – Laws of Firstborn
3Deuteronomy 6:4-9Acceptance of Hashem
4Deuteronomy 11:13-21Acceptance of Mitzvoth

Rationale of Mitzvah

The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 421) provides a rationale for the mitzvah of donning tefillin as follows: “By nature man is a material being and therefore drawn to physicality. However Hashem has implanted in man a divine soul which seeks spiritually. Hashem commanded Israelites to don tefillin on weekdays as a reminder to serve Him before their activities. In a similar vein, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 25:5) elaborates, “When a person dons tefillin he should realize that Hashem commands Israelites to wear these four paragraphs of the Torah that refer to the unity of Hashem (3rd paragraph) and the exodus from Egypt (1st and 2nd paragraphs). The 4th paragraph refers to the acceptance of Mitzvoth. This teaches that Hashem rules over the upper and lower worlds.”

Relationship with Hashem

Hashem commanded the Israelites to don tefillin to express their love of Hashem and commitment to perform the mitzvoth. The Talmud (Berachot 6a) provides a striking anthropomorphism by stating that, so to speak, Hashem dons tefillin to express His love of the Israelites and His commitment to protect them against their enemies. Of course Hashem does not tefillin in a physical sense. Rather the sages of the Talmud wanted to convey the mystical power of tefillin which bridges the physical and spiritual worlds.

Don Tefillin of the Head

The Torah states (Deuteronomy 6:8),” They shall be an ornament between your eyes.” The Talmud (Menachot 35a) interprets this ornament as the head tefillin (phylactery).  Although the Torah did not describe the nature of this “ornament” the oral Torah defines this sign as a black leather casing with straps to fasten to the head containing the same 4 paragraphs of the hand tefillin. The casing consists of 4 separate compartments with each compartment holding a different parchment for each of the 4 paragraphs of the Torah which mention tefillin.


The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 25:5) explains that one dons the head tefillin to direct the divine soul located in the brain to serve Hashem.    

Relationship with Hashem

As explained above, the 4 paragraphs of the head tefillin are placed in separate compartments. By analogy, the Talmud (ibid.) further asks, “Which sections of scripture are placed in each of the 4 compartments of Hashem’s tefillin?” This means which verses from scripture emphasize Hashem’s love and protection of the Israelites. This love also includes giving of the Torah so that the Israelites may attain a relationship with Hashem by studying the Torah and fulfilling its commandments. The following table lists the verses, in the order as they appear in the Talmud, by theme and number. The Talmud (ibid.) notes that by analogy the same verses appear in Hashem’s tefillin of the hand.

NumberVersesTheme (of Israel)
1Deuteronomy 4:7-8Love and Torah
21 Chronicles 17:21 and Deuteronomy 33:29Love and Protection
3Deuteronomy 4:34Protection
4Deuteronomy 26:19Love and Holiness

The verses follow:

Deuteronomy 4:7-8 – “For which is a great nation (Israel) that G-d is near to it, as Hashem whenever we call upon Him? Which great nation that has righteous statutes and ordinances, as this entire Torah, which I (Hashem) set before you this day?”

1 Chronicles 17:21 – “Who is like Your (divine) people Israel, one nation in the world, whom G-d redeemed as a people. He drove nations from before Your (divine), who redeemed you from Egypt.”

Deuteronomy 33:29 – “Fortunate are you, O Israel! Who is like you, a people delivered by Hashem, a shield of your help … your majestic Sword! Your enemies will try to deceive you, but you will trample their mighty ones.”

Deuteronomy 4:34 – “Or has any god miraculously taken a nation from the midst of another nation, with trials, signs, wonders, and war … as Hashem did for you in Egypt?”

Deuteronomy 26:19 – “Hashem will make you supreme … that you will be a holy people to Hashem.”

The 4 paragraphs of the tefillin of the Israelites all come from the Pentateuch of which 2 are from Exodus and 2 from Deuteronomy. By contrast the 4 paragraphs of Hashem’s tefillin come from both the Pentateuch, all from the book of Deuteronomy, and the holy writings (i.e. Book of Chronicles). In the opinion of the author these verses reflect man’s involvement with scripture because Moses wrote the book of Deuteronomy under divine inspiration and guidance (Talmud Megillah 31b) and Ezra the scribe wrote the Book of Chronicles (Bava Batra 15a). Hence Hashem expresses his love of the Israelites and their protection through verse written by the Israelites.

Affix mezuzah to doorpost

The Torah states (Deuteronomy 6:9), “You shall write them (the following two paragraphs) upon the doorposts of your house and gates.” The Talmud (Menachot 34a) explains that an Israelite should affix a mezuzah to doorposts and gates. In contrast to tefillin, the mezuzah scroll contains two paragraphs because the Torah only mentions the mezuzah in these paragraphs as follows:     

1Deuteronomy 6:4-9Acceptance of Hashem
2Deuteronomy 11:13-21Acceptance of Mitzvoth


The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 423) provides a rationale for the mitzvah of mezuzah as follows: “An Israelite should remember Hashem every time he enters or leaves his house.”

Maimonides (Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah 6:13) writes, “A person must show great care in the observance of the mitzvah of mezuzah, because it is an obligation which is constantly incumbent upon everyone. Whenever a person enters or leaves a house, he will encounter the unity of the name of Hashem and remember his love for Him. Thus, he will awake from his sleep and his obsession with the vanities of time, and recognize that there is nothing which lasts for eternity except the knowledge of the Creator of the world. This will motivate him to regain full awareness and follow the paths of the upright.”

Long Life

The Torah (Deuteronomy 11:20-21) promises a long life by observing the mitzvah of mezuzah, “You shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and gates which will prolong your days and the days of your children on the land which the Hashem promised to your forefathers.” The reward of a long physical life may not be literal because the Talmud (Moed Katan 28a) states, “Length of life, number of children, and livelihood do not depend on one’s merit, but rather depend upon one’s destiny (which is determined by Hashem).”  Ritva explains that this statement from the Talmud should be understood as “Length of life does not depend upon one’s merit alone but also upon one’s destiny”. Hence it is possible to change one’s destiny through great merit. However the Tosafot (Shabbat 156a) point out that in some cases even great merit may not change one’s destiny fully (e.g. from poverty to wealth) as many Torah scholars were not wealthy.  

Based upon the above discussion of destiny vs. merit, the author would like to explain the expression “long life” of Deuteronomy 11:21 as quality of life for the householder and his family as the verse (ibid.) says, “Prolong your days and the days of your children.”   

Relationship with Hashem

The Talmud (Avodah Zara 11a) notes that the mezuzah provides divine protection for the houses of the Israelites. When the Roman emperor prepared to arrest Onkelos after converting to Judaism in his defense he offered the following parable to the emperor’s soldiers. The way of the world is that a mortal king resides in his palace with his servants standing guard outside protecting him. However with regard to the Holy One, Blessed be He the situation is reversed.  His servants (i.e. Israelites) live inside their homes and He guards them outside (via the mezuzah) as the verse states (Psalms 121:8), “Hashem will guard your going out and coming in (via the mezuzah).” Upon hearing this, the soldiers also converted to Judaism. After that, the emperor sent no more soldiers after Onkelos.

The Torah provides a similar example of divine protection in the book of Exodus where Hashem commands the Israelites to place some of the blood of the paschal lamb on the doorpost and lintel (ibid. 12:7). In verse 23 the Torah states, “(When) Hashem will smite the Egyptians (i.e. plague of killing the firstborn), He will see the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, pass over the entrance, and will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses to smite you.” It is interesting to note that the Torah in Exodus uses the word המזוזת for the doorpost which is similar to the word used in Deuteronomy 6:9 מזזות and 11:20 מזוזות thereby linking the mezuzah to divine protection.

The protection mentioned in these verses is not unconditional. Rather it is dependent upon the observance of the Israelites as the verse says (Deuteronomy 28:19), “You shall be cursed when you come and cursed when you leave (when the Israelites are not following the ways of Hashem).”   

Pray to Hashem

The Torah (Deuteronomy 11:13) states, “Serve (worship) Him (Hashem) with all your heart and soul.”Since this verse mentions the heart the Talmud interprets this service as prayer (Taanit 2a).


The Sefer HaChinukh (Mitzvah 433) explains the mitzvah of prayer as follows, “The blessings from Hashem are dependent upon proper acts and thoughts of people. Therefore a person should pray to Hashem, the source of blessings, to receive divine grace and realize that all comes from Hashem.”

In contrast to the recitation of the Shema which uses a biblical text, the mitzvah of prayer as commanded from the Torah, does not require a fixed text. Rather each person may pray according to the devotion of his heart, hence the expression “service of the heart”. At the time of the second temple Ezra and his court saw that the Israelites could not express themselves in prayer in a coherent language. Therefore they established eighteen blessings in sequence which constitutes the Amidah prayer.

Importance of Prayer

The Talmud (Berachot 32b) that prayer is more important than temple offerings by quoting verses from Isaiah chapter 1 as follows:

Verse 11 – “Hashem says: Why do I need your many sacrifices? I am sated (meaning fed up) with burnt-offerings of rams and the fat of well fed cattle. I do not want the blood of bulls, sheep, and male goats.”

Verse 15 – “Even when you pray at length, I do not hear because your hands are full of blood.”

Maharsha (ibid.) comments on the difference in the wording between the 2 verses. In the former verse Hashem rejects the offerings. By contrast in the latter verse Hashem will not listen to the prayers but does not reject them.  

The Talmud (ibid.) continues, “Since the day the Temple was destroyed the gates of prayer are locked and prayer is not accepted as before, as the verse states (Lamentations 3:8): Though I cry out and plead (in prayer), He (Hashem) shuts out my prayer. Even though the gates of prayer appear to be fully locked, the gates of tears are not locked. Therefore one who cries before God may rest assured that his prayers will be answered, as the verse says (Psalms 39:13): Hashem, hear my prayer, hearken to my cry, and be not silent to my tears.”

In a similar vein the Mishna (Avot 2:13 in printed Mishna 2:18 in prayer book) states, “Do not pray by rote. Rather pray by seeking compassion and supplicate before Hashem as the verse states (Joel 2:13): Rend your hearts and not your garments, and return to Hashem. For Hashem is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in kindness, and willing to withhold punishment.”

The reader may ask, “What is the purpose of prayer since Hashem has the power to alter any decrees whether a person prays or not?” In addition Hashem does not need a reminder to bestow His blessings. The Talmud (Yevamot 64a) addresses this question and first asks, “Why were some of our forefathers and matriarchs initially infertile?” The Talmud answers that Hashem desires the prayers of the righteous, and therefore wanted them to pray for children. Similarly asks the Talmud (ibid.), “Why the prayers of the righteous are compared to a pitchfork (עתר)?” The Talmud answers that just as a pitchfork turns over produce from one place to another, so the prayers of the righteous turn over the attributes of Hashem from strict justice to mercy.The Maharsha (ibid.) adds that just as the pitchfork separates wheat from chaff for sustenance so the prayers of the righteous bring blessings to the world.

The Talmud notes the unusual word for prayer in Genesis 25:21 when Isaac prayed for a child,” Isaac prayed (ויעתר) to Hashem … because she was barren, Hashem accepted (ויעתר) his prayer and Rebecca conceived.”Hence the Talmud links prayer to a pitchfork.  

Relationship with Hashem

Hashem commanded the Israelites to pray to express their love of Hashem, commitment to perform the mitzvoth, and dependence on His blessings of health and sustenance. The Talmud (Berachot 7a) provides a striking anthropomorphism by stating that, so to speak, Hashem prays to have mercy on the world and not judge mankind to the strict letter of the law. Of course Hashem does not pray in a literal sense because there is no ultimate power other than Hashem. Rather the sages of the Talmud wanted to convey the mystical power of prayer which bridges the physical and spiritual worlds.

The citation follows, “From where is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays? The verse (Isaiah 56:7) states: I will bring them to My (divine) holy mountain (in Jerusalem) and gladden them in the house of My prayer. The verse does not say the house of their prayer (referring to people) but rather, “the house of My prayer”. From here we see that the Holy One, Blessed be He, prays.” At a literal level, the verse calls the temple the “house of My prayer” to emphasize that the temple is not the personal possession of any man. Rather it is a place of prayer and offerings directed to Hashem for all of the nations of the world as the verse continues, “Their elevation and feast offerings shall be acceptable upon My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all people (and not just the Israelites).” The Maharsha (ibid.) adds that the expression “house of My prayer” may also refer to the heavenly temple which is a counterpart of the temple in Jerusalem thereby linking the physical and spiritual worlds.    

Prayer of Hashem

The Talmud continues on this theme and asks, “What does Hashem actually pray?” The Talmud answers, “May it be My (divine) will that My mercy overcomes My strict justice towards Israel for their transgressions. May I treat them with mercy and not according to the exacting letter of the law.”   

Certainly Hashem does not need to pray to act mercifully because who can counteract Hashem’s will? Rather the Talmud uses a figure of speech to convey the message that Hashem desires to act mercifully and bestow blessing on Israel. However the Israelites must deserve these blessings. In effect Hashem is not praying to act mercifully. Rather Hashem, so to speak, requests the Israelites to act properly and Hashem will bestow the blessings (Rashba and Anaf Yosef ibid.). Moses expresses the same sentiment in Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call upon heaven and earth to bear witness. I have placed life and death before you, the blessing and the curse. Choose life (i.e. follow the Torah), so that you and your offspring will live.” The next verse states,” Love Hashem to listen to His voice cleave to Him. For Hashem is your life and length of days.” The Talmud (Berachot 33b) similarly states, “All is in the hands of heaven except for reverence of heaven.” This maxim means that Hashem granted man free will to follow or not follow Hashem’s ways. Since the choice is somewhat difficult, because of the evil inclination, Hashem has a unique treasure in the world to come for those who revere Him as the verse (Isaiah 33:6) says, “Reverence for Hashem is His (divine) treasure.”

Similarly the Talmud (Berachot 7a) relates that one time the high priest entered the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement to offer incense. He experienced a vision where Hashem asked him for a blessing (so to speak). The high priest then used the text of Hashem’s prayer as stated above (i.e. to act mercifully with the Israelites). Hashem nodded His head in approval and accepted the blessing. The commentator Anaf Yosef (ibid.) notes that the high priest did not directly bless Hashem; rather he made a request. He explains that Hashem wants to bless the Israelites when they follow the Torah and that is a “blessing to Hashem” so to speak.

Of course this passage of the Talmud is not literal because Hashem does not need a blessing nor is Hashem physical. Rather the sages of the Talmud emphasized the special relationship between Hashem and Israelites in reference to the power of prayer. This incident represents the pinnacle of connection to Hashem through holiness (viz. high priest, holiest place in the world – Holy of Holies, holiest day of the year – Day of Atonement). From this example of holiness one can visualize a relationship with Hashem each at his own level.      

Wear Tzitzit

The Torah (Numbers 15:38) commands the Israelites to wear fringes on a four cornered garment, “Speak to the children of Israel … to make fringes on the corners of their garments.”

Blue Thread – תכלת

In addition the Torah (ibid.) adds a requirement to affix a blue thread (תכלת) on each corner. The Talmud explains that this dye is derived from a mollusk which lives in the Mediterranean Sea near the northern coast of Israel. For centuries the identity of this mollusk and method of dyeing the wool was forgotten. In recent times there has been considerable interest and scientific investigation into the mollusk and dyeing procedure. A companion article on this web site discusses the details and conclusions of this investigation with homiletic teachings on the colour of these threads. 


The Sefer HaChinukh (Mitzvah 386) explains that by wearing tzitzit one remembers the commandments as the verse says (Numbers 15:39), “When you see the tzitzit, you will remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them.” The Midrash (Numbers 17:6) explains that the threads of the tzitzit are a symbolic lifeline to save a person from drowning in a world of material pleasures  as explained in the next section, “Do not follow after desires”. Hence these mitzvoth follow each other in the Torah.

The Zohar (3:174b) compares the breastplate (ציץ) worn by the high priest (Exodus 28:36) to tzitzit (ציצית) through a word and concept association. The letters of ציצית contain the letters of ציץ establishing the word association. The Torah (ibid. 28:38) states that the breastplate “Shall be upon his forehead constantly (when on duty) to bring favour from Hashem to the Israelites”. Similarly the Israelite wears tzitzit to remember the mitzvoth and attain favour from Hashem. In addition both of these articles relate to holiness. The words Holy to Hashem” are inscribed in the breastplate (ibid. 28:36). In the case of tzitzit the Torah states (Numbers 15:40), “You shall be holy to your G-d”.  In this manner one wearing tzitzit may consider himself as the high priest serving Hashem.

All of the Mitzvoth

The Torah (Numbers 15:39) says that by looking at the tzitzit, “You will remember all the commandments of Hashem to perform them”. The Talmud (Makkot 23b) states that there are 613 mitzvoth in the Torah. The Midrash (Numbers Rabbah 18:21) finds an allusion to these 613 mitzvoth in the numerology of tzitzit. The following table lists the components of the tzitzit, the aspect, and numerical value to reach 613 (i.e. 600+8+5=613). 

TzitzitGematria of ציצית600
Threads8 per corner8
Knots5 per corner5


The reader may remark that the word ציצית in the Torah is spelt without a second letter yud (ציצת) hence the gematria as written in the Torah is in fact only 590! The Midrash (Tanchuma Parshat Shelach) notes that the word for tzitzit is mentioned 3 times in the 3rd paragraph of the Shema (viz. twice as ציצת in Numbers 15:38 and once as לציצת in the following verse). In fact these are the only mentions of tzitzit in the Torah. If one takes the average of the gematria for the 3 citations one obtains 600 as follows:

ציצת 590 + ציצת 590 + לציצת 620 = 1800 hence the average is 1800/3 = 600.


The Talmud (Menachot 39b) derives that each corner of the tzitzit requires 4 strings which when folded over become 8 threads. The Torah (Deuteronomy 22:12) refers to the tzitzit as braided strings, “You shall attach braids (גדלים) on the four corners of your garment.” The Talmud (ibid.) understands that a braid must consist of at least 2 strings. In turn the Torah writes the word braids in plural meaning 2 braids. Hence the number of strings is 4 (i.e. 2 X 2) resulting in 8 threads when folded over on both sides of the garment (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 11:14).    


Neither the Torah nor the Talmud requires 5 knots for each braided bundle of tzitzit. In fact only one knot is required (Mishna Berurah 11:64).  The custom of 5 knots alludes to the 5 books of the Pentateuch (ibid. 11:65) and should lead to the remembrance of the mitzvoth as the verse (Numbers 15:39) states, “You will remember all the mitzvoth of Hashem to perform them”. Appendix 2 provides additional allusions to the mitzvah of tzitzit based upon numerology.

Connection to Hashem

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai, reputed originator of the Zohar says (Menachot 43b), “One who is diligent in the mitzvah of tzitzit merits receiving the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” It is written here (Numbers 15:39), “When you see it אתו (in singular) and it is written there (Deuteronomy 6:13), “You shall revere Hashem your G-d and worship Him ואתו. “Just as the word ואתו in the latter verse refers to the Shechinah, so too the word אתו in the former verse refers to the Shechinah. Hence the word it אתו is written in singular. It is interesting to note that the first time אתו is used in scripture is Genesis 1:27, “In the image of G-d He created him (Adam)”, thereby linking the divine soul of man to his awareness of the Shechinah. 

Relationship with Hashem

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 17b) provides a striking anthropomorphism with Hashem appearing to Moses as a leader of prayer wearing a prayer shawl (with tzitzit) before teaching him 13 attributes of mercy listed in Exodus 34:6-7. Hence we see the duality of the mitzvah of tzitzit, when an Israelite wears tzitzit he merits receiving the Shechinah. In turn Hashem, so to speak, wears tzitzit to connect to the Israelites through prayer.      

Appendix 3 discusses the interplay of the mitzvoth of tefillin, mezuzah, and tzitzit to connect with Hashem.   

Do not follow after desires


The Torah (Numbers 15:39) states, “Do not wander after your hearts and eyes which (may) lead you astray.” The Sifrei (on Numbers 15:39) notes the order of temptation in the verse, heart then eyes, and  remarks that the eyes see, the heart desires, and the body sins indicating the reverse order. The Sifrei explains that, in general, the eyes start the process but the mind controls the desire (either to dispel or increase it). Also even a blind person can be led to sin through his mind. Similarly the Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 1:5) notes that both eyes and heart lead a person to sin. Therfore one must control both to serve Hashem as the verse (Proverbs 23:26) says, “My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes keep my ways.” The following verses in this chapter of Proverbs speak of avoiding harlots and consuming too much wine.          

The Talmud (Berachot 12b) links wandering after the heart and eyes to heresy and immorality respectively. The Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 387) writes that following after heretical thoughts or physical desires may become addictive based upon one of the sayings of Ben Azzai (Avot 4:2), “One sin leads to another”. In the case of heresy a person may innocently explore ideas which are contrary to Torah and then lead to heretical practice. In the case of pursuit of pleasure a person may requires increasing levels of stimulation to achieve satisfaction (e.g. substance abuse).

Avoid Heretical Thoughts

In reference to heretical thoughts, the Talmud links Numbers 15:39 to Psalms 14:1 because both verses mention the heart (i.e. mind). The former verse reads, “Do not go astray after your hearts” and the latter verse reads, “The corrupt one said in his heart: There is no G-d.” This chapter of Psalms speaks of non-believers who commit evil deeds and feel that Hashem does not see what occurs in this world as the verse continues (Psalms 14:1), “They have dealt corruptly and committed abominable deeds. Not one of them does good deeds.” As a result of their success a person may reject Hashem and his Torah. To counter this thought, the Psalmist advises to consider the final redemption of Israel when Hashem will punish the wicked and reward the righteous as the Psalm ends (14:7), “The salvation of Israel will come out of Zion and Hashem will return the captivity of His people. Jacob shall rejoice and Israel shall be glad.”

In reference to idolatrous thoughts, the Talmud links Numbers 15:39 to Judges 8:33 because both verses mention going astray. The former verse reads, “Do not go astray after your eyes” and the latter verse reads, “After the death of Gideon (their leader) the children of Israel again went astray after idolatry (literally the Baalim).”

Avoid Sinful Thoughts

In reference to sinful thoughts, the Talmud links Numbers 15:39 to Judges 14:3 because both verses mention the eyes. The former verse reads, “Do not go astray after your eyes” and the latter verse reads, “Samson said to his father: Take her for me (a Philistine woman) because she is pleasing in my eyes.” The woman was attractive but not a suitable match for Samson. Although the verse says (Judges 14:4) that this match was plan from Hashem as a pretense to attack the Philistines, Samson nevertheless mixed his own desires with Hashem’s plan. Samson was actually involved with 3 Philistine women (i.e. this one from Timnath, another from Gaza (Judges 16:1) and Delilah (ibid. 16:4) which led to his downfall). The Mishna (Sotah 9b) wryly comments, “Samson followed his eyes therefore he was punished measure for measure, when the Philistines gouged out his eyes. The verse states (Judges 16:21),”The Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes.”

The Talmud (Succah 52b and Sanhedrin 107b) relates,” When a man starves the male organ (i.e. refrain from intimacy) he is sated. When he satiates it, the organ he is hungry.” This statement does not mean that the Talmud endorsed celibacy. Rather the sages advise moderation in marital intimacy.  Maimonides (Laws of Proper Conduct – Deot 4:19) writes, “A man should not engage in intercourse (with his wife) except when he is healthy and carnally aroused.”

The sages also advised men against excessive conversation with woman for this will lead to neglect of Torah study and sin. The Mishna in Avot (1:5) says, “Do not converse excessively with women with one’s wife and certainly with someone else’s wife.” King Solomon who had a 1,000 wives writes (Proverbs 31:3); “Do not give your strength to women.”

Maimonides (Laws of Forbidden Relations 21:11) writes, “Our Sages do not derive satisfaction from a person who engages in marital relations excessively … This is the way underdeveloped people conduct themselves. Instead, everyone who minimizes his intimacy is praiseworthy, provided he does not neglect his conjugal duties as explained in Laws of Marriage 14:1 (which depends upon man’s strength and occupation).”

Connection to tzitzit

The Talmud Menachot 44a connects the mitzvah of tzitzit to the prohibition against following carnal desires with the following story about a man who was diligent about the mitzvah of tzitzit.  This person heard that there was a harlot overseas who took four hundred gold coins as her payment. He sent her four hundred gold coins and fixed a time to meet her. When his time came, he came and sat at the entrance to her house. The maidservant of that woman invited the man in.

To enhance the experience the harlot arranged seven beds connected with ladders with the woman naked on the top bed. The man also naked sat facing her, preparing to sin. Then his four tzitzit slapped him on his face. (This slapping may be literal or a figure of speech meaning that his conscience prevented him from sinning.) He dropped down and sat on the ground. She also dropped down and sat on the ground. She said to him, “I will not allow you to leave until you tell me what defect you saw in me.” He replied that he never saw a woman with such beauty. However he contemplated the consequences of his action. The verse (Numbers 15:41) says twice, “I am Hashem your G-d” indicating that Hashem will punish those who transgress the mitzvoth and reward those who fulfill them. The man said, “The four sets of ritual fringes appeared to me as if they were four witnesses who would testify against me.”

She said to him that I will not allow you to leave until you tell me your name, city, name of your teacher, and name of the study hall in which you studied Torah. He wrote the information and placed it in her hand. With this information she came to Rabbi Hiyya to convert to Judaism. At first he did not want to convert her because he was suspicious of her motives. Then she took out the note the student had given her and gave it to Rabbi Hiyya. Realizing that she was sincere he agreed to convert her and said, “Go and take possession of your purchases”, implying that she may marry that man.


This article discussed the 10 mitzvoth mentioned in the Shema from the perspective of Aggadah with emphasis upon the relationship between Hashem and the Israelites. As formulated by the sages the Shema begins with the mitzvoth of belief in unity and love of Hashem and ends with the prohibition of not following after desires which leads to the pursuit of holiness as the penultimate verse of the Shema says (Numbers 15:40), “You shall remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to Hashem.”         

Appendix 1 – Secrets of the Shema

The Zohar (3:257a) expounds on the first verse of the Shema in terms of the large letters, number of words in the verse, and number of letters in the verse as shown in the following table.

VerseNumberLetter or WordLesson
Large Letters74עדKnow Hashem
Letters  1st and last304שדRemove obstacles
Number of Words6וConnect to Hashem
Letters25כהUnity and service with Hashem

Large Letters

The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 273:25) records the custom to write the letter ע of the word שמע and ד of the word אחד in a larger font compared to the other letters of the Shema. These two words are the opening and closing letters of the 1st verse of the Shema respectively. Since the Talmud does not cite this custom, a Torah scroll that is written without these large letters is valid. However the Aruch Hashulchan rules that the Torah scroll should be corrected to include these large letters. The letters ד and ע spell the word עד which means witness, meaning that one who recites the Shema bears testimony to the existence and unity of Hashem (i.e. from below to above). In addition the letters ד and ע may be rearranged to spell דע which means to know Hashem and his Torah.

Letters 1st and Last

The opening and closing letters of this verse spell the word שד which means demon. The Baal Haturim on this verse explains that one who recites the Shema with the proper intention will dispel demons. The author interprets these demons as either psychological demons or material distractions that act as obstacles when connecting to Hashem, as the Talmud (Berachot 5a) states, “Whoever recites the Shema at his bedside (with proper concentration) will keep (his) demons from harming him.”  

Number of Words

The Zohar (ibid.) notes that this verse has 6 words which correspond to the letter vav (ו) in gematria. The shape of the letter ו, namely a straight line, represents a link between heaven and earth. In addition the number 6 refers to the six days of creation. In this manner the first verse of Shema refers to the unity of Hashem in heaven and earth and the requirement of the Israelites to connect to Hashem master of heaven and earth. Similarly, Maimonides writes (Laws of Fundamentals of Torah 2:9), “All existence, aside from the Creator – from the first form down to a small mosquito … came into being from the influence of His truth.” 


The Zohar (ibid.) notes that this verse has 25 letters which in gematria corresponds to the word כה which means “thus or there”. Although this word occurs over 500 times in scripture the Zohar cites the following verses to allude to the Shema:

Genesis 22:5 – “Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the donkey for I and the lad (Isaac) will go yonder (כה). We will worship (together) and return to you.”

Exodus 19:3 – “(After) Moses ascended to G-d, Hashem called to him from the mountain, saying: So (כה) shall you say to the house of Jacob and relate to the sons of Israel.”

These two verses link to the 1st verse of Shema through the concept of unity. In the former verse, relating to the potential binding of Isaac, the Torah mentions twice that Abraham and Isaac went together (Genesis 22:6 and 22:8). The Midrash (Genesis Rabbah 56:4) comments on Genesis 22:8 that they went together even though Isaac now realized that he may be the offering to Hashem.

Chapter 19 of Exodus discusses the preparations before receiving the Torah at Sinai. The Torah mentions that the Israelites camped at Sinai (Exodus 19:2). The Midrash Tanchuma on this verse notes that the verbs in this verse are conjugated in Hebrew in the plural (i.e. journeyed, arrived, and encamped in the wilderness) except for the final expression “encamped facing the mountain” which is in singular, indicating unity of the Israelites amongst themselves and towards Hashem. 

Appendix 2 – Allusions of Tzitzit

Connection to Divine

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 24:5) relates additional allusions based upon the numerology of the threads (8) and knots (5). If one considers the 4 corners of the garment as two sets (i.e. front and back) then for each set the number of knots is 10 (5X2 = 10) corresponding to the 10 sefirot of Kabbalah, divine emanations of Hashem to the physical world (Mishna Berurah 24:8). In addition the sum of the threads and knots for each set equals 26 ((5+8) X 2 =26)) corresponding to the gematria of the Tetragrammaton ה-ו-ה-י (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).

The author would like to add that the number of 10 knots also alludes to the 10 commandments which refer to the Shema as explained in a companion article on this web site “Shema and the Ten Commandments”. In addition each corner has 5 knots and 8 threads for a total of 13 units (5 + 8). The number 13 corresponds to the gematria of the Hebrew word אחד which means one or unique, thereby reflecting the unity of Hashem as stated in the first verse of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), “Hear O Israel: Hashem is our G-d; Hashem is one (אחד). Furthermore the number 13 corresponds to the gematria of the Hebrew word אהבה which means love, thereby reflecting on the mitzvah to love Hashem stated in the next verse (ibid. 6:5), “You shall love Hashem … with all your heart, soul, and means”.

The total number of threads and knots for the tzitzit is 52 (13 X 4) which corresponds to the Tetragrammaton ה-ו-ה-י in the milui system as follows, indicating that the divine energy in this mitzvah surrounds the person on all sides. In addition for each letter in the milui system the gematria is twice that of the standard gematria indicating a duality in this mitzvah, man’s love of Hashem and Hashem’s love of the Israelites by presenting the Shechinah to those who wear tzitzit.

(The milui system of gematria takes each letter in Hebrew and spells it out in full. The table presents the letters of the Tetragrammaton, the spelling in milui form, and associated gematria.)


The Zohar (3:175b)  notes that the total number of threads of the tzitzit is 32, 8 threads by 4 sides (8*4=32) which corresponds to the gematria of (heart) meaning that one should control his passions of the heart to serve Hashem. The Torah alludes to this passion in many places of which the first is in Genesis 8:21. (The first mention of a word in the Torah sets a connotation for this word.) Hashem said after the flood, “I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the (unbridled) desire of man’s heart (לב) could lead to evil from his youth. Therefore I will no longer smite all living things as I have done.” In addition the Torah mentions the heart in connection to the mitzvah of tzitzit (Numbers 15:39), “Do not wander after your hearts (לבבכם) and eyes which (may) lead you astray.”

Appendix 3 – Influence of Mitzvoth

The Talmud (Menachot 43b) notes that the mitzvoth of tefillin, tzitzit (fringes), and mezuzah illustrate the special love of Hashem to the Israelites. Specifically tefillin on their heads, tefillin on their arms, tzitzit on their garments, and a mezuzah on their doorways lead to seven expressions of love (i.e. 2 for tefillin, 4 for tzitzit, and 1 for mezuzah). In addition by performing these mitzvoth the Israelites show their love for Hashem.   The Talmud finds an allusion to this mutual love in Psalms 119:164, “Seven times a day I praise You (Hashem), because of Your righteous ordinances”. Although from a halachic viewpoint the 4 fringes of tzitzit are one mitzvah, from the perspective of aggadah they are considered as 4 expressions of love since they represent the 4 cardinal directions.  

The Talmud (ibid.) further states that an Israelite who dons tefillin on his head and on his arm, wears tzitzit on his garment, and fastens a mezuzah on his doorway is strengthened from all sides so that he will not sin as the verse says (Ecclesiastes 4:12), “A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” In this case the Talmud considers the mitzvoth of tefillin and tzitzit in a thematic sense and arrives at 3 mitzvoth (viz. tefillin, tzitzit, and mezuzah). In addition the Talmud quotes Psalms 34:8, “The angel of Hashem surrounds those that revere Him (and fulfill the mitzvoth) and saves them.” The Maharsha (ibid.) explains that these angels are created from the mitzvoth that the Israelites perform based upon Avot 4:13 in prayer book or 4:11 in printed Mishna. This protection applies to one who performs these mitzvoth with proper intent as Maimonides writes (Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah 6:13),” Whoever wears tefillin on his head and arm, wears tzitzit on his garment, and has a mezuzah on his entrance, can be assured that he will not (easily be led to) sin, because he has angels who will prevent him from sinning. The verse says (Psalms 34:8), “The angel of Hashem camps around those who revere Him and protects them.”  

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