Project Genesis

Coverered Eyes During the Shema Prayer

Question: Why do we cover our eyes with our right hand while saying the Shema prayer ? Why not during the second line of “Baruch Shem Kavod…” ?

Answer: Covering our eyes during the recitation of Shema is one of those things that we do at least twice every day, and yet rarely stop to think about, so I applaud your taking time out to ponder this ubiquitous practice.

The most obvious reason for covering our eyes during the Shema is to enhance our concentration during this most important prayer. The Shema is the ultimate declaration of faith in the One True God, and as such deserves our utmost attention. Covering our eyes enables us to fully devote our thoughts to the One Above.

That reason is certainly true and correct. There is, however, another, deeper reason which explains this practice.

The Shema declares our belief in the One True God. That is, that ultimately, the universe exists as a single entity, and that is God. There is nothing else, but God. However, in the world that we currently inhabit, we cannot easily discern that reality. It seems like there are a multitude of forces and energies competing in the universe. It is just about impossible to truly experience and understand that God is the ONLY force, the only energy that exists; it seems like God, God forbid, is just one of many entities that exist. Only in a future time, with the coming of the Messiah and the establishment of God’s true dominion of the universe, will this reality be clear to us. In the world to come, we will truly comprehend that God is the only One, the only thing that exists. The Shema reaffirms our belief, that no, there are not a multitude of forces in the universe—there is only One—God. In order to shield us from the illusion of this world, a world where we cannot easily see the Oneness of God, we close our eyes, shutting ourselves off from this world. The covering of the eyes is an indication to us, that seeing, in this world, is NOT believing, that we cannot trust our senses; that the truth, that God is the only force, is hidden from us, at least for now. In this manner, we can better understand the true meaning behind the declaration of the Shema. That is the deeper reason for covering our eyes during the recital of Shema.

As far your second question, my understanding is that, indeed, one SHOULD cover one’s eyes not only during the first sentence of Shema, but during the recitation of the second passage, Baruch Shem Kvod…, as well. In general the passage Baruch Shem Kvod is considered an extension of the Shema declaration.

Be well,
Rabbi Yoel Spotts

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