Since is an absolute Halachic requirement to have in mind the meaning of the words in the first verse of the Shema, when reciting it morning and evening, I ask what is the correct or proper meaning to have in mind when saying the word "Yisrael," in order to fulfill one's Halachic obligation? Is one addressing the Jewish people as a whole, with the word "Yisrael"? Or is one addressing oneself? Or is one addressing Yaakov Avinu, who is called Yisrael? Other? Please cite reliable sources, preferably early sources.


2 Answers 2


From Chabad Chassidus:

In Rabbi Aaron Raskin's book "Letters Of Light" the word Yisrael is defined as a contraction.

"Jews are called b’nei Yisrael—the children of Israel. Yisrael means both לי ראש—“I am the head,” and שר א-ל—“minister of G‑d.”

The footnote for this cites Likutei Torah Devarim.

When I say Shema, I am thinking about the entire nation as eternal ministers of G-d. "Eternal" comes from the yud.

  • Welcome to MiYodeya Daniel and thanks for this first answer. Can I recommend you take the tour to get a sense of how the site works? Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Jan 18, 2020 at 16:17
  • Thank you very much.
    – daniel
    Jan 19, 2020 at 5:04
  • It is interesting and important information, although it does not really answer the question, which was Halachically oriented.
    – shmu
    Jan 19, 2020 at 5:17
  • It's a good point, Thank you, @shmu.
    – daniel
    Jan 21, 2020 at 13:23

It is clear from the context of the source (Devarim 6:4) that it is referring to the Jewish people. For example, the previous verse includes "And you shall listen Yisrael" when discussing obeying the commandments and inheriting the land of Israel. The context of all these verses is Moshe talking to the Jewish people: Chapter 5 begins with "Moshe called to all of Yisrael and said to them "Hear, Yisrael, the statutes and ordinances...".

The word "Yisrael" in the Shema recitation therefore means the Jewish people, however you are not addressing the Jewish people, rather you are reciting a verse which is addressed to the Jewish people.

(The Gemara Pesachim 56a says that the phrase 'Baruch shem...' was inserted into Shema because Yaakov responded with those words when his sons said 'Shema Yisrael'. Although in that instance the word Yisrael was referring to Yaakov, that is not the source for our recitation of Shema. The source is the aforementioned verse in Devarim, which as mentioned previously is not referring to Yisrael the individual but to the entire Jewish people. That's why to me it doesn't seem correct to have in mind the Patriarch Yisrael when reciting the word even though that's what it once meant in a different context.)

  • Indeed, but the Gemara in Pesachim 56a, cited by Rambam and Mishnah Berurah, has it differently: The sons of Yaakov say "Shema Yisrael" to their father Yaakov. The Rambam goes out of his way to explain the meaning of their statement, implying that it has Halachic significance over and above the fact that Yaakov responded, "Baruch shem kevod..." I suggest that since the word "Yisrael" bears multiple, complementary meanings -- It refers to the whole Jewish people, an individual Jew, and Yaakov Avinu -- therefore, all these meanings are correct.
    – shmu
    Jan 17, 2020 at 5:27
  • @shmu Actually the Gemara does not have it differently; the only halachic significance there is the basis for saying 'baruch shem', it is not giving an alternative source for saying Shema (it is not saying the reason we say Shema is because Yaakov's sons did). The fact that the same words were once said in a different context does not change the fact that the source of krias shema is the verse from Devarim which is referring to the Jewish people. 'Yisrael' can also be the name of someone you know, but that doesn't make it a correct meaning as far as krias shema is concerned.
    – Jay
    Jan 17, 2020 at 20:06

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