God is your shadow

“The Tribe of Levi” by Marc Chagall

Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, on Parshat Naso, from Kedushas Levi

And God spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and to his sons, saying, ‘Thus shall you bless the Children of Israel…'” Numbers 6:22

Everywhere he went the Baal Shem Tov would share a teaching on the verse, “God is your shadow,” saying, “Just as the shadow follows the person, so the Creator’s deeds follow the person’s deeds” (1). Therefore a person should do good deeds, giving to the needy and taking care of them, so that the Creator too will do good deeds for him (2). This attribute of God is called “Thus,” for just as you do, “thus” does God do also.

Now it is known that the Creator wishes to do good for His people, for more than the calf wants to take the milk from its mother, the mother wants to give the milk to her calf (3). So when you stand in prayer before the Creator or ask anything of Him, you should pray only that the Creator takes joy in it. This is the meaning of the teaching, “If you have learned much Torah, take no special credit for it since you were created for this very purpose” — everything you do should be to bring joy to the Creator (4).

When you pray for yourself you are called “receiver,” and when you want to receive something you hold your hands palms up; but when you pray only that God takes joy from your prayer, then you are called “giver,” because you influence God to give, and when you give something you hold your hands palms down.

When the priests give the priestly blessing [as prescribed in our verse], they raise their hands palms down, with the backs towards their faces, as someone who wishes to give. This is why the verse says, “Thus shall you bless the Children of Israel…”, blessing them that they do good so that the Creator in turn can do good, giving them good things and blessings and life and peace, amen.


1) Psalms 121:5   2) See Shabbat 151b   3) Pesachim 112b   4) Pirkei Avot 2:48; the Kedushas Levi here is drawing a parallel between these two supreme commandments, prayer and Torah study, and by extension all commandments, concluding that our very purpose is to serve and bring joy to God, not ourselves.

This entry was posted in Baal Shem Tov/ Sefer Baal Shem Tov, Hasidic Masters, Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev/Kedushas Levi, Naso, Parsha, Pirkei Avot, Prayer, Talmud and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to God is your shadow

  1. Pingback: U’tefillah, u’teshuvah, u’tzedakah… | Hasidism for the Rest of Us

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