There are three paragraphs from the Torah which follow the Shema. They are Deut 6 :4-9 (V'ahavta); Deut 11: 13-21 or Deut 28 1-6 (V'haya Im Shamoah); and Num. 15:37-41(Asu Lahem Tzitzith). It is my contention that these three paragraphs are a recapitulation of a person's moral development and modes of relating to God from infancy to adulthood. Just as the exodus to desert to promised land to exile recapitulates mythic national history and its relationship to God, so do these paragraphs recapitulate moral history.
If one examines theories of child development from Erikson through Gessel to Piaget one always finds more than three stages. However since the Torah and the Siddur are terse and the person praying these paragraphs should be acutely aware of their own moral development they can be reduced to just three. Just as we recapitulate evolution in physical development retaining vestiges of previous stages ( for example our flight or fight response ), similarly we carry vestiges these moral stages with us all our lives. Further it is important that we recall them in prayer.
When we reduce to three stages there is an overlap in age. It is also clear that the influence on one's being of each stage is ever present, though it may wane with time .
Let me first, and by conflation, I do a disservice to developmental psychology, describe briefly the stage, and then show how the paragraph in question reflects the perception of the stage. The contention is that the paragraph reflects how a person at the stage perceives - not what is actually happening.
The first stage - In ascendence from birth through two years, but articulated even up to seven- is that of symbiotic relationship with the parent. In this stage separation between parent and child is unthinkable and the child's only requirement is to make manifest the love-force. Let us freely translate the V'ahavta into the language of an exuberant 5 year old girl to emphasize that total involvement.
"I love you Mommy with all my heart , and all my feelings , and everything I have. I really love you. I'm going to tell all my friends and dollies about it. I love you at home, I love you at school, when I go to bed, when I get up . I am going to make an "I love you" sticker for my hand and "I love you" sign on my face. I'm going to put "I love you" on the fridge door and on the front door!
We all remember this unbounded love whose the only requirement being that we express it. Further it is only in a symbiotic state that we can be commanded to love "V'ahavta". There is no real distinction between the inner voice and the outer voice. Thus the voice can command us to love.
Somewhere around two years old we realize that love is not all you need. We realize that our wishes and our Parent's wishes are not the same. We start the slow and painful process between "it broke" and "I broke it". We get a sense of at first having external controls on our behaviour, then the sense that we need external controls on our behaviour, and later the sense that such controls are good for us. We then believe that there is a set of rules which if we follow them, all will be well and if we don't we will face consequences. The strong sense that morality holds that actions have consequences pervades this thinking. The worst insult to one's being that one can receive is to be unfairly punished. A seven year old's sense of outrage at being unfairly dealt with is deep for it affects the child's very soul. These are re-enforced by our own consequencing of our children. This cover a spectrum from "If you wander on the street - I'll take away your tricycle."; If you get an "A" in geography you can manage your own time. ", to the extremes of grabbing and spanking the toddler who runs into traffic and the desperation of "I still love you and you can stay here as long as you continue in your group, but if you show up drunk and or on drugs I will have to call your parole officer" These are all V'haya Im Shamoa statements. Statements about the need for, desire for, and desirability of, external control. "If you will faithfully obey my commandments I favour your land I will give you grass and cattle Take care not to be lure away God will close the heavens and there will be no rain You will perish from the good land which the Lord gave you. The message is the same even in the sanitized version which many Reconstructionists use. It is also unfortunate that so much of traditional Judaism's moral philosophy cannot get beyond this point.
The next developmental stage is adolescence. Here moral control exerted by the self and the peer group. The first injunction of the Asu Lahem Tzitzith is "Wear the right threads" . If you wear tzitzith and hang out with tzitzith people -- that will show you accept Moses's statements about what God wants. ( Notice the moral injunction comes from a community leader, Moses, and not from an internal or external Parent). Your uniform will remind you not to let down yourself or your peers "When you look upon the fringe and be reminded Thus will you be reminded". The other major event of adolescence is the awareness of the moral implications of adult sexuality. This awareness becomes the paradigm for all moral problems . "You will not go after the whims of your heart or whore after other gods." The "Asu Lahem Tzitzith" is the morality of the adolescent.
Why do we recapitulate our moral development after the Shema- The answer is in the following paragraphs and what follows. "True and enduring and constant correct is this teaching" Our moral history is embedded in us as truth and as a basis for our actions. " From the first ones (infancy) to the last (maturity) these are good and established word". To understand ourselves as mature moral beings, we must recognize the process by which we have matured. In other matters recapitulation is simply a principle. It takes that particular genius of the Siddur to raise awareness of this principle to holiness by making a mitzvah out of it. This is especially important since our tendency is to forget or deny it in moral matters.
Difficult as it is, coming to terms with our moral history helps us immensely to proceed from the listening and awareness of the Shema to the next part of the service, the Amidah, the adult-adult conversation with the One who redeems Israel.