|Zeev-Hatorah-Vaetchanan: The Hand of Shema|
|Written by Rabbi Shmuel Brazil|
|Thursday, 02 August 2012 00:00|
In Vaeschanan we find the parsha of Shemah. The minhag of Yisrael when they recite the Shema is to place their right hand over their eyes. Now if the purpose of covering one’s eyes is to eradicate
any possibility of distractions why would it not be sufficient just to close one’s eyes? After all in the shemoneh esrai this is the conduct we follow for those who would be less distracted than looking into the siddur and yet there is not custom to place one’s hand on the eyes for this purpose. It is therefore obvious that there must be another reason for the hand covering of the eyes during the recital of the Shema. The Zohar says that the source of the covering of one’s eyes during Shema is from the passuk that Hashem promises Yaakov that Yosef will place his hands over his eyes. May I suggest the following answers and explanation to the above Chazal.
The fingerprints of a person both on his palm and fingers are his personal identity that he shares with no one else in the entire world. Each person is an individual that cannot be duplicated at all. There are just too many zillions of dynamics from the moment of conception and onwards that lend to the development of a unique human being with unique talents, one of a kind middos, background, intelligence, environment, parents, upbringing, strengths and weaknesses, physical emotional and psychological constitution just to name a drop in the ocean. Because of the light year differences between individuals therefore one must serve Hashem with the raw materials that were given to him alone. In this manner he will bring into the world a Kiddush Hashem that never was and that will never be again. In this light of understanding no one is really a follower but a leader. It is the world that follows the one of a kind Kiddush sheim shamayim.
Tt is for this reason that we accept the yolk of serving Hashem by covering our eyes with our fingerprints. Don’t look at everyone else. Look into yourself and declare I will serve you Hashem with all my strengths and weaknesses, with my situation for better or for worse. It is I who am accountable for my personal spiritual growth. As the saying goes It is not the cards one is dealt with but rather how one plays his cards that makes him into a winner.
Every time we pass a mezuzah and place our hand on it we are reminded of the same truth. The mezuzah requires the din of sirtut which are lines carved into the parchment to write upon . As we pass a mezuzah whose parchment contains the parsha of Shema, we place our hands on it caressing it. What should we be reminded of at that particular moment? It is as if the mezuzah itself has its own fingerprints upon which one must accept the yoke of Hashem when he leaves the house to go to the outside world or when he comes into the house from the outside world to ensure he leaves that world outside his mikdash, his holy abode. Which ever way whether coming or going, he places the sirtut of his hand on the sirtut of the mezuzah to remind himself that his yoke and struggles are different from everybody else and he must not forget that he is an extinct individual that never was and will never be again. These will fortify him to garner the strength and gevurah to conquer his yetzer hara and sanctify Hashem’s name with the unique kochosh that were given to him alone. It will give him a surge of incredible responsibility for himself and Klall Yisrael that he must play his role in the unfolding of the Jewish destiny to be part of that link in the chain which began with our heileger avos hakedoshim.
A second explanation with the hands on the eyes conduct is to stress the part that it is not enough to live as a cardiac Jew the term given to those who claim I feel Jewish and that should be sufficient. The hand symbolizes action. One msut take his emotions and actualize them into deeds and change of conduct. Our Chazal tell us ashrei shebah lekan vetalmudo beyado. Happy is the individual who comes to the next world and his learning is in his hands. One may question is learning in the hands or in the head and intellect? The answer is that the learninbg process must take effect on one’s living so that he takes what he has learned and lives with it and not just knows it. It has to become part of his essence ingrained until it becomes instinctive. By not applying his wisdom then he remains with more intellect than deeds which places him in the precarious position of distorting the very wisdom that he has earned. This cardiac Jew even the one who learns Torah reminds of the story of a very weak student who in general was compromised a real nebech who was given a very small line in the class Shakespearian play just so not to make him feel left out. His tiny part was only six words Hark I hear the cannon roar. For five consecutive weeks he practiced his part diligently over and over again until you could wake him up in his sleep and he would repeat it for you. The long awaited night of the grand production arrived and it was his turn to say his part. He was more ready than anyone else with their rehearsed parts. As the prerecorded cannon roared its blast which was to signal to say to the audience his six word etched line in his memory and heart, he immediately responded by looking up, eyes and mouth gaping wide open, and in a dazed bewilderment he loudly exclaimed “ What in the world was that!!!!
True he said the overly rehearsed words but he was missing their translation in real life and to what they related to. When we say the shema we accept upon ourselves to make changes when necessary, to undertake new challenges in order to upgrade one’s Yiddishkeit when introduced to a new concept or halacha which one was unaware of until now. It is not enough to “Shema” to listen but rather to bring into action what we hear. If one desires to come to the emes which he says as the last and culminating word of Shemah, then he has to accept the Shemah with his hand as well. People a lot of times utilize the response I see what you are saying. In Shemah we close our eyes as if to say forget about merely seeing or understanding the speaker’s words. Words are cheap. Rather do what you hear.
We can now have a little understanding in the words of the Zohar that the custom to place one’s hands over his eyes during Shema is derived from Yosef placing his hands over Yaakov’s eyes. Yaakov Avinu excelled in the middah of Emes. .The letter of aleph in the word emes signifies learning and wisdom and the letter tov signifies a public sign and impression (Yechezkail 9,4). To reach the middah of emes one must take the learning and wisdom and actualize it until it leaves an obvious impression on one’s body and actions even when there are outside distractions out of the script..
Yaakov when he met Yosef recited the Shemah. Yaakov did not know if Yosef followed in his middah of emes because of the difficult galus and tumah of Mitzrayim. However when he met him he realized that Yosef lived in Mitzrayim in the galus culture not only with words but with actions. Yosef’s life was the hand over Yaakov’s eyes when he recited the Shema.
The great Chasam Sofer once remarked and said that the olam does topsy turvy. When the Torah passes by them they kiss it with their hands not with their lips. When it comes to donating tzedakah many donate with their lips. Better that they should kiss the Torah with their lips and donate with their hands!!
If we understood these two interpretations of placing the hands on our eyes during Shmah and on our mezuzos as we pass by it our level of closeness with Hashem would be entirely different. In fact this would help bring Moshiach even faster. An incredible remez to this is that the words Shemah and Yad (hand) is 424 the gematriah of Moshiach ben Dovid !!
Gut Shabbos Nachamu