By Rabbi Yitzchak Etshalom | Series: | Level:

1. If someone is reading Sh’ma and does not direct his heart during [the recitation of] the first verse, which is Sh’ma Yisra’el, he has not fulfilled his obligation. As for the rest [of K’riat Sh’ma], if he did not direct his heart, yatza.

Even if he was reading from the Torah in his usual fashion, or proofreading these Parashiot during the time of reading, yatza; as long as he directs his heart during the first verse.


K’riat Sh’ma and Kavanah
Yitzchak Etshalom


The Mishna in Berakhot (2:1) reads: “If he was reading from the Torah (Rashi: the section of K’riat Sh’ma) and the time for reading (Rashi: The time for K’riat Sh’ma) arrived; if he directed his heart, Yatza; if not, Lo Yatza…”

The first impression we get from this Mishna is that K’riat Sh’ma demands *Kavanah* – intent. In other words, in order to fulfill the Mitzva, not only must you read these words properly, you must also do so with the intention of fulfilling the Mitzva. This is the easiest and straightest read of the Mishna; since the person is “reading” these Parashiot anyways, the only plausible component missing would be his intent (or, more accurately, motivation). Since the Mishna avers that he is not *Yotze* (= does not fulfill the Mitzva) without that intent, it follows that intent of proper motivation is, at least in the case of K’riat Sh’ma, a necessary requirement.

The Gemara (Berakhot 13a) immediately pounces on this implication – as the issue of *Mitzvot Tz’rikhot Kavanah* (Mitzvot require intent) is a well-known and highly commented-upon dispute (see BT Rosh HaShana 28). If the intent of our Mishna is to require Kavana for K’riat Sh’ma – that would seemingly settle the dispute (which is highly unlikely, considering that Amora’im debate it – and they were all well familiar with our Mishna, which is unanimously accepted.)



The Gemara clarifies that our Mishna is referring to a case where the person is *Koreh l’hagia* – i.e. is proofreading the text (e.g. checking a Sefer Torah, Mezuza or Tefillin for validity).

Rashi explains that he is not intending to “read” – i.e. not only is he not intending to fulfill the Mitzva of K’riat Sh’ma, he isn’t even intending to perform an act of reading. In other words, if – during the time for K’riat Sh’ma – someone is proofreading from a Sefer Torah and reaches the section in Devarim (6:4-9) which includes K’riat Sh’ma – if he continues to “proof” the text, he is not Yotze K’riat Sh’ma. He must at least intend to “read”. It is unclear from this Rashi if the missing component is purely intent – or if this “intent” to proofread means that the verbal recitation is also not done properly.

R. Hai Ga’on (Otzar haGeonim, 1: Perushim: p. 12) explains the case in a similar way: “…because you have to intend a *K’riah*, at the very least.”

Tosafot (Berakhot 13a s.v. b’Koreh) understands Rashi’s comment as directed exclusively to the issue of intent – and Tosafot challenges this, since, after all, he is reading the proper words! Tosafot therefore offers an alternative explanation: When proofreading the text, he is verbalizing the words in their written form, ignoring the proper Masoretic vocalization. Tosafot sees the problem as rooted in the verbalization of K’riat Sh’ma, since intent is a non-issue. (See, however, Rashi in Rosh Hashana (28b s.v. Koreh) where he interprets our case as “there isn’t even reading here, rather mumbling”. This fits much better with Tosafot’s understanding and may be the intent of Rashi’s words in Berakhot.)

In summary: The Mishna implies that some measure of intent is necessary to fulfill the Mitzva of K’riat Sh’ma. The Gemara immediately “transfers” this demand to a need for proper reading. This could either mean vocalization and clear reading (Tosafot), or vocalizing with intent to read (as opposed to proofreading.) (R. Hai Ga’on). It should be noted that many Rishonim comment on this issue; some reading like Tosafot and the others like R. Hai.



Until now, we have dealt exclusively with two types of Kavana which are universal:

(a) Intent to perform a particular action (“Awareness”) and

(b) Intent to perform an action for a particular purpose (“Motivation”).

Many Rishonim note that, in reference to K’riat Sh’ma, there are three issues of Kavana – the above-mentioned two, which are universal (apply to all Mitzvot) – and a third, which is relatively local to K’riat Sh’ma. (By relatively local – I mean that it may apply to some other Mitzvot, such as Tefilla – but it is in no wise a universal issue, applicable to all Mitzvot).

Rabbenu Meir of Narbonne (Sefer haM’orot, p. 58 – Blau edition) and Rabbenu Meshulam of Beziers (Sefer haHashlama, p.199- Blau edition) among others, list “three types of Kavanah in K’riat Sh’ma” – the two already mentioned and a third: “Kavanat haLev”.

Rabbenu Manoach of Narbonne (Sefer haMenuchah, p. 15, Horwitz edition) has a slightly different formulation: “There are three types of Kavanah:

(a) Kavanat Malkhut Shamayim (intent to accept God’s rule)

(b) Kavanat haLev

(c) Kavanat K’riah (intent to read).”

(They also mention a fourth intent which is associated with not doing work while reading – this will be discussed when we get to Halakhot 3 &4 in our chapter).



The Gemara (Berakhot 13) discusses the issue of “Kavana”, as indicated by the textual reference in the Sh’ma itself: “…and these words which I am commanding you today shall be ON YOUR HEART…”. Whereas R. Eliezer sees “these words” as exclusive – that only the words up to this point (the first two or three verses) must be “on your heart”, R. Akiva stresses the next phrase: “which I am commanding you today” – as indicating that even those commandments which follow this verse must be “on your heart.” The Gemara later brings the following: ” *Sh’ma Yisrael…Echad* – Kavanat haLev is only needed until this point. – these are the words of R. Meir. Rava says: the Halakha follows R. Meir[‘s opinion].”

It is clear that the “Kavana” discussed here is different from that associated with most Mitzvot. First of all, the verse which is being used as a source is a uniquely “K’riat Sh’ma” verse. Second – there would be no reason to assign the need for Kavana to a part of the Mitzva if it were the usual type of Kavana. This is why the term “Kavanat haLev” – lit. “direction/intent of the heart” is introduced.

The usual understanding of Kavanat haLev is “meaning” – i.e. thinking about the meaning of the words as they are being vocalized. As opposed to “Awareness” – which merely demands association of the action with deliberation – and “Motivation” – which (and this is, as mentioned, subject to debate in the Gemara) requires association of the action with a stated goal, “Kavanat haLev”, which we will translate as “Meaning”, demands a much more concious cognitive relationship with the action.

Awareness and motivation may be achieved with a moment’s thought; it is certainly not assumed that awareness need be present throughout the entire performance of a Mitzva. Neither is it to be assumed that, if Mitzvot demand proper motivation, that said motivation must be “present” the whole time. On the other hand, the demand for “meaning” is applied to every word (within the scope of the requirement – first verse, first 2 or 3 verses or first Parasha).

The general approach within the Rishonim (who, by and large, accept Rava’s ruling that the Halakha follows R. Meir) is that Kavanat haLev – meaning – is a sine qua non for the first verse only.

In summary – in order to fulfill the Mitzva of K’riat Sh’ma, you must intend to be “reading” (as presented in paragraph I above); and, depending on the position taken regarding the requirement of “proper motivation”, you may need to intend, through this reading, to fulfill the Mitzva of K’riat Sh’ma.

In addition, while reading the first verse, you need to think about the meaning of the words while reading them.

By the way, Rambam uses two terms for “meaning” throughout the MT – “Kavanat haLev” and “Kavanat haDa’at” (See MT De’ot 3:2; see also MT Nedarim 13:23). Whereas Kavanat haLev translates as “thinking about the words” or, in the case of Teruma (MT Terumot 4:21), “imputing greater meaning to an act than is obvious” (which is, ultimately, what Kavanat haLev in K’riat Sh’ma accomplishes); Kavanat haDa’at seems to mean “directing your activities to a greater goal.”

In other words, Kavanat haLev is local to the specific action – it reflects a union of cognition and verbalization. Kavanat haDa’at, on the other hand, refers to a motivation for a given action within the context of a greater goal. For example, making vows of abstinence in order to improve a character trait which has been sullied – the specific action (making an vow) is part of a larger program of self-improvement.



R. Aharon haLevi – the R’ah – was a student of Ramban and one of Ritba’s mentors (that puts him in Spain during the 14th century). Although he has been cast as the anonymous author of the Sefer haHinukh – recent scholarship seems to point away from this conclusion. (See Kafih’s notes in his introduction to Ritba’s Responsa).

In his commentary on Berakhot, R’ah steers away from the general position adopted by the Rishonim regarding Kavanat haLev. When describing the “three types of Kavana”, he identifies the third (unique to K’riat Sh’ma) as: “Kavanat haLev in each and every word – not Kavana to fulfill the Mitzva; rather, he should intend himself at every single word to God, according to his capability.” Unlike the cognitive “Kavanat haLev” of the other Rishonim – thinking about the meaning of every word – he reads Kavanat haLev as devotional intention. He then applies this level of Kavana exclusively to the first verse. In other words, he rules like Rava, interpreting the “Kavanat haLev” of R. Meir as devotional. Why did R’ah understand our Gemara in this fashion?

I have introduced the connection between Talmud Torah and K’riat Sh’ma several times in these shiurim. It seems clear from the Gemara and Rishonim that K’riat Sh’ma, if not sourced in Talmud Torah, maintains a strong Talmud Torah component. There are, properly speaking, three modes of Talmud Torah (see MT Talmud Torah 1:11) – “K’riah” (reading); “Shinun” (repetition/internalization & absorption of material); “Iyun” (analysis). However, there is a significant difference between “K’riah” and “Shinun”. Whereas K’riah can be fulfilled without understanding the words, Shinun cannot. For example, if someone reads from the Torah publicly and isn’t paying attention to the meaning of the words (he’s too caught up in parsing correctly or the tune), he and the community have fulfilled the Mitzva of the public reading of the Torah. This is also be true in the case of someone who reviews the weekly Parasha or reads any other part of T’nakh (Bible); although understanding is key to a fuller appreciation of the text and a proper fulfillment of Talmud Torah, nevertheless, even without comprehension, he has fulfilled the Mitzva of Talmud Torah by reading T’nakh.

On the other hand, if someone “davens up” (reads without understanding) some Mishna or other Rabbinic text – this is in no way a “kiyyum” of Talmud Torah. K’riah is defined as verbalizing words from T’nakh; Shinun (and Iyun) are defined as comprehending, internalizing, comparing contrasting etc.

Since most Rishonim seem to view the Talmud Torah component of K’riat Sh’ma as “K’riah” (see the various citations in the earlier part of this shiur), it follows that one may fulfill this level of K’riat Sh’ma even without paying attention to the meaning of the words. If so, we are left with Kavanat haLev as a special obligation applying solely to the first verse – and implying that these words need to be attended to – “Sh’ma Yisrael” – “Hear – and pay attention- Israel!”.

R’ah, on the other hand, indicates that the Mitzva of K’riat Sh’ma is one of “Shinun”. In his comment on Berakhot 16, he talks about “Kavanat Shinun” – that K’riat Sh’ma (or at least the first paragraph) demands Kavanat Shinun. In other words, in order to have a proper K’riat Sh’ma, the words must be “learned” in a manner of “Shinun” – where understanding and verbalization are simultaneous and directed.

Since R’ah maintains that the Talmud Torah component of K’riat Sh’ma demands comprehension (Shinun as opposed to K’riah), he must interpret R. Meir’s words – that the first verse alone needs “Kavanat haLev” in a different fashion. Therefore, he introduces the notion of Kavana which is devotional – that, while reading this verse (at least), we need to attach it to our worship of God.

This may also explain the first Kavana listed by R. Manoach – Kavanat Malkhut Shamayim, which he limits to the first verse.


now, to the questions:

Q1: What is the meaning of “direction of the heart” (*kavannat halev*)?

A: In Rambam’s lexicon, it means “paying attention to the meaning of the words you are saying” OR “intending an application of this act beyond that which is obvious.”

Q2: Why does Rambam need to tell us the “title” of the first verse (…which is Sh’ma Yisra’el…”)?

A: Perhaps Rambam is concerned that we might erroneously think that the significance of the first verse is its location – that we need to have extra Kavana there because it’s at the beginning. Therefore, he adds the title, so that we understand that its significance is due to its text, not location. (Some have suggested the opposite reason for the demand for Kavanat haLev in the first blessing of the Amidah – we’ll get to that at Tefilla 10:1)

Q3: Why is intent only required for the first verse?

A: Along with the Talmud Torah component (which, for Rambam, is one of K’riah), there is a dimension of Kabalat Ol Malkhut Shamayim – accepting God’s rule. That part of K’riat Sh’ma, which is focussed in the first verse, can only happen by paying attention to the words and meaning them as they are said.

Q4: Why does Rambam provide these two examples – reading in his usual fashion & proofreading?

A: The Mishna which introduced the issue of Kavana was interpreted as referring to a case where he was proofreading – however, that interpretation was only necessary to demonstrate that our Mishna did not conclusively prove that Mitzvot need Kavana (motivation). Otherwise, we could read our Mishna as simply “if he was reading in the normal fashion”; hence, Rambam cites both possibilities.

It is worth noting that Rambam interprets the Mishna differently than we presented: He interprets the “if he directed his heart” as referring to the first verse alone. In other words, the Mishna now reads: If someone was reading from the Torah and the time for Sh’ma arrived, if he had Kavanah in the first verse, Yatza.

Q5: Why does Rambam repeat the demand for intent during the first verse at the end of this Halakha?

A: In order to clarify his interpretation of the Mishna, as indicated in the previous answer.

Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project Genesis, Inc.