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By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

If you will listen well to my commandments that I command you today, so that you will love Hashem your G-d and serve Him with all your heart and all your soul.

Some of the phrases overlap, but the themes could not be more dissimilar. The second parshah of the Shma moves in a very different direction than the first. That parshah describes how we are to fully accept the yoke of Heaven. Our parshah describes the consequences of that demand – the rewards for compliance, and the opposite for our failure. Our pasuk, which introduces the parshah, summarizes what Hashem is looking for in determining the national fortunes of the Jewish people. Think of it as a prescription for our happiness.

Remarkably – but not so unexpectedly – listening well is the very first demand Hashem places upon us, before detailing the quality of commitment that He expects of us. Listening well means studying. The root of all our national failure to Him throughout the ages has been the ignorance born of inadequate Torah study.

Hashem speaks to us here in the first person: “my commandments,” “that I command.” This adds to the sense of immediacy and closeness. We are to keep in mind that Hashem’s watchfulness and providence are constant and unremitting. We do not file quarterly reports. We stand before Him constantly; we are to imagine Him addressing us at each and every moment, reminding us how to prosper. We respond to the totality of His commandments “today,” conscious of this immediacy. He is watching; He expects; He follows through. We see His commandments, then, as fresh and new, not an old code to which our ancestors subscribed.

Loving Hashem is not the object of His command. The pasuk does not demand that we love Him. Rather, it tells us what will happen when we studiously listen to His words, i.e. when we obey the command with which the pasuk opened. When we commit our minds and wills to studying His word, we will be lovingly devoted to Him. We will also serve Him. These two phrases describe our inner attitudes as well as the way we actively further His goals for human civilization. Both of them, Hashem tell us as the parshah continues, should be accomplished with “all our hearts and all our souls.” In our active lives we put His expectations before our own. Similarly, the love we come to feel for Him should have no reservations. We hold back none of our thoughts and feelings from Him.

The preposition in the last phrase can be read in two ways. It may tell us to serve Hashem with our hearts and souls, or that we are to serve Him in a manner that has an effect upon our hearts and souls. When the Torah’s phraseology is ambiguous, its intention is that we should accept both readings.

The latter meaning must refer to tefilah, which indeed is more of a service performed upon our hearts than with them! A pasuk in Tehilim (2) establishes an identity between korbanos and davening. “May my tefilah be set before You as the ketores. The raising of my hands should be as the afternoon offering.” This can only mean that davening has to work upon us the same effect – or better, set of effects – that the korbanos used to work upon the individuals and community that brought them. Korbanos provide more than a daily framework for times to daven. Korbanos are a blueprint for tefilah. They show us what kinds of inner changes our davening is supposed to bring abouguide us to determine what our davening is supposed to do for us internally.

The very word “hispalel” is reflexive. Moreover, its root is related to “balal,” which is to add something external and blend it until it becomes thoroughly mixed in. Davening does just that, taking ideas and thoughts that are not fully ours, and making them part of our consciousness. It is self-instruction; what we learn from it elevates our feelings and thoughts. The higher level we reach allows us to draw even closer to Hashem.

What ideas do we “blend in” through tefilah? All the themes identified with the different korbanos must find their way into our davening. Shechitah of any korban expressed the idea of giving up stubbornness and ego, submitting and yielding everything to the direction and guidance of the mikdosh. The olah used to speak of complete striving upwards, of dedicating everything without exception to a higher place. Our tefilah needs to do the same. Chatas instructed us that we had to work on the spiritual heights we have attained, to insure that no backsliding would erode them. The items we placed on the mizbeach were committed to the “fires of G-d,” expressing the idea that all we possess, whether spiritual or physical, must be purified by the aish dos of Torah. The purpose of this purification is to fuel a “pleasant aroma,” keeping G-d’s mission on earth alive, and turning everything earthly into something that gives imHiHimHim satisfaction as contributing to His plan for mankind.

If this analysis has merit, we understand why one bit of phraseology does not carry over from the first parshah. Our pasuk makes no mention of “ובכל מאודכם.” It doesn’t have to. The thrust of the entire pasuk already incorporates it: service of Hashem; giving Him everything one has to accomplish His purposes. All this is performed with a fullness of heart and thought that invests one’s service activities with energy and cheer.

(1) Based on the Hirsch Chumash, Devarim 11:13

(2) Tehilim 141:2