Listen to this prayer

Leader: Praise Adonai, Who is to be praised!

Congregation: Praised is Adonai, Who is to be praised, now and forever!

The barechu is an invitation to the congregation to worship God. It begins the first formal section of the morning service, and the first major section of the evening service. That section is entitled קריאת שמע וברכותיה “The Reading of the Shema and its Accompanying Blessings.”

The root of the word kri-at קריאת is K, R, A–kuf resh and alef–ק,ר,א. It is the contracted form of the word kri-a קריאה – reading. Another instance of this root is found in an alternative name for the Torah: Mikra – מיקרא(i.e.,”the Book that is read aloud.”)

The root of the word shema -שמע (hear, or listen) is Sh, M, A – shin, mem and ayin - ש מ ע. The Eternal One is often referred to as shome-a tfila שומע תפלה (“the One Who listens to prayer”).

It might surprise us that the שמע—perhaps the best-known of all Hebrew prayers—is not a prayer, but rather a “reading”! It comes not from the rabbinic order of prayers as set forth by Rav Amram in the 10th century, but rather from the books of Numbers and Deuteronomy in the Torah itself.

The shema שמע is in fact a Biblical diamond, sparkling in a setting of rabbinic prayers that praise the Eternal One as Creator, Lawgiver and Redeemer. These rabbinic prayers provide a theological structure within which we can better understand the Biblical exhortations of the shema שמע—to love the Eternal One, to study the words of Torah בֽשׇכֽבֽךׇ ובֽקומֶךׇ beshochvecha uvekumecha—“upon lying down and upon rising up,” and to accept them as binding upon ourselves.

Listen to this prayer