Desert Island Texts

Desert Island Texts

If you were cast away on an island with just one Jewish text for company, which would you choose?

This week Barry Spivak of Suffolk Liberal Jewish community selects the second paragraph of the Shema

My Desert island text choice is an unlikely one in some respects, as it is omitted from Liberal Judaism’s Siddur: the second paragraph of the Shema.

The Shema has three paragraphs. The first tells us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might. The second takes this further, giving us a practical reason to follow the commandment.

It urges us to love and serve God with all our heart and soul because then the rains and our crops will come on time. An initial reaction may be that this piece is anachronistic and only appropriate to an agricultural society: more fundamentally it may be argued from a scientific perspective that this is not how the world operates.

Yet, in this era of climate change, we are aware that if we do not live in harmony with nature. If we do not obey natural law and pay no heed to the consequences of our actions, we influence the climate and agricultural prospects of many of the poorest inhabitants of the world.

This speaks to me of a God who is both a unity, where everything is interconnected, but is also immanent in the world of diversity. The Shema starts with affirmation of the unity of God and then looks at the practical reality and diversity of human life.

Leaving to one side arguments about climate change, what appeals to me about this paragraph is not only that it reminds us that our actions have consequences – which most people, whether religious or not, already know – but our thoughts, words and actions have greater consequences than we often realise. And, on a desert island, some rain could be useful!