Our sages speak of both love of God and fear of God. Fear is more akin to awe. Think of the way people respond in a movie when they first see Godzilla or an alien: They are paralyzed for a moment with amazement that such a thing exists. Similarly, we should have a sense of awe, wonderment tinged by being overwhelmed, at the reality of God’s presence.
But of course equally present is the love that makes awe bearable. We are not only subjects of God’s love, but God’s eternal love — ahavath olam — as our prayers teach us.
This dual consciousness is evident in ancient sacrifices. On the one hand, taking a life evokes awe. We shudder in the presence of death. At the same time a sacrifice is called a korban, a coming close. To sacrifice for another expresses love and intimacy. Giving freely opens the heart of the giver.
In our day, most Jews feel very far from the practice of sacrifice. Yet we should appreciate the deep meaning in its mystery: In one act, the experience of awe and of love are joined.
Rabbi David Wolpe is spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @RabbiWolpe. His latest book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).