• TRADITION: Judaism
  • NEED: Health, Stress Relief and Relaxation, Relationships, Positive Attitude, Spiritual Development, Performance
  • LEVEL: Beginner, Intermediate

Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad is the most important prayer in Judaism. It means, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one.” Meditating on this verse unlocks many layers of deeper meaning.

What’s behind the name of this meditation practice?
Shema (pronounced “sh-MAH”)Yisraelare the first two words of a passage of the Torah recited twice daily during Jewish worship services and the name of the most important prayer in Judaism. Translated from Hebrew, Shema Israel means “Hear, O Israel.”
What’s the concept?
While the full Shema is three paragraphs long and draws from several sections of the Torah, its well-known first verse is from Deuteronomy: Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad, or, Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one. It is an affirmation of Judaism’s faith in one God, and the Torah commands all Jews to recite it morning and evening.

But what if the prayer is actually meant to be a meditation instead of a declaration? Jewish mystics find deeper significance in the six words and understand their invocation to be an act of unification with God. It is also an instruction to the spiritual seeker to look within, since, in the Book of Genesis, “Israel” is a name that means “he who contends with the divine.” “The Shema is addressing the ‘Israel’ in each one of us,” Aryeh Kaplan, a rabbi and noted author explains. “This ‘Israel’ is the part of us that yearns to transcend the boundaries of the physical and seeks out the spiritual. The Shema tells this ‘Israel’ to listen—to quiet the mind completely and open it up to a universal message of God’s unity. However, the only time a person can listen perfectly, without any interference, is in the meditative state." When we listen with every cell of our being, we can begin to understand the basic oneness of all creation and feel the breath of God flow through us, nearer to us than our own heartbeat.
How did this meditation practice originate?
The Shema is the oldest ritualistic prayer in Judaism, and it has been recited twice daily since ancient times, normally during shacharit (morning service) and maariv (evening service). The commandment to do so comes from Deuteronomy 6:7: "And you should speak about them when you ... lie down and when you get up." The meaning of the Shema’s iconic first verse wasn’t originally a declaration of monotheism—the last word of the verse changed from “alone” to “one” sometime before the third century C.E.

A modern resurgence of Judaism’s meditative traditions yielded more introspective interpretations of traditional practices. Rabbis often encourage the recitation of the Shema to cultivate a personal relationship with God, and one contemporary meditation practice links the words of the Shema with the body’s seven energy centers.
What’s unique about this meditation?
Every observant Jew knows the Shema. Relearning it as a meditation, however, is likely to be a new concept. This exercise shifts an outward recitation to inner contemplation and opens new avenues of understanding in familiar words.
What are its chief benefits?
The Talmud, Judaism’s code of civil and ceremonial law, notes that the Shema is uniquely designed to ward off evil. This is one of the reasons it is said at night, when the forces of evil are said to be the strongest. Since the full prayer contains 248 words—which corresponds to the number of parts in the human body—the Shema also forms a shield of protection in dangerous situations. One Hungarian soldier noted the Shema’s effects on the World War II battlefield, claiming that comrades who cried out “Shema Yisrael” were spared from death. According to Aryeh Kaplan, recognizing that even evil is a creation of God releases the power it has over us, allowing us to face any situation without fear.
Is there evidence of its effectiveness?
The Handbook of Religion and Health cites nearly two thousand quantitative, original studies that demonstrate religious involvement equates to better health, particularly mental health characteristics such as optimism, self-esteem, and a sense of meaning. Andrew Neuberg, a neuroscientist and Director of Research at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, investigated the brain waves of religious practitioners ranging from Pentecostals to Sufis to understand how. What he uncovered was a deep interconnectedness between mind and body. “Contemplative practices strengthen a specific neurological circuit that generates peacefulness, social awareness, and compassion for others,” Neuberg explains—and they do it in a way that other attention directed tasks, such as solving a math problem, do not.
Are there any side effects or risks?
Are there any controversies?
Like any words taken from a holy book, there are many interpretations of the Shema’s meaning and a wide range of prescribed and sometimes elaborate actions to accompany its proper reading. Ultra-conservative Jews may not approve of more open approaches to the practice. There are also differing opinions on how to practice: some rabbis advise using the Shema as a mantra, while others cite the Torah in saying it just once.
How can it be learned?
Attend a Jewish prayer service to familiarize yourself with the Shema and its pronunciation. Otherwise, this meditation can be learned at home.
Are there any charges for learning?
How is this meditation practiced?
The Shema can be approached in a meditative way during morning and evening prayer services, or it can be a stand-alone meditation practice. It shifts from recitation to contemplation with intention. The words, Shema Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad, are said slowly, with deliberation, allowing their true meaning to emerge. Shema Yisrael is an instruction to listen. Once the mind is calm and focused, attention is shifted to the heart of the verse, Adonai eloheinu Adonai ehad. “The Lord is our God, the Lord is one” becomes the object for contemplation. Our step-by-step guided meditation is available on this page.
Can anyone practice this meditation?
While people outside the Jewish faith may take issue with declaring the God of Israel to be the only god, meditating on the Shema requires no monotheistic belief system. Its words go beyond religions and can be adopted by anyone willing to explore this practice.
Who are the well-known practitioners?
The best-known teachers and authors in this field include:

Rabbi David Cooper
Rabbi Ted Falcon
Robin Rothenberg
Is any equipment or material required for practice?
A written form of the Shema is needed until the words are committed to memory.
Shema Meditation
Practice Now Play guided Audio
Schedule Your Daily Meditation