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Updated: Jul 18, 2023

How can we love God if we are in a toxic environment? *The Shma is not just a matter of mind, but also of heart. * On Rambam (1 chapter/day) for 3 Tammuz. by Bing AI

Today we are learning from the second book of the Mishneh Torah, The Book of the Love of God, Chapter Three of the Laws of Kri'at Shma. In this chapter, Rambam teaches us about the proper physical surroundings required for the recitation of the Shma and those situations that preclude its fulfillment.

One of the most surprising teachings in this chapter is that one should not recite the Shma in a place where there is a foul odor or an unclean substance, such as a bathhouse, a latrine, a graveyard, or next to a corpse. Why is this so surprising? Because we might think that these places are irrelevant to our spiritual service. After all, we are not praying to these things, we are praying to God. We might think that as long as we have the right intention in our heart and mind, it does not matter where we are physically. We might think that God is everywhere and He hears us no matter what.

But Rambam teaches us otherwise. He teaches us that these places are improper for the recitation of the Shma because they are incompatible with the holiness and purity that the Shma demands. The Shma is not just a declaration of God's unity and our acceptance of His commandments. It is also a declaration of our love for God and our desire to cleave to Him. As it says in Deuteronomy 6:5: "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might."

How can we express our love for God if we are surrounded by things that are repulsive, disgusting, or defiling? How can we cleave to God if we are in a place that reminds us of death, decay, or impurity? How can we sanctify God's name if we are in a place that dishonors His creation?

Rambam teaches us that the recitation of the Shma requires not only the proper state of mind, but also the proper state of body and environment. We need to prepare ourselves physically as well as mentally for this sacred act. We need to wash our hands, distance ourselves from sources of impurity, and find a clean and respectful place to recite the Shma. By doing so, we show our reverence for God and His Torah. We show our gratitude for His blessings and His life-giving spirit. We show our devotion and commitment to His will and His ways.

This is the lesson that Rambam teaches us today: that the recitation of the Shma is not just a matter of words, but also a matter of deeds. It is not just a matter of faith, but also a matter of action. It is not just a matter of mind, but also a matter of heart.

May we all merit to recite the Shma with holiness and purity, with love and awe, with joy and enthusiasm. And may we all merit to fulfill its words in every aspect of our lives.

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