A Treadmill Chiddush - Explaining Shema Yisroel
With a belly full of chicken, kishka, lochshen kugel, and home-made challah, I decided to run on the treadmill for forty-five minutes after Shabbos and listen to the third shiur from Rabbi Ozer Bergman's series "Being a Hassid L'maaseh". Midway through my run, I was blown away by an amazing explanation Rabbi Bergman gave concerning the meaning of the Shema. I have read and heard countless explanations concerning the meaning of this prayer, but once I heard Rabbi Bergman's explanation, I felt as if I never truly understood its meaning for all of the 34 years of my life until this time. It was as if a light finally turned on in my mind.
Rabbi Bergman explained that the Shema contains two Divine names; Hashem [the four-letter name] that denotes the aspect of kindness, and Elokim that denotes the aspect of harshness or severity. When the Ribbono shel Olam relates to us with kindness, He is relating to us though his name Hashem. And, when He relates to us through harshness and severity, He is relating to us through his name Elokim. Thus, the middle stanza of Shema is better understood.
Shema concludes with the words "Hashem echad", which means that the two Divine names and attributes are in reality an aspect of the name Hashem and are essentially one. On a simple level, this means that although we may perceive good and bad, kindness and harshness, with our physical eyes, everything comes from Hashem and is ultimately good.
With this explanation in mind, I can now see why the Shema is the central prayer in Judaism, why we recite it twice everyday, and why it is one of the first prayers we teach to a child when they learn to speak.
Once again, Hashem is revealed through simplicity...