"Excellent, teacher!" Mark 12:32
What must it have been like to engage Jesus in a conversation? Here we have an unnamed scribe, a teacher of religious law, listening in on Jesus' discussion with some Sadducees about the resurrection of the dead. Unlike the others, this scribe was not out to trap Jesus into saying something for which He could be arrested.
This scribe really wanted to learn, and he asked Jesus, "Of all the commandments, which is the first, the most important?" And Jesus recites the Shema, "Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength."
These words from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is a declaration of faith, a pledge of allegiance to One God. The Jews recite this when they wake up and before going to sleep at night. It is the first prayer that a Jewish child is taught and the last words on a Jew's lips on his death bed.
Rabbi Eliezer Silver went to Europe in 1945 to help recover Jewish children who had been protected during the Holocaust by hiding them with non-Jewish families. He would go to gatherings of families and then recite the Shema loudly so all could hear. Then he would look into the eyes of the children for any tears of remembrance, any sign that they could recall those words repeated again and again before they went to sleep and when they awoke. These were also the words Jesus was taught to memorize as a young child.
In Deuteronomy 6, Moses tells his community to repeat these words again and again to their children, to talk about it all the time, not only when they were at home, but also when they were at work, and when they were traveling. They were to tie it to their hands and put it on their doorposts. That was how important this teaching was. This was one way to identify the people God called His very own. Perhaps we should memorize these words too, and engrave it in our hearts!