The last few posts about learning the Sh'ma have been very much cerebral, so now's the time to review the experiential side of things, what it is like to learn and pray the Sh'ma.
(Since watching The Big Bang Theory I've been using big words like above as well as "induration" because my arm hasn't quite recovered from getting a flu shot yet (as of writing this a week or ago). I feel very much like Penny as I'm using the words correctly! These things are important when you're married to a biologist.)
I started learning the Sh'ma while on retreat in Santa Barbara at the Mt. Calvary Monastery and Retreat House. I practically had the place to myself as it was during the week, so outside of the hours of the Great Silence (between 8:30pm until after breakfast with the monks), I spent time working on this.
First came the reflection, which you've spent several days reading (with additional thoughts since), then came listening to a recording of the V'ahavta (scroll down to find the link to the prayer). I thought I could just roll with the transliteration (photocopied from the temple's prayer book, although now I have my own copy!) but having no Hebrew School and not even knowing the alphabet, I could remember those sounds that I've used before at work, but others were, um ....
I wrote out a fresh transliteration of how it sounded to me (and I've no idea if I used the right markings, I just used what worked for me) and used that to learn it. I am pretty sure I am doing this arse-backwards.
B'nai Mitzvah candidates go to Hebrew/Religious School, learn the Hebrew alphabet and how to read Hebrew for real, before moving on to learning how to chant using various tropes. I've seen their Torah portion practice pages with different highlighters on it to mark the different tropes used. Their actual B'nai Mitzvah is them leading the service, like the rabbis otherwise would.
Me? I'm just making this up as I go along. Like I said, arse-backwards.
Back to the Sh'ma. The Beth Israel website doesn't have the first line available to listen to (because various tunes are used, but I found one here after my return from retreat.)
I haven't been keeping up with it as much since returning to work, my brain is busy learning my new job, but to boast, as of this date (October 5th) I have the first few lines memorized and I can keep up singing along with the recording and I can almost make it through reading it by myself except there are a few flat spots here and there.
There are a lot of "ch" sounds in it, which isn't as in "chore" but as in "loch". I haven't quite got that down yet, that's probably the hardest sound to get out and not get hung up on it.
I find myself singing the first two lines a lot when I walk to the bus and then to work, and back again.
Hear O Israel, I am the The Lord your God, The Lord is One. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.The tune that I learned for the first line wasn't on Beth Israel's website but I found it here. It is really upbeat and brings happiness when I sing it. Not only that but I keep marveling that this is God's Word that I am chanting.
God's very Word.
There is something life-giving about it. I can't explain how or why I feel that way. The Sh'ma is like my favorite chants from the Compline service the monks use. Maybe it's just good music, but I know enough about prayer to know that this prayer is God working on my soul.