It’s a morning full of sunshine, laughter and sand. I brought my 4-year-old to the beach and spent hours watching him play with delight. First, he runs towards the water with his empty bucket, excited to run straight into a wave and gather water. But then, the water gets too high or a wave too strong, and he gets scared, retreating right back to his sand castle with his filled-up bucket, pouring it over the dry sand. Until he gets drawn to the water again … It’s not just the waves that have a rhythm; he does.

The Angels’ Rhythm: Drawing Closer to Bring Down

Angels also have a rhythm, and it’s almost like my son mimics theirs. Except it’s not the beach the angels run towards but G‑d Himself. When the angels declare that G‑d is holy, completely separate and that their existence is just from His most external self, there is a yearning to be close to His greatness. The angels are so full of desire and love of G‑d. But then they get closer and are full of awe at G‑d’s greatness, and they retreat back to doing their angel jobs and fulfilling the purpose of their creation. They are in a state of total self-nullification to G‑d’s will. Until they get drawn to get closer to G‑d again …

When the angels retreat, they say: Baruch kevod hashem mimkomo, “Blessed be the glory of G‑d from its place.”

The Hebrew word for blessing also means to draw down. The angels are drawing down the G‑dly light into this world. In fact, the whole point of drawing closer to G‑d with a fierce thirst is in order for the angels to attach themselves to G‑dly light, and then to bring down and reveal that light.

The Human Rhythm: Love and Awe

When a person thinks about this, he can find this dynamic inside himself as well and recognize the importance of both parts of the dynamic. On the one hand, it is important to feel love of G‑d, a yearning and deep desire to escape the limitations of the world and connect to G‑d in a real way. On the other hand, it’s important to feel a sense of awe—awe at G‑d’s greatness—and a sense of commitment to our purpose of creation.

Prayer is a time to meditate on the desire to be one with G‑d and at the same time to meditate on the fact that the goal is to ultimately “land” from the spiritual trip and reveal G‑d's light in this world.

The Inanimate and the Plant World Praise G‑d

Here is another fascinating fact: It’s not just the angels and humans that have this dynamic. Even the soul and life force of inanimate objects and the plant world experience this dynamic of love and awe, of praising and being nullified before G‑d. In the blessings before Shema, we speak mostly of the love and awe of the angels. But in previous parts of prayer, called pesukei dezimra, we touch upon the praise of the sun and the moon, the oceans, mountains and vegetation. Each creation has a soul that praises G‑d.

When a person thinks about this, he is inspired: “Wow, if every level of creation is filled with love and awe of G‑d, then for sure I as a medaber, a human, can serve G‑d in this way.”

Ratzo and Shov

Another terminology to describe the love and awe dynamic is with the Hebrew words ratzo and shov. Ratzo, “run” or “yearn,” is the dynamic of love, of allowing our soul to experience a deep desire and yearning for G‑d. And shov, “return,” is the dynamic of awe—of recognizing our role and making the decision to fulfill G‑d’s will.

This is a central theme of prayer, not a side point! Prayer is about developing this relationship with G‑d, and experiencing real emotions of the G‑dly soul. This is why prayer is so full of both verses talking about love of G‑d, as well as awe of G‑d.

Experiencing Opposite Emotions

Does it seem impossible to hang onto both opposite emotions?

There is a third emotion that can help. Compassion is an emotion that has elements of both love/closeness and awe/distance, and can help balance the two. For example, compassion can help you decide to give something to someone even though he or she might not deserve it, combining both the giving (closeness) with the knowledge that a person might not deserve it (distance). It is this combo we are after.

That’s why there are sections of prayer dedicated to compassion. We ask G‑d to have compassion for us, and help us feel love and awe for Him. We also feel compassion for our G‑dly soul for its inherent struggle in this physical body, and this third emotion of compassion enables the other two of love and awe to co-exist. When we nurture this compassion for our G‑dly soul, we develop an ability to carry both love and awe of G‑d during prayer.

The Patriarchs’ Role

Interestingly enough, the Patriarchs instituted the prayers as we know it (Brachot 26 b). And each of the three Patriarchs personified one of those three emotions. Abraham personified love, Isaac awe and Jacob compassion. So a deeper meaning of “the prayers were instituted by the Patriarchs” is that prayer is about arousing these three emotions: love of G‑d, awe of G‑d and compassion for one’s soul.

It’s a never-ending rhythm.

Soul Note: Prayer is not just about saying words; it’s an entire spiritual and emotional experience, including love of G‑d, awe of G‑d and compassion for the soul.

Source: The Maamar, Ki Teitzei Lamilchamah, in Likkutei Torah, as explained in Chassidut Mevueret, Chapter 5.