Four Media of Worship: Rav Soloveitchik’s Worship of the Heart

Worship of God, that elusive and daunting concept, often conjures up images of contemporary life that we would like to believe aptly represent its actual meaning. There is the uniform-clad hayyal (soldier) dancing with the “Na Nach kippah”-wearing hasid, the earnest old lady assigning people mizmorei Tehillim at the Kotel, the meditating Jew in a spiritual trance, and the secular Jew invited into an Orthodox Shabbat meal. These models reflect the idea that, within the realm of Halakhah, there are many hashkafot (worldviews)  that are accepted, and these constitute a beautiful element of the multiplicity of Judaism. A major facet of what comprises avodat Hashem is thus often overlooked: we are quick to group people into various categories, neglecting to recognize that even individuals have unique methods of worship and means with which to connect to God. R. Soloveitchik, in Worship of the Heart, his collection of essays on prayer, lists four media of self-expression in a Jew’s relationship with God. R. Soloveitchik’s media encompass a wide variety of emotions, personality traits, and modes that can be used as vehicles of avodat Hashem within one individual. However, after exploring the four media delineated by the Rav, I would like to humbly suggest a fifth medium of worship for the modern Jew.

First, the Rav describes the “intellectual medium.”[i] Knowledge and cognition are gifts from God. Through intellect, we can achieve both cognitive and rational awareness of God. When our minds are turning and our thoughts are reeling, we exist in a world where only we and God exist. No one else can hear our thoughts. This is the crux of Rambam’s religious philosophy.[ii] In the attempt to intellectually understand the workings of the world, we forge a stronger bond with God by attaining knowledge. Torah study is the center of this pursuit. In stretching our minds’ capabilities, in trying to reveal and unearth the wisdom of the text at hand, the nature around us, and the societies within which we live, we encounter God in an intellectual union.

The second medium is that of emotion. We, as humans, are blessed with an abundance of emotions with which we can connect to God. The mind is not the only tool in our worship of God; our emotions, represented in the Torah by the heart,[iii] enable us to develop a passionate relationship with God as well. The intellect does not passionately crave. It seeks wisdom and is thirsty for knowledge, but real craving for a close relationship to God, for devekut (clinging to God) occurs in the emotional realm.  Various facets of Halakhah therefore recognize human nature and emotion, and both play a significant role in determining proper conduct in the Torah.[iv] Man’s emotions play a large role in his worship of God.

The third medium is that ofvolition, which is an expression of our moral free will. This medium reflects those parts of halakhic Judaism that are about suppressing human desires so that man may emerge as a Godly being. Rationally understanding a mitsvah, feeling its impact– none of that matters without the actual fulfillment. The volitional medium of serving God requires action. It is expressed through our acts. This is most classically manifested in the fulfillment of mitsvot known as “hukim” (commandments that transcend logical reasoning).[v] Man overcomes his rationale, his urges, and his desires to submit to the will of God in action.

The Rav’s final medium is dialogical. The only way to develop a relationship with another person is to converse with him, to get to know him. In the dialogical medium, man meets God through speech. Dialogue is essential for developing a relationship with God. This, according to the Rav, is expressed through our daily activity of tefillah. Man converses with God as though God is right in front of him, attentive and caring to his every need. The bond between man and the Creator on which man is dependent becomes stronger.

The Rav limited his media of connection with God to just four. These four encompass all methods of communication: understanding, feeling, interaction, and activity demonstrating one’s relationship with God. However, I would like to humbly suggest another mode of self-expression in one’s worship, a mode that has been more readily available to the Jewish populace in recent years. This is the mode of connecting to God through land, namely, the land of Israel. This terrestrial medium is different than the other media because it enables us to connect to God through the physical. One’s mere presence in Israel is thought to increase a Jew’s spirituality and interaction with God.[vi]

The land of Israel is a gift to the Jewish people, a gift that enables us to develop a closer relationship to God. The Torah indicates to us numerous times that the land of Israel features a spiritually sensitive aspect. For example, “for the Land which you are about to enter and possess, is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come…the eyes of the Lord, your God, are always on it, from year’s beginning to year’s end.”[vii]  The land is conscious of the spiritual state of the people within it in some way. Furthermore, a relationship with God is impossible without connecting through the land of Israel: “Whoever dwells outside of Eretz Yisrael is considered to be one who is Godless.”[viii] To live outside of the land of Israel, according to Hazal, greatly limits one’s relationship with God. By inhabiting Israel, Jews enable the land to become earthly proof of their belief in the divinity of the Torah. God promised them the land of Israel, and, therefore, the next logical step is to live there and develop a relationship with God through the land. Any Jew outside of the land of Israel who does not recognize its inherent kedushah and power might as well be considered Godless.

The Land of Israel is directly linked to the spiritual level of the people dwelling in it. The land is in tune with the actions of the people and yields its fruit accordingly.[ix] Thus the Land of Israel is not mere physical dust; it is connected to the spiritual essence of the Jewish people.[x] When the majority of its inhabitants were not Jews, Israel was “a desolate country whose soil [was] rich enough, but [was] given over wholly to weeds.”[xi] In the last sixty years alone, we have seen the unprecedented development of a land previously thought to be infertile. Through the changes the land undergoes in connection to the spiritual level of the Jews, the land becomes an alternative method of communication with God. Crops alert the dwellers to their spiritual failures, thereby becoming a method of reward and punishment and God’s way of communicating approval or disapproval.

Spirituality is awakened in the land of Israel. The phenomenon of “the year in Israel” is built upon the premise that spending a year (or two or three) in the land causes a spiritual rejuvenation and recommitment that is not likely to occur anywhere else. A psychological study of this phenomenon has even been conducted. Shalom Berger of Bar-Ilan University’s Lookstein Center for Jewish Education, who surveyed male students on their attitudes and behavior before, during, and a year after their Israel experience, found that the overall religious observance admitted to by the students increased by over seventy percent.[xii] Recent psychological discoveries have focused on the negative impact of this spiritual awakening, something dubbed “the Jerusalem Syndrome,”[xiii] in which one experiences a state of psychosis of a religious nature in the Holy City. The land itself preempts a spiritual revival, and in some people the increased perception of holiness from being in contact with the land becomes too much to handle.

In addition to this spiritual aspect, the Rav, in his famous essay “Kol Dodi Dofek,” presents the State of Israel as a clear way of God connecting to us through the physical. The Rav describes six “knocks” of miracles and fortunate circumstances that enabled the creation of the State of Israel. Those “knocks” came via political, military and religious wake-up calls signaling to the Jews that God was returning the Land of Israel to them. Israel, according to the Rav’s view, was God’s way of communicating with the Jews in an era devoid of open miracles. Israel becomes that piece linking God and the Jews in a two-way line, deepening the spiritual qualities of the land.

Thus, the Land of Israel is the perfect combination of both the spiritual and the physical. Spiritually, it enhances the Jew and the Jew’s worship and thereby becomes a way of communicating with God. Physically, the “knocks” that have occurred (both the ones mentioned by the Rav and others) and continue to occur within the land and the produce that the land yields are God’s methods of communication with us. Through this fusion of these two elements, a Jew’s presence and attachment to the land becomes a new medium of connecting with God. Additionally, through the feeling of nationhood evident when walking the streets of Israel and the feeling of history evident when walking the areas mentioned in Tanakh, the land strengthens the communication between a Jew and his brethren and a Jew and his ancestors. The land becomes a way of truly connecting with oneself, one’s people, and, ultimately, God.


Miriam Khukhashvili is a junior at SCW majoring in English, and is a staff writer for Kol Hamevaser.




[i]            R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Prayer and the Media of Religious Experience,” in Worship of the Heart: Essays on Jewish Prayer (New York, NY: KTAV Publishing House, 2003), 4.

[ii]           See introduction to Moreh Nevukhim.

[iii]           This element is signified by the word lev in the Torah. One example is “lev Par’oh,” which conveyed Pharaoh’s undecided emotions concerning the state of the Israelite slaves. See, for instance, Shemot 7:13.

[iv]           Take, for example, the mitsvah of eshet yefat to’ar, which allows a soldier to marry a non- Jewish woman after some halakhic guidelines are met. See Rashi to Devarim 21:11 for further explanation on the mitsvah’s consideration of human nature

[v]           See Yoma 67b. Although the commandments may not make sense, we still do them simply because they are God’s will. We are bound to complete the action whether it makes logical sense or not.

[vi]          R.Chaim Friedlander, Siftei Hayyim, vol. I, 422.


[vii]          Devarim 11:10-12, JPS translation, with a few modifications.

[viii]          Ketubot 110b, Artscroll translation.

[ix]           Devarim 11:13-17.

[x]           Bamidbar Rabbah 23:7.

[xi]           Mark Twain’s description of the land from an 1867 visit, published in Innocents Abroad (New York: American Publishing Company, 1869).

[xii]         Shalom Z. Berger, Daniel Jacobson, and Chaim I. Waxman, Flipping Out? Myth or Fact: The Impact of the Year in Israel (Brooklyn, NY: Yashar Books, 2007), 52.

[xiii]         Yair Bar El, Rimona Durst, Gregory Katz, Joseph Zislin, Ziva Strauss, and Haim Y. Knobler, “Jerusalem Syndrome,” The British Journal of Psychiatry 176 (2000): 86-90. Psychologists found that many tourists during the decade of 1990-2000 experienced a psychosis state upon their visit to the Holy City. The psychoses ranged from people thinking they were biblical characters, to allegedly received prophecies, to attributing a miraculous healing nature to the land.