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    Words before the Shema – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Why do we say the three words, E-l Melech Ne’eman, before the Shema?

    A. There is a view that they add to the words of the Shema to add up to 248, equivalent to the parts of the body (Midrash Tanchuma).

    The idea is that the whole of our person attests to the existence and oneness of the Almighty (the Psalmist says, Kol atz’motai tomarna – “All my bones declare, ‘Lord, who is like You?'”: Psalm 35:10).

    This arithmetical calculation explains why the three words are left out in congregational worship, when the officiant adds three words at the end – HaShem Elokechem Emet, also adding up to 248.

    The three words E-l Melech Ne’eman can also be taken as symbols of the three tenses – past, present and future.

    Before the world’s creation, HaShem was E-l, the powerful One, but He was all alone. When the world was brought into being, He became Melech, the King: now He had a kingdom. As Ne’eman, the faithful One, He will lead and preserve His world and bring about the final redemption.

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