The Work of the Heart
Yael Eckstein | September 11, 2019
There is a very telling Hebrew term for the act of prayer: avoda shebalev, “the work of the heart.” It is derived from the directive to “serve [God] with all of your heart” in Deuteronomy 11:13, which the Jewish sages interpreted as communing with God. This term suggests two very important ideas regarding the Jewish approach to prayer. First, it must be heart-centered and sincere; we cannot just read through prescribed text mindlessly, without thinking of the meaning of the words. Second, prayer entails working on ourselves – particularly on our hearts.
The month before the high holy days begin is designated for self-reflection and improvement. Last week we focused on repentance, the first of three pillars that are the foundation of the High Holy Days. These pillars lift us up so that we are ready for our encounter with God on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New year, and Yom Kippur, The Day of Atonement. This week I want to share some thoughts about the second sacred pillar: prayer.
Prayer is very personal for me. I love to pray early in the morning when the sun rises and it is still quiet outside and in my home. My day, and all of the busyness that it brings, has not yet begun. My mind is not flooded with the many demands of my life. It is in that stillness that I connect with God and pour out my heart before Him.
Jewish prayer is made up of three components: Praise, thankfulness, and requests. Yet, these elements are not intended to change God’s mind regarding what we want in our lives. Rather, they are meant to change our character and our perspective on life. When we praise God, we are humbled before Him. When we thank God, we are grateful for His many blessings. When we ask God for the things that we need, we are forced to take a good look at the things that are truly important to us. When we ask God for what we want, we appreciate that He is the ultimate provider. When we talk to God about our lives, we become closer to Him.
Prayer is the foundation of our relationship with God. Through prayer we develop our love for God and experience His love for us. As in any relationship, we need to make our relationship with God a priority, dedicating time and putting in the effort to nurture our connection. The entire purpose of prayer is to develop and deepen our relationship with our Creator.
Remember, God does not “need” our prayers. He already knows what we want and what we need. God does not need our compliments or our thank yous. What God wants is our hearts. He says, “My son, give me your heart and let your eyes delight in my ways” (Proverbs 23:26). This is the time to renew our relationship with God, to give Him our hearts in prayer, and to step into the New Year together.
With blessings from the Holy Land,