One day, a knowledgeable student of Torah walked passed the shepherd and saw the shepherd engaged in his spontaneous prayer. The student rebuked the shepherd, "Fool, do not pray like that!" The shepherd queried, "How then should I pray?" The student taught the shepherd the words of the Amidah and the Shema [traditional Jewish prayers].

After the student left, the shepherd forgot all that had been taught and so was even afraid to say his prayer of the heart. One evening, a messenger of God appeared before the student and rebuked him for quelling the passionate, spontaneous prayer of one of God's devoted servants: "If you do not tell him to say what he was accustomed to before you arrived, know that sorrow will overtake you. For you have robbed me of one who belongs to the world to come." The student returned to the shepherd and urged him to recite his heartfelt prayer of old. The author of "Sefer Hasidim" concludes, "for God desires the heart."

While fixed prayer is important and central to who we are as Jews, it is only meaningful when it is ignited by the passionate prayer of the heart and soul which serves as the unique signature to each of our prayers. Each of us serves God in our own special way. While Judaism provides a framework for serving God, it is up to each of us to provide the soul. Maimonides challenges us to serve God through obligatory prayer; Nahmanides encourages us to give heed to the heart and soul in that same avodah. The challenge is to combine both of these approaches as we serve God in a heartfelt and genuine way.

Matthew Berkowitz is rabbinic fellow at the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Jewish university committed to promoting Jewish learning for all, and the academic and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism. The Jewish Theological Seminary grants undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees and offers enriching programs for the Jewish community in the U.S. and abroad.