What's a "Bedtime Shema"?
Well, before I explain what is a “bedtime” Shema, I should explain what is the regular kind of “Shema”, right?
Jewish religious life is filled with prayers. There are three daily praying services, with the morning one (called Shacharit) being the longest. Each of them is built on a similar structures with some building blocks identical and some removed. All three have the prayer Shemone Esre (known also as Amidah) at its core. It’s a very important prayer, recited individually and repeated in a communal manner.
But there is another prayer which is just as important: Shema Israel. In a way, it’s not really a prayer. Contrary to the Shemone Esre, it was not composed by the Sages millenia ago, but is a set of quotes from the Torah (The Pentateuch). The full Shema Israel is made of three paragraphs from the following places: Deuteronomy 6: 4 – 9, 11: 13 – 19, and Numbers 15: 37 – 41. The most famous of them all, is the very first verse:
“Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone”
The full length Shema Israel is recited during the morning and evening prayers. There are also accompanying blessings before and after it. But there is yet another moment when people read it: right before they lay to rest for the night.
This time, one doesn’t read all three paragraphs, but just the first one. Adults read a few additional texts, making it a slightly longer prayer, and this set of prayers is called in Hebrew K’riat Shema she-al ha-mitah. If you would like to learn more about the Bedtime Shema for adults, this article would be a great idea.
But children, who are just learning to say this important prayer, say the first one only. The first paragraph describes the deeply meaningful relationship between humans and God, as we are told to love God with all our hearts and strength.
It also commands to recite these words when we get up and when we lie down. It teaches of the need of education and generational passing of tradition. Finally, we find there also such mitzvot (commandments) as tzitzit (fringes), tefilin (leather boxes with Torah verses attached to one’s forehead and weaker arm), and mezuzot (a parchment with two paragraphs of Shema which are held in boxes and attached to the door frames).
Here is the Hebrew and English text of the first paragraph (“ve’ahavtah) of Shema Israel:
וְאָהַבְתָּ אֵת ה’ אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכָל לְבָבְךָ וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁךָ וּבְכָל מְאֹדֶךָ. וְהָיוּ הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם, עַל לְבָבֶךָ. וְשִׁנַּנְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְדִבַּרְתָּ בָּם בְּשִׁבְתְּךָ בְּבֵיתֶךָ וּבְלֶכְתְּךָ בַדֶּרֶךְ וּבְשָׁכְבְּךָ וּבְקוּמֶךָ. וּקְשַׁרְתָּם לְאוֹת עַל יָדֶךָ וְהָיוּ לְטֹטָפֹת בֵּין עֵינֶיךָ. וּכְתַבְתָּם עַל מְזֻזוֹת בֵּיתֶךָ וּבִשְׁעָרֶיךָ.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your might. And these words which I command you this day you shall take to heart. You shall diligently teach them to your children. You shall recite them at home and away, morning and night. You shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, they shall be a symbol above your eyes, and you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your homes and upon your gates.
Additionally, there is also a short quote from the Torah, from Genesis 48: 16:
הַמַּלְאָךְ הַגֹּאֵל אֹתִי מִכָּל-רָע, יְבָרֵךְ אֶת-הַנְּעָרִים, וְיִקָּרֵא בָהֶם שְׁמִי,
וְשֵׁם אֲבֹתַי אַבְרָהָם וְיִצְחָק, וְיִדְגּוּ לָרֹב בְּקֶרֶב הָאָרֶץ.
Hamalach hagoel oti
mikol ra yevarech et han’arim vikareh bahem sh’mi
V’shem avotai Avraham v’Yizchak v’yidgu larov b’kerev ha’aretz.
May the angel who has delivered me from all harm bless these lads.
May they carry on my name and the names of my fathers, Abraham and Isaac,
and may they grow into a multitude on earth.
Bedtime Shema for Children
As reading the Bedtime Shema is such a popular first prayer experience for Jewish children, it’s common to create art with these words. It serves practical purposes – as children can look at the text and learn to read it, but also is simply a beautiful children-focused creation.
I also was inspired by these words and I’ve created a number of designs celebrating this beautiful prayer and Jewish childhood experience. Below, you can see the art work, and a few examples of products that carry them. You can purchase them to decorate your child’s room, a Jewish classroom or to present as a meaningful gift for brit milah (circumcision ritual), simchat bat (the “joy of daughter” girl naming celebration), bat mitzvah or simply any joyous occasion for the little ones.
If you would like me to customize any of the designs (with a name of the child, for example, or date and name of an important event) – contact me!
Where can I find them?
I am a Print-On-Deman artist, which means, that I do not make the products I sell. I create the designs and then use platforms such as Zazzle.com, Society6.com, and RedBubble.com to share my work. Whenever you like something and order it, these platforms make it specially for you. They also take care of the shipping and returns.
See the Bedtime Shema collections (and many more Judaica art!) at the following stores:
What about Shema Israel for adults?
If you are looking for art dedicated to more mature audience, I have a few designs for you!
There is a collection of designs celebrating the first verse of Shema Israel, as well as ones with just the first paragraph of Shema, called “ve’ahavtah”. Some are Hebrew only, some also show the English translation. I hope you find there what you need. If not, contact me and we can figure out a custom design just for you!