Rav Kook Torah

Psalm 5: Awakening Love and Awe


How can we awaken within ourselves the feelings of Ahavah and Yirah, love and awe of God?

The House and the Inner Sanctuary

The following verse, which we recite at the start of morning prayers, refers to the place of our prayer as a bayit (house) and a heichal (sanctuary):

“וַאֲנִי — בְּרֹב חַסְדְּךָ, אָבוֹא בֵיתֶךָ. אֶשְׁתַּחֲוֶה אֶל-הֵיכַל-קָדְשְׁךָ, בְּיִרְאָתֶךָ.

“As for me, in Your abundant loving-kindness I will enter Your House. I will prostrate myself toward Your holy Sanctuary, in awe of You” (Psalms 5:8)

What is the difference between “Your house” and “Your holy sanctuary”?

Our house is our domain, our private castle where we are in control. “Whatever the homeowner says, [the guest should] obey” (Pesachim 86b). To speak of “God’s house” is to reflect on God as the One who governs and rules over the universe.

The inner sanctuary, on the other hand, implies much more than a domain of control. A sanctuary suggests majestic splendor and honor, as befits a royal personage.

Given this understanding of these two terms, we would assume that the mental image of God’s house should generate feelings of Yirah, submission to God’s reign over the world. The beautiful splendor of the sanctuary, on the other hand, should inspire Ahavah, love and inner yearnings to draw near to God.

In fact, we find that the verse says the exact opposite. The psalmist reports that he approaches God’s house with an awareness of God’s abundant loving-kindness; and he is overwhelmed with feelings of awe and reverence when facing His sanctuary. Why is that?

Elevated Yirah

For higher and more refined souls, Ahavah and Yirah are revealed differently.

These lofty souls recognize the great measure of chesed revealed in God’s providence in the world. They are able to perceive God’s reign as a rule that is purely for the sake of giving and loving-kindness. The metaphor of God’s House reflects a recognition of God’s countless kindnesses in governing the world, awakening a deep love for this overwhelming trait of chesed.

On the foundation of this awareness of boundless kindness, we arrive at a higher awareness of sublime majesty, as we advance from the Holy to the Holy of Holies, from the House to the Inner Sanctuary. This awareness elevates us from the trait of chesed (and its resultant outpouring of love) to feelings of awe and reverence. This is not the ordinary level of Yirah, which is acceptance of God’s ultimate control and dominion; this is a higher Yirah, an awe that has been refined by inner wisdom and insight.

Now we may fully understand the two stages described in the verse.

  • In Your abundant loving-kindness I enter Your house.” I approach God filled with a sense of love and deep yearnings, aware of the abundant measure of kindness in the world. This Ahavah is based on a preliminary level of Yirah, a reverence that recognizes God’s control and dominion over His house/world.

  • This love leads the way to a higher state of awe. “I will prostrate myself toward Your holy sanctuary, in awe of You.” This elevated reverence is the result of my awareness of the inner sanctuary, the Divine splendor and noble perfection revealed in the inner sanctum. I am overcome by a profound sense of Yirah, an elevated awe that is permeated with an inner kernel of love.

    (Adapted from Olat Re’iyah vol. I, pp. 43-44)

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