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Unify our hearts

92fd4b_dcab2ba869a873df4b2e9ea442f81d70.jpg_srz_1600_1200_85_22_0.50_1.20_0וְיַחֵד לְבָבֵנוּ לְאַהֲבָה וּלְיִרְאָה אֶת שְׁמֶךָ.
V’yached l’vavenu, l’ahavah u-l’yirah et sh’mecha.
Unify our hearts in love and awe of Your name!

Unify our hearts. Perhaps that means the hearts of each of us in this room. Or the hearts of each of us in our community around the world. Unify our hearts, make our hearts beat as one.

In love and awe. Or, some would translate, love and fear. These are the two paths, the two doorways into serving God. Ahavah, love, is sometimes connected with chesed, lovingkindness which overflows. Yir'ah, awe, is sometimes connected with gevurah, boundaries which restrain.

There's a Hasidic teaching which says that awe and love are two wings, and that when they beat together, that's what lifts our prayers up to God. Another Hasidic teaching holds that most people come to serving God through the path of fear and awe, fear of judgement and of falling-short, but that the path of love is the higher one.

Another way to understand this verse is: unify the disparate parts of each human heart. Unify the love in our hearts and the awe in our hearts. Help us to bring together our awe -- our radical amazement, our awareness of our own insignificance in the vast span of the cosmos! -- with our love.

A practice. Breathing in, we inhale awe. We inhale amazement. We inhale that sense that compared with God, compared with the universe, compared with the vast sweep of human history we are but specks of dust. And breathing out, we exhale love. We exhale compassion. We cultivate love for those around us, for those we meet, for those whom we know and those whom we don't know. Breathing in: awe. Breathing out: love.

Unify our hearts in the love and awe of Your Name.


This is a written (slightly expanded) version of a teaching I shared during my shul's meditation minyan this morning. See also Rabbi Shefa Gold's teaching and chant Unifying the heart.

The image illustrating this post is calligraphy by soferet Julie Seltzer and features the words for love and awe, which, she notes, are intertwined and can be read either horizontally or vertically.