Praying With Passion – Prayer: Divine Service

From all this we understand the importance of prayer and what it accomplishes, as well as what a lack of prayer causes. Now, we must understand how prayer accomplishes this, and what we must do to accomplish this. To explain: It is written, “You shall know this day and set it upon your heart that HaShem, He is G-d.” Similarly, it states, “Know the G‑d of your father and serve Him.” The Talmud explains, “Service [of HaShem] refers to prayer.” The word avoda (service or work) has two implications:

1.) The work of cultivating and revealing hidden potential.

2.) Creative work that transforms the product into something new.

Work that cultivates and reveals the hidden potential in another thing is like working the earth. The earth has the potential to grow and produce all sorts of fruits and grains. Yet, if one simply leaves the land to grow on its own, it will only produce useless weeds, unfit for human consumption. In order to grow enjoyable foods—the potential for which is already in the ground—one must work and cultivate the land until it brings forth what it is truly capable of producing. This is working (avoda) in the sense of revealing. However, the object that is worked on remains the same—the earth remains earth as before. [Only its product has changed].

However, there is another kind of work (avoda), [that transforms the object,] such as working (tanning) leather. In this case, the object itself is transformed. So too with every Jew—although he is invested in a physical entity; a body and an animal soul, nevertheless, inside him is the ability to be nullified to G‑dliness. Through this he can bring pleasure to HaShem, to the point that he can become one with the “Man of Holiness”. This is comparable to when a person eats—the physical food becomes one with the essence of his life‑force to the point that they are inseparable. So too, each of us must become completely nullified to the “Man of Holiness” to the point that we cannot be considered anything other than holiness.

This idea is expressed in the Talmud: “The Jewish People give sustenance to their Father in Heaven.” This is comparable to growing food from the ground—produce that is fit for human consumption, in this case for the “Man of Holiness”. This is also called, “bringing forth bread from the earth.” However, this requires toil and effort. Without hard work, a person will grow into a self‑centered being, which is the opposite of the “sustenance” befitting the “Man of Holiness”.

Therefore, a person must toil and exert himself in the service of HaShem, working in the sense of revealing; to reveal the G‑dliness hidden in what seems to be a separate entity and to refine this entity so that it can express G‑dliness. This process is called the 39 forms of work (that were necessary to construct the Holy Temple and that are forbidden on Shabbos). Through this labor one escapes his egocentricity. Afterwards, one must transform the ego itself into holiness. This is possible because from the standpoint of G‑dliness there really is nothing else. This second level is work (avoda) in the sense of worked leather.

[To summarize: Prayer is the service of HaShem, which is called avoda or work. We must serve HaShem in two ways:

1.) By revealing our soul, transcending our ego and the material world, which is comparable to working the earth.

2.) By transforming our ego and the world itself into something holy, which is comparable to tanning leather.]

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