Torah study text: Kedushat Levi on Naso

Here’s the Torah study text we’re going to learn today during our Torah study at CBI — if you’re not able to join us, or if you’re at CBI today but misplace your printed copy, here it is in digital form!

For Torah Study: Kedushat Levi on Naso

Kedushat Levi is the name of the most famous book by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-1810.) R’ Levi Yitzchak was known as the “defense attorney” for the Jewish people, because it was believed that he could intercede on their behalf before God. This is a teaching from Kedushat Levi on this week’s parsha, Naso.

“And God spoke to Moshe saying: speak to Aaron and to his sons, and tell them ‘thus (כה) shall you shall bless the children of Israel, saying to them[.]” (Numbers 6:22)

The Baal Shem Tov often preached about our life in this world using the verse from Psalms “God is your shade.” (Psalm 121:5.) As one’s shadow does what one does, just so with the Blessed Creator, Who (as it were) does what humanity does. For this reason a person needs to do mitzvot and to give tzedakah and to be compassionate with the poor, in order that the Creator will do these good deeds along with her/him.

What a person does, so does the blessed Creator do. It is known that the blessed Creator wants to make things better for God’s people; “more than the calf wants to suckle, the cow yearns to give milk.” (Pesachim 112a) It’s incumbent on us to stand and pray before the blessed Creator. In every Amidah, every gate through which words of supplication might pass, we should pray that God be the blessed Creator Who takes pleasure in our deeds. As it is said in the Mishna: “If you learn Torah often, don’t think too highly of yourself, because for this were you created.” The actions of a person exist only so that the Creator might take joy in them.

If a person prays for his own sake, then he’s called “a receiver,” and if a person wants to receive a thing, he grasps with the back of his hand toward the earth and the inside of his hand facing above. But if a person prays only that the Creator be the Creator, and that God take pleasure in this, then we call him “One for whom abundance flows,” [משפיע], since he receives abundance, as it were, from the blessed Creator. And such a one receives with the back of his hand facing above, and the underside of his hand facing below.

The priestly blessing is in that latter category, because the gesture is made with the back of the hand facing their faces, as in the case of those who wish to receive abundance from on high. This is the interpretation of the verse “Thus shall you bless the children of Israel.” Which is to say: they will bless Israel in a way that gives the blessed Creator joy, and in this way will make Israel receivers of abundance from on high, and afterwards the blessed Creator will cause all good things and blessings to flow to us. This is the quality called כה, in which we ourselves do what God would do, and thus we cause God to do good things for us and causes abundance of blessing and goodness, life and peace, to flow.

Questions for reflection:

1) What do you make of the idea that God, like our shadow, does whatever we do? What are the ethical implications of this teaching?

2) What does the metaphor of the cow and the calf have to teach us about how we might see our relationship with prayer? With God? With blessing?

3) Have you ever received the priestly blessing, or given it? What did that feel like for you?

4) What do you make of the distinction between asking for something with the palm facing upward, and with the palm facing downward? What does that metaphor say to you about the appropriate posture for asking and receiving?

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