We recite twice dailyואהבת את ה’ אלוקיך בכל לבבך וכבל נפשך ובכל מאדך” – Love your G-d with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your possessions.” What is meant by “heart” and “soul”?
Many commentaries explain that “לב“– “heart” means emotions, and “נפש” – “soul” means intellect. The Jew must love Hashem emotionally and intellectually – with his לב and נפש.
The פרשה of קריאת שמע is the מצוה of קבלת עול מלכות שמים – accepting the yoke of Heaven’s Kingdom – of believing Hashem is our G-d. Thus, it is at its core the מצוה of אמונה בשם. Clearly, this is the most fundamental idea in the Torah and that is why we recite this most sacred belief and commitment every day and night of our lives.
It is clear that the מצוה of אמונה is not just accepting and believing in an abstract concept of G-d as truth. While it is true that this abstract belief is included in the first פסוק of שמע, the second פסוק demands אהבה – to love Hashem with our heart and soul – emotionally and intellectually. What does this mean? How can we successfully keep this mitzvah every day?
One must first ask another question. Why is love of Hashem such an important element of אמונה?
The answer is simple.
G-d is not an abstraction. He is a reality. One we can and must experience with every fiber of our being – both with our emotional self as well as with our intellectual self. Through our love of Hashem we achieve the goal, of knowing His existence at every level of our being. We not only know about Him, but we also know Him, Himself.
This is extremely important. בכל דרכיך דעהו” – Know Him in all of your ways.” The believer lives with Hashem and is in His presence constantly, without interruption. The effects of this G-d-awareness are monumental, and totally affect one’s thoughts and behavior so that he becomes a שמים ירא – a G-d-fearing Jew.
How does one move from שמע – abstract belief – to ואהבת – to active love and total connection with G-d?
There are two pillars of Jewish service of עבודת השם – and that is the theme of the second paragraph of קריאת שמע.
ולעבדו בכל לבבכם ובכל נפשכם” – Serve G-d with all your heart and all your soul.”
The רמב”ם in ספר המצוות says that one fulfills this מצוה of עבודת ה‘ – G-dly service – through prayer and the study of Torah. He writes:
Serve Him with prayer – עבדבו בתפלה
Serve Him with Torah – עבדהו בתורה.
The service of G-d is the actualization of the love of G-d. When you love someone, you will express it through service. A mother serves her family with food. A father serves his family with income. Service is a reflection and expression of the parents’ love for their children. When we serve Hashem we are actively expressing our love of and for Him. We are making our love real, our belief in Him real – not just an abstract concept.
How does prayer express our love for Hashem? Prayer is the expression of our emotional love. איזוהי עבודה שהיא בלב – הוי אומר זו תפלה. Our sages say, “What is the service of the heart – it is prayer.”
Prayer reflects all of the emotions of love. Some of these are:
Appreciation – for example, when we say the blessing of “אשר יצר” – we thank Hashem for giving us bodies that function normally and in good health.
Joy – for example, when we sing הלל, we express our joy during festivals and for יציאת מצרים at the Pesach Seder.
Anguish – when we beseech G-d to heal a loved one with anguished prayers.
Longing – when we recite the lamentation on תשעה באב for the חורבן בית המקדש and long to see it rebuilt.
Prayer includes every other divine, holy human emotion as well. Prayer puts us in Hashem’s presence. We feel his embrace and closeness; we know that He is listening to our prayers. Thus, our knowledge of Him becomes an emotional experience and a reality.