And you shall love the Lord your God
With all the heart inside you
With every breath that you may breathe
And all you have beside you.
Take these words I teach you now
And keep them close to heart
Teach them intently to your kids
That they may grow up smart
Talk about them with your friends
When you sit at home
And speak them proudly on the road
Wherever you may roam
Lie down with them, so that you may
Wake with them on your lips
Bind them fast upon your hand
And 'tween your eyes affix
These words that they may be a sign
To you for evermore-- Inscribe these words upon your gates
And write them on your doors!
This past year I taught in the Hebrew school at Or Hadash
, a Reconstructionist synagogue in the Philadelphia area. One day, for the regular tefilah
portion of the afternoon, education director Lori Rubin introduced an activity in which the kids would work together to compose a prayer that expressed the main ideas of the Shema
in the style of Doctor Seuss. Hearing the kids working on their prayer sparked my imagination, and when I got home that evening I composed this translation.
One thing a lot of us whose first language is English don't notice about biblical poetry is its rhythmic quality. While ancient Hebrew poetry doesn't adhere to a strict metrical structure like classical Greek or English poems do, poems found in the Tanakh often do have a much looser rhythmic structure based on patterns of stressed syllables. This rhythm doesn't often come out in English translations of biblical poems, which often read more like blank verse. That's why it was interesting to try doing a fairly direct translation in a poetical style (that of Doctor Seuss) with a very rigid meter. It also turned out fairly catchy!
I think this would be a great version to teach children for the bedtime Shema.
Dr. Seuss image: Hawthorne Threads