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What kavana (intention) should you be having while reciting the Shema? It is a biblical obligation to recite the shema twice a day so it would be worthwhile to do it the right way.

If you can provide the right kavana for the first sentence along with the next three paragraphs that would be very helpful.

  • This seems like a common question, but I wasn't able to find it on this site. Maybe I used the wrong keywords. – Ani Yodea Jan 29 '15 at 15:22
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    see the shaar yichud introduction dafyomireview.com/398#intro for a nice explanation – ray Jan 29 '15 at 18:06
  • I tagged kavana-intention (as per the question's title) and it redirected to intent-accident-purposely. Methinks something needs fixing. – msh210 Jan 29 '15 at 20:58
  • I learned that the appropriate kavana (at least when saying it during one or both of the High Holidays) is imagining making a kiddush H'; that is, giving up your life for H'. If one has this kavana it is as if one did it. Not sure of source but may well be chassidish/Zohar – SAH Jan 7 '18 at 6:21
  • This question is discussed (seemingly by one of our own!) over here: aishdas.org/avodah/vol09/v09n049.shtml – SAH Jan 9 '18 at 5:27
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There is a dispute regarding the performance of mitzvoth in general, as to whether they require any kavanah at all or not. Halachipedia outlines 2 types of Kavanah:

the concentration on the mitzvah to the exclusion of anything else and a sincerity of heart about what one is saying

prior to performing a mitzvah one should think that I am hereby going to fulfill a particular Mitzvah

The site mentions rules regarding what happens if you recited Biblical (De'oraita) mitzvoth (which Shema is) without the proper kavanah. Shema, however, has some interesting exceptions to the standard rules.

Some say that by Mitzvot that involve speech like Kriyat Shema one needs Kavana even according to the Rishonim who hold Mitzvot don’t need Kavana. However most Achronim hold that there’s no differentiation. [13] Nonetheless, we pasken like the Rishonim who hold Mitzvot need Kavana. [14]

Besides Kavana that one has to fulfill the positive Mitzvah to say Shema, one needs to understand what one is saying in the first pasuk of Shema because of the Kabalat Ol Malchut Shamayim (acceptance of yoke of heaven) and Yichud Hashem (knowing the Hashem is one). [19] However, in the rest of Shema one only needs Kavana to say the words (not to be Metasek, accidentally doing the action). [20]

I've left the footnote numbers in the quote so that you can more easily cross-ref them when you go the site.

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There is a dispute discussed in the G'mara of Megillah (in a section where it is discussing reciting of texts in languages other than their original) as to whether "Shema" in Kriyat Shema means "understand" or "hear".

The one who says it means "understand" takes it to mean you can say it in a language you understand, the one that says it means "hear" says that means you must say it in an audible voice so you can hear yourself say it.

I am pretty certain that the halacha follows the one who says it means "understand" and that refers primarily to the first verse although it is obviously preferable to understand all the paragraphs.

With regards to K'riyat Sh'ma, there is also particular mention to someone who is simply learning from a Sefer Torah, someone who is writing one at the time and comes to that passage and similarly if someone were writing tefillin or mezuzot. If they "focus" on performing the mitzvah, then it qualifies (i.e. they know it is time to do the mitzvah and choose to fulfil it by reading it this way). (G'mara Rosh Hashanah, where it starts with a discussion of someone who is walking past a shul at the time Shofar is being blown).

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    Unfortunately, I am not sure if that answers the question. – Ani Yodea Jan 29 '15 at 15:55
  • It does, albeit you have to read more deeply, but we like to source the answers here not just give them directly. You need to understand the meaning of the first verse as minimal, however ideally you will understand the meaning of all 3 paragraphs as you recite it. – CashCow Jan 29 '15 at 16:50
  • Can you source this interpretation of the Gemara Megilla? – Double AA Jan 29 '15 at 17:21
  • I can't remember if I have Megillah at home but I will see if I can find it. I don't have it with me now. – CashCow Jan 29 '15 at 17:47
  • @CashCow It's 17b. But its your interpretation of it that I'm interested in. – Double AA Jan 29 '15 at 18:40

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