Shema Yisrael & The Motorcyclist: The Meaning Of Proclaiming God’s Unity


motorcycleBy Rabbi Tzvi Sytner

Every Sunday morning I have the pleasure of studying with two Jewish surgeons. Each week we explore the meaning of a section of the siddur.

We were up to the Shema, the most prominent – and fundamental – Jewish prayer. “Hear O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One.” Hear means more than just uttering words; it means hear the deep message and internalize it in our hearts and minds. When we say the words “God is One,” we are saying everything in the universe concurrently exists because God wills it to exist, and that life’s occurrences are a result of God’s inner-workings and underpinnings of the world.

The Shema expresses our complete devotion to God, regardless of our life circumstances. We are recognizing that everything is ultimately part of His Divine orchestration. Every time we cover our eyes and proclaim God’s unity, we are essentially stating that regardless of what is in front of my eyes today, regardless of whether life is delivering me celebration or tribulation, I cover my eyes and declare my devotion, no matter what is in front of me. It is about unconditional devotion.

While we were discussing the topic that Sunday morning, Dr. Goldberg*, one of the surgeons, shared a most incredible story. One morning while driving to work he decided to take a route that he doesn’t normally drive. As he pulled up to a red light prior to entering onto the highway he looked out his window and noticed a motorcyclist stopped next to him. The motorcyclist was dressed in black from head to toe, riding a sleek black Italian motorcycle. The light then turned green and the motorcycle sped off.

Dr. Goldberg continued on the highway for a short stretch and suddenly saw the man in black on the Italian motorcycle grinding across the highway on its side with sparks shooting everywhere. The motorcyclist had lost control and was thrown from the bike. Dr. Goldberg quickly pulled over and ran to the man. He was lying on the ground, still wearing his black helmet, and missing one of his legs. Arterial blood was pouring from his thigh; he was bleeding to death.

“Another woman arrived at the scene and was assisting me in saving his life. I turned to her and realized it was one of the nurses from my hospital. She was running very late to work that morning and happened to pass by at the exact time of the accident.”

Dr. Goldberg realized that in another 60 seconds the man would bleed to death. He quickly placed his lab coat on the man’s artery and pressed with all his strength. As he was trying to prevent the bleeding, the man lifted his hand to his helmet and began slowly pulling it off.

“I had no idea what to expect when I saw him removing his helmet. I expected to hear groaning, cries or perhaps screaming. I was shocked and couldn’t believe my ears when I heard him saying the words, ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad!'”

Dr. Goldberg managed to slow the bleeding until an emergency medical team arrived, who then rushed him to the nearest trauma hospital. He did not recognize the motorcyclist at the time, but as it turns out they attended the same synagogue.

On Rosh Hashanah of the following year there was a knock on Dr. Goldberg’s door. He opened the door and immediately recognized the face of the motorcyclist standing there with his children beside him. “I just wanted to thank you for saving my life.”

Dr. Goldberg finished the story and the room was completely silent. Then he turned to me and said, “This is what I think about when I say the words Shema Yisrael.”

It dawned on me that we are all this motorcyclist riding down the open highway. Maybe it’s not a physical motorcycle, but as we travel down the highway through our own personal lives we all have ‘accidents.’ We all hit bumps in the road that may throw us off course – sometimes in the form of overwhelming,life-altering trials related to health, finances, or family, and sometimes as the small aches and pains of living. That’s when our belief in God hits the pavement and we can gage how real we are when we say Shema Yisrael and proclaim God’s unity. Do we see the Divine orchestration of events, the blessings hidden within?

Whether it’s a motorcycle accident or challenge in the office or home, or a celebration of good fortune, I cover my eyes with my hand, regardless of what is in front of me today, and declare, “Hear O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One.”

*Not his real name.

This article, submitted by the author to, first appeared on

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  1. Saying the Shema is like a “reset” switch on your faith in the heavens and with Hashem. We say it to keep our promise to Hashem that we are indeed his chosen servant. And we say it with complete conviction. If you do not say it with pure conviction, say it again. Baruch Hashem.

  2. Wow I don’t know what to say. I’ve gone on to a couple of times in the last few years. I don’t know why I decided to go on today and see what was going on, and furthermore why I read this story, when I never read story’s that are posted online. This could not have come at a better time. You know sometimes when your going through very tough times and its going on for a long period of time you get accustom to just being in the position that your in, and although it doesn’t really make sence, you forget that it’s possible to get out of it and that there is someone that has the ability to help you out of it even though you don’t think it’s possible. It might be hard for you to relate to, but I can, cause I’m going through it right now. I totally forgot that there were times that I used to daven everyday and say shema every day and actually used to ask HaShem to help me through my daily difficulties. This is not a bogus comment that I’m writing. I actually just finished crying for 20 minutes after thinking about how far removed I am from having HaShem be part of my daily life, in being able to ask him to help me through what seems impossible, and more what I actually believe is impossible when not thinking that there is someone that can help me through the impossible. That’s what broke me down when I read this write up, that when u say shema your saying HaShem is one. And I thought to myself that he’s in a class of his own and that although there’s isn’t a person I can think of that can help me, he can do what no one else can do. I don’t know who the person who wrote the story is, but it was well worth him writing it just for me. I just got a shock of what am i doing by being in this crazy situation that is impossible, and not trying my last resort which should be my first resort in asking HaShem to help me. It’s really crazy how I can be going through what I’m going through and not think that maybe I should daven to HaShem to help me. That’s the power of the yetzer horah. I hope other people going through what im going through
    can get the shock that I recived after reading what he wrote towards the end. May this be what finally gets me back on track, and may we see mashiach very soon.

  3. I get “imotional” or maybe emotional when I read your fine poorly organized commentary from a Jew who should be the worlds finest grammatical and social endeavor.

  4. I can’t believe that when I went back to see what other people wrote, I see comments from people that make fun of other comments. You guys should be ashamed of yourselves that you sit on your computer making fun of other people. Moshiach is not here because of people like you!!!!