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Ta'anit 2a (Chazal) teaches that the service of the heart is prayer. But how does one knows its prayer? When I think of service of the heart for example I think of all my whole being acting, according to what HaShem told according to His Torah; not only because He told so, but because my inner most being wants to serve Him out of the love, respect etc. I have for Him. For me it's the outward actions that show the inner part that i would like to call service of the heart.

Could someone explain to me why this teaching chose prayer as the outward part true which man can express this inner part? I know words can do this.. but can they do this more than actions? Or is there another explanation.

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    If anything prayer is know as avodah sheb'lev; not vice versa. – mevaqesh Aug 29 '16 at 20:06
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TL;DR: Tefillah is called avodah sheb'lev because it's the only service that can be done in the heart, as opposed to an actual action. Furthermore, it's reminiscent of the original form of avodah, that of offering karbanos in the Beis HaMikdash.


The quote you are referring to is:

לאהבה את ה' אלהיכם ולעבדו בכל לבבכם (דברים יא:יג). איזו היא עבודה שהיא בלב? הוי אומר זו תפלה

"To love Hashem and to serve him with all your heart" (Devarim 11:13). What service is done with the heart? You must say this is Tefillah.

Note that the Tur (OC 98:1) had a different wording of our Gemara:

וכתיב ולעבדו בכל לבבכם. וכי יש עבודה בלב? אלא איזו היא עבודה שהיא בלב? הוי אומר זו תפלה

And it is written, "To serve Him with all your heart." Now, is there a service in the heart? Rather, what service is in the heart? It must be this is prayer.

According to the Tur, it seems, the Gemara is asking what service is in the heart, as service implies doing something, not just thinking about it. Thus, the passuk must be referring to prayer, which is the only thing you can actually do without performing an action. (Speech isn't called an action - Makkos 4b.)

He thus explicitly disagrees with your statement in the question that

when I think of service of the heart for example I think of all my whole being acting, according to what HaShem told according to His Torah; not only because He told so, but because my inner most being wants to serve Him out of the love, respect etc. I have for Him. For me it's the outward actions that show the inner part that I would like to call service of the heart.

It's the opposite, in fact. It's what's inside that counts; your actions might be a "service," but they're not "of the heart."

While we're on the topic, I'd like to point out the second Mishnah in Pirkei Avos:

שמעון הצדיק היה משירי כנסת הגדולה. הוא היה אומר, על שלשה דברים העולם עומד: על התורה ועל העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים

Shimon HaTzadik was among the remnants of the Men of the Great Assembly. He used to say, on three things does the world stand: on Torah, on service, and on kindness (emphasis mine).

What is the service mentioned in this Mishnah? The Bartenura says it's Karbanos, and the Tosfos Yom Tov agrees. But Rabbeinu Yonah expands on this concept, noting our Gemara in Taanis, and says that prayer is what is referred to here. Furthermore, now that we don't have the Beis HaMikdash, the tefillos are in place of the Karbanos. He brings several other proofs that the tefillos nowadays are equivalent to the karbanos in the times of the Beis HaMikdash.

For one more parallel between the physical avodah of the Karbanos and the mental avodah of tefillah, here's a quote from the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 7:2):

מי שהוא עושה תשובה כאילו עלה לירושלים ובנה את בית המקדש ובנה את המזבח ומקריב עליו כל הקרבנות שבתורה

One who does Teshuvah is as if he went up to Yerushalayim, built the Beis HaMikdash, built the Mizbeiach, and brought on it all the Karbanos in the Torah.

So we see that one who davens with a full heart isn't just equal to bringing karbanos - after all, you can only get credit for whichever karbanos you bring under a specific circumstance, and it's impossible for every karban to be brought at once. But when you daven, you get credit for bringing every karban in the Torah!

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Found a teaching that shows how Tefillah was defined as Avodah: Piska 41:

The Teaching states:

“To love HASHEM your God” (Dt.11:13)— in all you do, act only out of love. “And to serve Him (le`avdo; Dt.11:13)— this refers to Torah-study.

You claim this refers to Torah-study! Perhaps it simply refers to the sacrificial service (‘avodah)? Look, He says here: “And HASHEM-God took the Adam, and He placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it (le`ovdah) and to preserve it” (Gn.2:15). Now, what kind of work was needed in that [simple] time? And what kind of preservation was needed in that [simple] time? Thus you learn that “to work it” implies Torah-study, and “to preserve it” implies observing the commandments.

And just as the work of the Altar is called service (avodah), so, too, is Torah-study called service (avodah)

Another word: “And to serve Him” (Dt.11:13)— this refers to prayer (tefillah). You claim this refers to prayer! Perhaps it simply refers to the sacrificial service?

The Teaching states: “With all your heart and with all your soul” (Dt.11:13)— Now, is there a sacrificial service in the heart? What, then, does the Teaching mean by “And to serve Him?” (Dt.11:13) This refers to prayer. And so David says: “Let my prayer be equivalent to incense before You, And my uplifted hands like a sweet offering” (Ps.141:2). And He says [of Daniel]: “And he knelt upon his knees three times a day and prayed” (Dan.6:11). And He continues: “O, Daniel, servant of the Living God! Is the God whom you constantly serve able to save you from the lions?” (Dan.6:21).

Now was there a sacrificial rite in Babylonia? What, then, does the Teaching mean by “And to serve Him?” (Dt.11:13) This refers to prayer! And just as the work of the Altar is called service, so, too, prayer is called service.

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how do you get your "inner most being to want to serve Him out of love, respect, etc. so that your whole being is acting"? - one primary way is through prayer as Rabeinu Bahye writes in Duties of the Heart (Gate 8 ch.3)

You should know, my brother, that our aim in prayer is only the longing of the soul to G-d, its submitting before Him, elevating its Creator, praising and thanking to His Name, and casting all of its needs on Him... And since it is difficult for the mind to remember all of this, it was necessary for our sages to arrange a written order of the matters which most men need, which demonstrate to them their great need for G-d and their need to submit to Him on account of of them. These are the matters of prayer which were ordered and arranged, so that the person can greet his Creator, and not be ashamed in approaching Him, and to see in the prayer matters which bring it humility and submission before G-d.

And since the thoughts of the heart change rapidly, and these thoughts do not hold firmly due to the swift arising of thoughts that flash through the mind, it is difficult for a person to order his own prayer.

For this our Sages composed the prayer with fixed words, to place them on a man's tongue, because the thoughts of the mind go after and follow the words he says.

  • this explains why prayer can be referred to as service of the heart. it does not answer the op's question why this teaching chose prayer as the outward part true which man can express this inner part? I know words can do this.. but can they do this more than actions? – mevaqesh Jul 31 '16 at 3:22
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Service is avodah (Devarim 11:13), and in my opinion everything you do can become avodah.. It all depends on the purpose: your sleeping so that you wake up you can serve your Master again. Eat and drink to have the strength to do so. You walk to perform a mitzvah some where.

Avodah is not synonymous with tefillah. Tefillah is tefillah. Avodah is a lot of things: everything in multiple meanings of the word, and it includes tefillah. But tefillah is the replacement for the Avodah (Temple service). So in a way, it depends on what you mean with avodah.. I understand it as meaning 'the service of HaShem' in any way. But you can also understand it as your direct service to HaShem: The Temple service - which now a days (because there isn't a temple) replaced with tefillah (Hosea 14:2).

  • how does this deal with the gemara? – mevaqesh Jul 31 '16 at 3:18
  • there is actual source material for your first statement, no need to write "in my opinion". your second statement does not seem to answer how chazal chose prayer as the only service of the heart – heshy Mar 27 '18 at 4:22

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