Confirming God's Unity: "Baruch Shaim Kivod Malchuso Li'olam Va'ed"

Rabbi Israel Chait

Written by a student

Rambam writes[1] that when one reads the Shima, after completing the first verse (Shima Yisrael…)  he is to read "Baruch Shaim Kivod Malchuso Li'olam Va'ed" in a whisper, and then returns to reading the rest of the Shima is a normal manner. Why do we whisper the "Baruch Shaim"?

Rambam then includes some history in his law. At the end of his life, Jacob gathered his sons and commanded and "strengthened" them on God's unity[2]. He asked them if they accepted the unity of God as he, Jacob did; perhaps there was some fault in one of his sons.  They all confirmed, "Shima Yisrael, Adonoi Elohaynu, Adonoi Echad; Listen Israel (Jacob) God is our God, God is one". Jacob responded, "Baruch Shaim Kivod Malchuso Li'olam Va'ed; Blessed be the fame of His kingdom's honor forever". This why all Jews say this same verse; a praise to God that all Jacob's sons confirmed God's unity.

We must ask: Why is this story placed in Rambam's Laws of Shima? This is a story, an Aggada, and seems out of place when inserted in a code of laws.  Additionally, this verse is merely Jacob's response. What then does it have to do with us? Many authorities say that Baruch Shaim is recited in a lower tone since it is not part of the Torah's portion of the Shima: Moses did not say it. Rambam appears to say that our recital of Baruch Shaim is for a different reason.

Talmud Pesachim 56a: 

"And us today, what reason do we say Baruch Shaim? It is as R. Shimon ben Lakish said, "Jacob desired to reveal the end of days, but God's presence was removed from Jacob. Jacob thought perhaps the presence left him as there was fault in his children. But his sons confirmed "Just as in your heart there is only one God, so too in our hearts." At that moment Jacob said, "Baruch Shaim Kivod Malchuso Li'olam Va'ed"."

"Rabbi Yitzchak said, "It is a metaphor to a kings's daughter: she smelled the leftovers of a delicious dish. If she said she wanted the leftovers on the bottom of the pan, its shameful for this kings's daughter to eat leftovers. If she does not eat an enjoy it, she is in pain for what she desires. So her servants brought it to her privately in a room. This way no one saw her enjoying the leftovers."

This metaphor likens us to the kings's daughter; the leftovers are likened to the Baruch Shaim. We too are somewhat ashamed, so we recite the Baruch Shaim silently, like the king's daughter enjoyed the leftovers privately. But of what are we ashamed? 

The idea of Jacob "strengthening" his sons in God's unity, teaches that God's unity requires effort to confirm. This is not a simple matter, since the unity of God is a rejection of all natural, idolatrous tendencies in man. This strengthening of God's unity is part of accepting the yoke of heaven. Our minds tend to veer from affirming God's unity; we have many emotions. Therefore we must constantly reaffirm our conviction in God's unity. The Chinuch writes, "If you don't accept this principle of God's unity, all else is worthless." The Chinuch stresses the vital nature of God's unity. Remaining firm in our conviction of God's unity is a lifelong obligation and struggle. Even Jacob's children required this affirmation.

Why did Rambam include this story of Jacob in his code of laws? Reading this story of Jacob, we attain a certain strength essential to our acceptance of God's unity. This explains Rambam's inclusion of this story in his laws: it is part of the very law of God's unity. The telling over of this story gives us this vital strength. 

The Rabbis asked, since Moses didn't say Baruch Shaim, we too shouldn't say it. Buy Jacob did say it. How do we resolve this inconsistency? It was inappropriate for Moses to say Baruch Shaim, as it would degrade his level of prophecy. Moses did not need this strengthening of God's unity, as he spoke to God "face-to-face." He reached the zenith of human perfection. But we do require this strengthening. Thus, we strike a compromise and recite Baruch Shaim, but in a lower tone. We recite it as we require this strengthening of God's unity, but we whisper it to indicate this is not the optimum level of man.

The king's daughter is a parallel for us. The degradation of the princess means that we shouldn't want the "lower parts" of the pan, meaning this "strengthening" from the story of Jacob. This indicates our weakness to cave to idolatrous tendencies. While recognizing Moses did  not require it, we are humbled by the realization that we are not on Moses' level. Yet, we require it, so we say it in an undertone, just as the king's daughter ate the leftover privately. Were it not for this metaphor in Pesachim we'd have no way to understand this act of whispering Baruch Shaim. And without this story in the Rambam, we lack this idea.

Torah is not simply a compilation of mitzvahs, it has an essence. Each mitzvah relates back to God's unity. (Rev Chaim traced Channukah lights back to God's unity.) All of Torah depends on God's unity. The Mezuzah's two sections are comprised of the first and second paragraphs of the Shima. Just as a Torah scroll requires a baseline scoring into the parchment (sirtute), so too does Mezuzah require sirtute. This is to teach that these verses of Shima are the essence of Torah. Not all of the Torah's content carries the same level of importance. However, Torah law saw it essential that this literal "underlining" of the Torah scroll text be mimicked in the Mezuzah. The Shima's two sections placed in the Mezuzah also require an underlining, or emphasis. We are thereby directed to the gravity of the Shima's message, of God's unity. God alone is responsible for the entire universe. There are no other forces. 

Rabbi Mendy Feder mentioned that the king's daughter "yearned" for the leftovers. We too yearn for God's unity. But we are affected more through reviewing the 'story' of Jacob, as opposed to directly relating to the pure idea of God's unity. (It is significant that even non-religious Jews abhor alien religions and idolatry, conveying this yearning for God's unity.) Rabbi Saul Zucker added that in the morning prayers, when recounting our great lot in life as Jews, we refer to our law to recite the Shima twice daily. Again, this underlines the significance and central theme that the Shima and God's unity possess within Torah. 

Finally, why on Yom Kippur do Ashkenazim recite Baruch Shaim out loud? The answer is, since we are like angels on Yom Kippur (not eating or sitting; angels are not physical and do not eat or have legs or joints) on this one day we do not need affirmation of God's unity. We attest to it all day Yom Kippur. Therefore, we need not whisper the Baruch Shaim, which indicates our inability to reach a high level and affirm God's unity. On Yom Kippur, we in fact do reach a high level .

[1] Mishneh Torah; Laws of Reciting the Shima, 1:4

[2] God's unity refers to accepting God as the exclusive cause of the universe, to the exclusion of all other imagined powers or forces.