1. K’riat Sh’ma is read twice each day, at evening and morning. As it says: “…and when you lie down and when you rise.” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 6:7) – at the time when people generally lie down, which is night and at the time when people generally rise, which is day.
Q1: Why doesn’t Rambam begin his Halakhot with “It is a Mitzvat Aseh to read K’riat Sh’ma…” as he does elsewhere (e.g. Tefilla 1:1, Sefer Torah 7:1, Hametz uMatza 7:1).
YF: You explained in the Introduction last week that there is a Machlokes (dispute) on exactly what is the Mitzva Aseh.
YE: Yes, but Rambam certainly maintains that some part of K’riat Sh’ma is mandated by the Torah (which is why he includes it in his list of 613) – whatever amount he considers of Torahic origin should be presented at the beginning in this fashion.
There are several places where Rambam does not begin with the “It is a Mitzva…” formula; K’riat Sh’ma, Mezuza, Tefillin and Tzitzit. It is possible that those Mitzvot which the Torah itself presents in the context of serving a more inclusive and general function are not introduced with the “It is a Mitzva…” formula in order to defocus the independent nature of the Mitzva. K’riat Sh’ma, Tefillin and Mezuza are all mentioned in the Torah within the context of declaring God’s unity, loving God and keeping these ideas (or the whole Torah) in our minds at all times. Tzitzit is presented as a vehicle for remembering all of the Mitzvot and remaining steadfast in our loyalty to God. Conversely, Tefilla, Sefer Torah, Birkat haMazon (B’rakhot 1:1), Haggadah (Hametz uMatza 7:1), Kiddush on Shabbat (Shabbat 29:1) are all independent Mitzvot. This does not mean that they do not serve greater functions, such as worship, transmission of tradition etc., but they are not presented in the Torah as means to other Mitzvot.
2: In the first clause, Rambam refers to *Erev* (evening) and *Boqer* (morning); at the end of the Halakha, he translates “when you lie down and when you rise” into *Yom* (day) and *Layla* (night). Why does he switch from evening/morning to day/night?
YE: In the first clause, Rambam is telling us when we actually read K’riat Sh’ma – in the evening (the beginning of the night) and morning (the beginning of the day). When he expounds on the verse, he is presenting the elemental Halakha. In our discussion above, we suggested that Rambam views K’riat Sh’ma is an ongoing Mitzva with two daily “flash-points” – this is born out by his usage of day/night here.
Kessef Mishneh (1:13) asks an intriguing question about the general understanding of “when you lie down and when you rise”. The consensus from the Mishna through the Rishonim is that evening K’riat Sh’ma may be recited all night – but daytime K’riat Sh’ma must be recited by some point in the early morning (sunrise, first 1/4 of the day etc.). Kessef Mishneh raises the inconsistency here: since we interpret “when you lie down” as “while people are, in general, lying down (i.e. sleeping) – why don’t we interpret “when you rise” as when people are, in general, awake and about (all day)? He answers that the fundamental obligation of daytime K’riat Sh’ma is, indeed, all day. In order to ensure that K’riat Sh’ma would be said before morning prayer – which must be said before 1/3 of the day – the Rabbis mandated an earlier time for daytime Sh’ma. Although this approach is unique among the Rishonim, it explains Rambam’s language – although in fact we read K’riat Sh’ma in the evening and morning, the verse alludes to “day” and “night” by defining the times with “when you lie down” (when people are asleep) and “when you rise” (when people are awake).
Q3: Why does he need to translate “when…rise” into times – why can’t it be understood literally, when each person lies down and when each person rises, at that point he must read K’riat Sh’ma?
YF: Someone might think that whenever I get up or whenever I go to sleep I could say Shma, and he would miss the Zeman for Kriyat Shma. So Rambam explains that it means the time when most people go to sleep and whenever most people get up.
YE: The question is not aimed chiefly at Rambam – this exegesis goes back to the Tanna’im. Mishna Berakhot 1:3 records a dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai about the interpretation of these words. Whereas Beit Shammai interpret the words as directing body position while reading K’riat Sh’ma (lying down, standing up), Beit Hillel understand them as time-parameters (when most people are sleeping, when most people are rising).
The general consensus is that these times are referring to “general” times, not individual sleeping or rising times. (RAAVAN is an exception; he maintains that at whatever time a person begins preparing for bed with his final meal of the day, that is the proper time for “evening” K’riat Sh’ma, even if it is in the afternoon.) It seems to be a foregone conclusion that the Torah speaks in generalities and appoints set times based on common custom/behavior. For example, although the Torah commands us to bless God after eating, the Halakha is that this only applies to a meal which is bread-based – since that was the common type of meal at the time of the Torah.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.