There’s a YudTesKislev (19th Kislev, day of Alter Rebbe’s release from Czarist prison and known as the Rosh Hashanah of Chassidus) story about a friendly prison officer smuggling out a reassuring message of Alter Rebbe’s wellbeing from Czarist prison to concerned Chassidim (via a Chassid named R’ Yisrael Kozik) in Petersburg.

The reassuring note, hidden in a melon/squash, was the 1st line of #Shema handwritten by Alter Rebbe.

Wait, how was that reassuring? How did that indicate wellbeing? Wouldn’t getting a message of “Shema Yisrael” from a Jew in prison or crisis, be a sign of distress or worse?

If you got a message like that from someone in a very serious situation what would you think? Personally, I can’t forget the line of Shema Yisrael coming over the beepers on #GimmelTammuz 1994, when the Rebbe passed away. So why did Alter Rebbe send this as a reassuring message?

so much so, that #AlterRebbe was confident that the message’s recipients would receive it that way, they would understand the first line of #Shema to be obviously reassuring and not ominous and foreboding… how to explain this Yud Tes Kislev story?

Here’s a possible thought: To the Alter Rebbe and to any Chassid to lived by his teachings, Shema was not seen as a call of distress, or as the line said when people die. Shema was the most uplifting, reassuring, joyous statement possible! That’s because the crux of that line is G-d’s Oneness and the Unity of G-d (as defined and expressed in Chabad teachings) was not an abstract theological concept to Alter Rebbe, it was the inner dimension of everyday Jewish life, its the source of the tremendous joy in Tanya 33, it is one of his most essential and pervasive teachings, it affects & uplifts everything! (You have to learn a lot more about this to fully appreciate it, but you can get the basic idea). 

The Alter Rebbe and his Chassidim saw Shema and thought of G-d’s presence in our lives, in our world, the closeness and proximity, the deepest connection. To them Shema was the most obvious way to say all is well, its OK, even (or even especially!) in this lowly physical (even prison) existence.

So what do you think when you say Shema?