A cutting-edge software engineer related at my Shabbos table that the reason he become Jewishly observant was that his profession made him feel antiquated, out of breath. He faced an incessant cycle of completing software applications as other programs were then developed that offered more power and utility. This forced him to ask an existential question: what’s my purpose in this world if my efforts become constantly obsolete?
The phenomenon of quick, massive change is now manifest throughout international business. Consider Procter & Gamble that paid $57 billion in 2005 to buy the shaving mammoth Gillette. Enter the Dollar Shave Club in 2011 which sidestepped and undermined the marketing giant. As reported last month in the New York Times,
Instead of paying $10 or $20 a month at a store for disposable razors, a Dollar Shave Club subscriber could go online and set up a regular order to be shipped to his home monthly at a fraction of the retail cost. Unilever is paying $1 billion for Dollar Shave Club… Every other company should be afraid, very afraid. The deal anecdotally shows that no company is safe from the creative destruction brought by technological change. The very nature of a company is fundamentally changing, becoming smaller and leaner with far fewer employees.
In addition to business, tumultuous geopolitics and violence, redefinition of the nuclear family and economic uncertainty are reshaping society. There is seemingly no anchor to life. Today’s normal is conceiving a child with sperm and egg donors via a surrogate mother, raised by two husbands, and endorsed by ethicists. How can we gain a proper perspective in this generation?
In Parshas Va’eschanan we read the first paragraph of the Shema. The Shema is undoubtedly the most well-known prayer in all of Judaism. You might call the Shema our “national anthem,” since it so fully encapsulates essential principles of Judaism. It is the first Jewish concept a child learns and the last words a person expresses on his deathbed. When we recite the Shema, we declare our acceptance of God as our Creator and King and our recognition that He directly rules over the world and watches over us. One cannot overstate the significance of the Shema in Judaism. The most profound and forceful proclamation of belief in God and the Torah that a Jew makes is found in the words of the Shema.
Rabbi Meir Zlotowitz, writes in the introduction to the ArtScroll Mesorah Siddur,
Morning and night, the Jew shuts his eyes and proclaims the Shema – God is ours and He is One. Life’s most meaningful moments are punctuated with the Shema: when he dedicates his new day and surrenders to helpless sleep in the unknown night, when the Jew prepares to read the Torah on Sabbaths and festivals, at the climax of Yom Kippur, and at the culmination of life when his soul leaves its earthly host. In the mezuzah, the Shema sanctifies his home and in his tefillin it sanctifies his intellect and strength. And God Himself thanks Israel, as it were, for declaring His uniqueness by means of the Shema, as though He becomes fulfilled through us.
Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen Rabinowitz relates (Tzidkat HaTzadik 4) that the Shema is recited moments after reaching the age of being commanded to perform the mitzvot, and is actually a metaphor for gaining a deeper appreciation for Judaism as we mature:
The first mitzvah that a person is obligated in when he becomes Bar Mitzvah is reading the Shema in the evening [when it is dark] … [This teaches that] at first, when one is in a state of darkness a person must accept God’s kingship, even in the darkness and childishness and without [seeing God’s] actions. Then eventually he will come to fulfill the mitzvah from a wealth of clear understanding, which is like the light of day.
We are living in an age of both deep darkness and tremendous light. The two NLE Morasha shiurim on the Shema below (found in the module of Prayer) can assist dedicated educators to continue to bring much needed clarity to the world.