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How Reciting Shema Can Save a Kid’s Life

Shema. More than a prayer, it is a bold theological statement. More than a verse from Torah, it is an idea which goes to the heart of what it means to be a Jew. The Shema holds a power that is mystical.

A Story 
…about an incident at the San Diego airport. A police officer approached a woman and the four- or five-year-old girl standing beside her. Said the police officer, “I am sorry to bother you, but a four-and-a-half year old girl has disappeared. The description given by her parents very much fits this girl – blonde, blue eyes, curly hair, wearing a red dress and black shoes. I don’t want to alarm you, but I am going to have to ask you some questions to prove that this little girl is really yours, that she isn’t the girl who is missing.”

What a horrible situation! Every parent’s nightmare. This woman had to prove that her daughter was really her daughter. Privately, the police officer asked the woman’s name, address, hometown and husband’s name. Then he said to the little girl, “What’s your name?” “Mary,” she answered. “What’s your last name?” Silence. “Well, where do you live?” “At home.” “Do you know the name of your city?” “Nope.” “What’s your father’s name?” he asked. “Daddy.” “What does he do?” “He goes to work.”

Not getting anywhere with the little girl, the police officer asked the woman if she had any pictures of the little girl in her wallet, or pictures of her husband that the little girl might recognize. She hadn’t any. He asked to see the plane tickets, but they were flying on standby, and besides, they had different last names.

Shema: One Way to Prove Your Child is Actually Your Child 
So what would you do? How would you prove that your child is actually your child? How would you prove that the little girl or boy with you isn’t really someone else’s child whom you’ve kidnapped? Or worse, that your missing child is actually your child? Frightening, isn’t it?

Eventually, the mother offered the police officer a way to prove that the child was hers. She said, “Rachel, tell the police officer what we say each night before we go to bed.” And little four-and-a-half-year-old Rachel answered, “Shema Yisrael Adonai Elohenu Adonai Echad.” And the mother smiled widely as the police officer confirmed that this is just what the mother predicted that little Rachel would answer.

The Power of Shema to Save
Such is the power of Shema to save. Whether bonding a child to her parent, or a believer to his God, Shema is a powerful prayer. With my own eyes, I have seen the words of Shema calm a dying woman in her final days. I have witnessed Shema give strength to a man frightened about the future. Words, which evoke the calming presence of a hundred generations gone by, connect us in the present to that Force which unifies all existence.

This week and next, I am spending some time studying about and meditating on the Shema.

Question for You to Ponder
What do you think about when you recite or hear the Shema?

One comment

  1. katie cohen says:

    Rabbi Kipnes –
    What a heartwarming story! Proud to say this would have worked with my children as we said it each night together before bed. I am going to share this with them today.
    Katie Cohen

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