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The mussar texts are replete with the idea that we should be servants of God, and the first paragraph of the shema itself says "and you shall love your god with all your heart and all your might."

So what exactly does it mean to be a servant of God and why should we want to be his servants?

If you look at it from the selfish perspective of reward and punishment, observing the commandments and avoiding sins impacts you personally. But becoming a servant of God, at least according to the English definition of slavery, connotes a negative and undesirable thing.

Since God is perfect and doesn't need anything from us, it must be that we are the ones that gain from becoming his servants. If so what exactly are we gaining?

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    Perhaps the sentence from shema is irrelevant... – Ani Yodea Jan 14 '15 at 19:25
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    Maybe Shemot 23:25 would be a better verse to quote? – MTL Jan 14 '15 at 20:07
  • see maharal gur aryeh parshas Bo regarding the milah and Pesach which were a prerequisite to leaving mitzraim see Tanya ch 15 at length – rabbi Jan 20 '15 at 23:03
  • @AniYodea did you mean perhaps to quote the first verse of the second paragraph of "Sh'ma"? – msh210 Jan 21 '15 at 19:21
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R Yaakov Weinberg explained that an eved, a servant, is someone who is nullified to someone or something else. When you serve Hashem, it should be as a servant, as someone who is doing the will of Hashem and not his own will. If you serve Hashem because you see how beneficial it is, then you are not really serving Hashem, you are actually serving yourself and it just happens to coincide with what G-d wants (R' Hirsch explains this to be the meaning of תחת אשר הלכתם עמי בקרי - you walked with Me, but it was coincidental that you were walking with me). An eved Hashem is someone who serves Hashem because he understands that he must, not that he chooses to do so as his best available option. The question of "what's in it for me" is a way of making your mitzvos not an act of doing Hashem's will. The reason to be a "servant of G-d" is not because of any self interest. We should want to be servants of G-d in order to be doing the right thing, as the Rambam describes in the introduction to Chelek.

That being said, it happens to be that we are still gaining, although this shouldn't be our agenda. What are we gaining? What we are gaining is an attachment to the only real existence. As the Nefesh HaChaim describes in Shaar Gimmel, chapters 2 and 3, Hashem is the only authentic existence. We, by nullifying ourselves to Him, are accessing our only means of connection to real existence.

2

This is the topic of the Gate of Service of God in the Chovos Halevavos

see there at length

some quotes:

It is proper to open this treatise with an exposition of the various kinds of benefits human beings render each other, and the corresponding obligations of gratitude. We shall then ascend to the consideration of what we owe to the exalted Creator in praise and thanksgiving for His abounding kindness and great goodness to us...

ch.3

For the soul will not freely give all it has, unless it is convinced that what it receives in exchange is greater than what it gives, and this [reward] is that G-d is pleased with it. (commentaries: this is the greatest possible achievement in this world)

ch.5

And when he perceives with his mind's eye that he does not have the ability to do so, for the Creator has no need of him, then he will feel the obligation to humble himself and become conscious of his lowliness and insignificance, and he will then insist of his understanding concerning what he has to do, that it may be possible for him to approach and draw near to G-d in order that communion with Him may serve as a substitute for the return due to G-d, and his understanding will aid him to the right path in this regard....

ch.6

The first is the universal goodness of G-d which embraces all mankind, in having brought human creatures into existence when previously they were naught; in keeping them in life and bestowing on them bounties which we have cited in the second treatise of this work. They are accordingly under a universal obligation of service to the blessed Creator.

and regarding what is a servant:

The duties of good conduct of any servant towards his master, who bestowed upon him even a tiny portion of the bounties your Creator has bestowed upon you, consist in honoring the master in word and deed, in faithfulness to him, exerting himself in his master's affairs, openly and inwardly, and showing reverence and fear when standing in his presence. As a pious man said, "Do not rebel against your master when he observes you."

Among these duties are also included that he should be humble and submissive to his master, in his visible behavior and innermost secret thoughts; that he should conduct himself with humility before him, in his attire and habits.

That he should honor and exalt him, in his speech and thought, that he should praise and laud him by day and by night; that he should recall his good deeds privately and publicly; recount his praises according to what befits him; run to do his service joyously and goodheartedly out of love that he will find favor in his master's eyes; strive to draw nearer in his behavior to his master's will; ever beseech his master to be pleased with him and forgive him; to love him; to be afraid that he may be falling short in doing what he had been commanded;

That he should heed the master's command, keep far from that against which the master had warned him, think of the many iniquities which he has committed in the past, appreciate the benefits he has received on account of their great number and importance and diminish the value of what he has done in comparison with what he should have done; that he should regard his efforts as petty, compared with what is befitting him.

He should admit his own insignificance compared to the greatness of his master. He should bow to him frequently, in deep humility and lowliness. He should put his trust in his master for all his needs and be satisfied with whatever position his master assigns him to. If the master provides for him fully, he should thank and praise him. If the master leaves him hungry, he should accept and bear his condition patiently. He should never suspect the master of unfairness in his judgment of him, nor charge him with perverseness in his decree. He should be contented with what the master favors him with, and justify the master when he has punished him.

Other things which are proper on his part: that in every movement of his limbs and in all his traits, he should exhibit evidence of his servitude and of his master's ownership.

He should ponder only on remembrance of his master.

Look nowhere else than to the master's ways.

Listen only to his master's words, eat only the food that his master provides for him, think only of his master's greatness, render no service except to please his master.

Rejoice only in serving his master.

Seek only his master's will.

Hasten only on his master's errands, abstain only from whatever might be against the master's will.

Stay nowhere except in his master's house, remain ever faithful to him alone.

Only read his books, wear only the garment of reverence for his master.

Sleep only on the couch of love for him, keeping ever in his mind the master's likeness.

Awaking with the sweetness in thinking of him.

Finding no pleasure except in being with him, fleeing from naught except disobedience to him, never mourning except when his master is angry [on him - PL], feeling no fear except fear of his master, hoping for naught but his master's kindness, never angry except at that which his master obliges him to be so. He will only be pleased with one who does his master's will; take nothing but with his master's permission; only give to one to whom his master orders him to give.

And so with all his movements. He will not move a foot, nor raise an eyelid except to fulfill his master's will.

The habits that are bad in a servant are the opposite of those that are good in his master's sight. When these good habits are reversed, they are easily recognized...

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