And If You Listen Closely: The Overlooked Paragraph of the Shema

The second paragraph of the Shema has fallen out of favor in some progressive congregations, perhaps because it seems to place God in the role of divine meteorologist. But its message – of living in harmony with the earth – is at the heart of the Shema and is surely more salient in our day than ever before. Here is an attempt at translating its deeper meaning.     
V’Hayah Im Shamo’a – And If You Listen Closely 
And if you listen closely to the meaning behind the words in your tradition, you will love the source of life and give yourself over completely – heart and soul – to serve life itself. Imagine a world with the rains and snows coming when they are due, where everyone can plant and harvest the abundance of the earth. Where animals and wildlife have enough to nourish themselves, and you too can eat and be satiated. Watch yourselves, though, from following other ways – paths of greed and entitlement, stripping the land of its soil, warming the oceans, causing hurricanes and floods, droughts and fires, such that the heavens are stopped up and the earth becomes a wasteland, and you yourselves have lost your way and forfeited the goodness of the earth that God gave you. 

So put these words on your tongue and in your hearts, and keep them close, like a sign upon your arms and between your eyes – teaching them to the next generation to abide by them at home and away, day and night. Let these teachings be a watchword for your homes and gates and cities, that you may live long on this planet, for all the days of heaven and earth.


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