So you’ve heard of the Shema, right? The most important prayer in Judaism? Traditionally recited twice a day, upon waking and going to sleep?
Today, when we say “the Shema,” we’re talking about the verse Deuteronomy 6:4 as well as three other paragraphs (two from Deuteronomy and one from Numbers), but the prayer has been through a number of iterations. Several hundred years ago, the Shema contained the entire text of the Ten Commandments. At one point, early rabbis proposed that the Shema should contain the entirety of Parashat Balak, but other early rabbis nixed it–for no other reason, they said, than it would be too hard for a normal person to keep concentrating intensely on the Shema for 30 minutes.
It turns out that the Shema was significant even two thousand years ago. One of the most famous Jews is on record as saying it–that’s right, Jesus. In Mark 12:29, Jesus testifies:
Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.” This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Chronologically, the first commandment in the Torah is blessing the moon. But in terms of importance, the rabbi named Jesus might have hit the nail right on the head.