This week’s Torah reading contains the charge: “And you shall serve G‑d your L‑rd.” This charge refers to the obligation to pray, as Maimonidesstates: “It is a positive mitzvah to pray…, as it is written, ‘And you shall serve G‑d your L‑rd.’ According to the oral tradition, we learned that… this service is prayer, as it is written: ‘And serve Him with all your heart’ and our Sages said: Which is the service of the heart? This is prayer.”

Prayer must be service in the heart and with the heart. For prayer involves changing over the nature of our emotional reactions. It’s natural for us to be attracted to things that are physically appealing and to fear things that threaten our material welfare. Less frequently, do we have natural attraction and/or awe for the spiritual.

That is the purpose of our efforts in prayer. G‑d does not need us to pray to Him; He is complete and perfect in and of Himself. Why are we asked to pray? For our own good. Not only for our material welfare — to make requests of Him, but primarily, for our spiritual welfare — to align our operative consciousness with our inner spiritual potential.

To explain: Tefillah, the Hebrew term for prayer, relates to the root tofal which means to put together or to fuse. Prayer involves fusing the different dimensions of our personalities with our inner spiritual essence, enabling the G‑dly potential that lies at the core of each of our beings to surface and take control of our conscious thought and feelings.

This endeavor involves two fundamental thrusts:

a) awakening the natural love for G‑d that each one of us possesses. Every man’s soul is an actual part of G‑d, a spark of the Divine that yearns to unite with its source. Nevertheless, because of our involvement with worldly matters, that yearning retreats deeper and deeper into our subconscious. During prayer, we heighten our awareness of that inner potential and give it the opportunity for expression.

b) Heightening the awareness of G‑d’s greatness, as Maimonides writes: “When a person contemplates His wondrous and great deeds… appreciates His infinite wisdom… he will immediately love… [Him], yearning with tremendous desire to know [G‑d’s] great name…. When he [continues] to reflect on these same matters, he will immediately recoil in awe and fear, appreciating how he is a tiny… creature, standing… before He who is of perfect knowledge.”

Both of these thrusts are necessary. If a person relies only on the essential love lying within his soul, he will be lacking integrity. There will be a schism between his G‑dly core and his day-to-day mindset. Even when he brings his G‑dly essence to the surface, it will not necessarily be integrated with his conscious thoughts and feelings; it will simply overpower them. Therefore, contemplation is necessary.

Conversely, if he works only on developing intellectual love and fear of G‑d, he will be forfeiting the infinite power of his G‑dly soul. For intellectual love and fear are limited, while the love and fear that stems from his fundamental G‑dly potential is unbounded, like G‑d Himself.

Looking to the Horizon

This week’s Torah reading concludes with a repetition of the description of the Giving of the Torah. Now, just a week ago, in the portion of Yisro,that event had been described in elaborate detail, why then must its description be repeated again? And why are the verses describing the Torah’s laws and judgments included in between?

In resolution, it can be explained that there are two dimensions to the Sinai experience: G‑d’s giving of the Torah and man’s receiving it. G‑d’s giving of the Torah was highlighted last week, in Parshas Yisro. This week, the focus is on man’s receiving it.

In a larger sense, man’s receiving the Torah, internalizing it within his being, and then using it to change the world in which he lives is an ongoing process that only began at Sinai. In every generation, that process is continued, as the Torah’s truth is extended into new and different situations.

The culmination of this process will come in the era of Mashiach, when “the knowledge of G‑d will fill the earth as the waters cover the ocean bed.” Our efforts to both internalize and spread that knowledge serve as a catalyst to hasten the fulfillment of that Divine promise.