וְהָיָ֗ה אִם־שָׁמֹ֤עַ תִּשְׁמְעוּ֙ אֶל־מִצְוֹתַ֔י אֲשֶׁ֧ר אָֽנֹכִ֛י מְצַוֶּ֥ה אֶתְכֶ֖ם הַיּ֑וֹם לְאַֽהֲבָ֞ה אֶת־יְהֹוָ֤ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶם֙ וּלְעָבְד֔וֹ בְּכָל־לְבַבְכֶ֖ם וּבְכָל־נַפְשְׁכֶֽם:
And it will be, if you hearken to My commandments that I command you this day to love the Lord, your God, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul…Deuteronomy 11:13
An essential part of this week’s portion does not translate into English well at all: “And to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.” Technically, the term here, to serve him, is accurate. However, לעבדו has a far greater meaning then just “to serve.” Avodah, which means service, refers also to the service of the Kohayns in the temple. This service, the service of the sacrifices and offerings, is a physical method in which Israel worships Hashem. This idea of physical actions in worship is encompassed in this term Avodah.
We are directed, commanded, to do Avodah with all of our heart and all of our Nefesh (soul). The implications is this commandment are vast. If Avodah is the physical action of worship, as demonstrated by the sacrifices and offerings, what is Avodah of the heart and of the Nefesh? Avodah of the Nefesh seems straightforward, it is the action of doing the mitzvot of the sacrifices and offerings. Avodah of the heart? This is less straightforward.
Avodah of the heart constitutes all of the different types of prayer. Being in constant communion with Hashem, engaging in bracha, tefilah, hitpalelut, sh’eilah, and Avodah itself, all constitute Avodah of the heart. In other words, this passage in the Torah is the basis for the entire concept of prayer and praying to Hashem. The reason we pray, the purpose of our prayer, is this Avodah of the heart.
As King David entreated us to pray without ceasing, so we strive to be in constant contact and communion with Hashem. We do this through all of the different forms of prayer. Our relationship with Hashem, physical, and of the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama, is through prayer, commanded by Hashem with these simple words: “To serve him with all your heart and with all your Nefesh.” This commandment which we recite twice a day, as the second paragraph of the Shema, is vital to understand Israel’s relationship with Hashem. We are the nation that prays as a nation. We as individuals are part of this nation that prays as a nation to Hashem. We pray as individuals, and we praise a nation. What we are doing is serving Hashem with all our hearts and all of our Nefesh.