In order for Shema to have its full impact, exactly 248 separate words must be said. In addition to saying every letter correctly, one should enunciate each word distinctly, without slurring them together. Joining words together detracts from the total and also gives a different meaning to the words.
For example, if the words “vechara af” (“anger flared”) are said quickly, they sound like “v’charaf” (“cursed”). Nobody wants to be the instigator of causing Hashem to curse us, as such a reading implies. Especially in cases where the last letter of one word is the same as the first letter of the next, or the letter aleph follows a mem, one must take extra precautions to ensure that the two words are not slurred into one (Shulchan Aruch 61: 19-21).
The correct pronunciation and clear distinction of each word are crucial for our recitation of Shema to have its full impact. Notwithstanding the extreme importance of a careful, slow recitation of the Shema, if a person recites the Shema quickly, he still fulfills the mitzva of Krias Shema (Shulchan Aruch 62,1).
Text Copyright © 2009 by Rabbi Daniel Travis and Torah.org