The holy Baal Shem Tov used the following, simple analogy to express a deeply foundational teaching. When a strong light shining behind a person causes his shadow to be cast over a body of water, the further the person is, the larger the shadow will be. As the person approaches the water, the shadow gets smaller and smaller, until, when he comes as close to the water as possible, the shadow is the same size as his actual body. This very dynamic exists in human relationships as well. When a person allows an exaggerated sense of self to prevent him from growing close to others, he will find that others will demonstrate this same haughty aloofness toward him as well. The distance he displays will cause his “shadow”, his friend, to express a similar sense of arrogant distance.  However, the more a person works to removes this exaggerated self-image and bring himself close to others in openness, honesty, and vulnerability, he will find that others open up to him in the same way, making themselves small like the shadow on the water which shrinks in accordance with the person’s proximity.

The Baal Shem taught that this is the meaning of a well-known verse in Mishlei: “As water reflects the face, so does one’s heart reflect the heart of another.” When a Jew humbles himself toward others, he will find that they do the same, until, finally, all barriers are removed, and a relationship can begin to flourish with true honesty and openness.

In this week’s parsha, the Torah tells us that Hashem spoke to Moshe, “As one man speaks to his friend.” Based on this verse, the tzaddik extends the process described above to a Jew’s relationship with the Master of the world. If a Jew approaches Hashem as a “concept” or an “idea”, with the arrogant distance of intellectual formality, He is sure to remains in a transcendent realm far removed from his perception. However,  when a person makes himself small before Hashem, escaping the illusion of his perceived importance and strength with simple faith, sincerity, and openness, Hashem descends from His infinite grandeur to come face to face with this Jew in openness and intimacy.

The Baal Shem explains that this is the meaning of our pasuk. Because Moshe was “the most humble man on the face of the earth” who nullified his ego in the presence of Hashem that he merited to draw Hashem into his life to the extent that he could speak to Him face to face “Like one man to his friend”, with no mask or disguise.

As sophisticated beings, we have a natural tendency to approach a relationship with Hashem and engagement with yiddishkeit in a very official, almost technical manner. While there is certainly place for formality in Judaism, and the minutia of Jewish law indeed requires great intellectual devotion, it is important to remember that Hashem is not merely a theological concept, but rather a living, pulsing, imminent reality. When we work on assuming a childlike simplicity and innocence in the way we relate to Hashem, we will succeed in feeling His presence fill our lives in the most personal, loving, and intimate manner. The closer to Him we allow ourselves to draw in thought, speech, and action of humility, the more we will feel our Shadow (“Hashem tzilcha”) descend from His transcendence and engaging with us on our level to become a true and permanent fixture in our daily lives.

When a Jew opens up to the vulnerability of an honest relationship with the Master of the world, Hashem descends from His infinite transcendence to come face to face with him in intimacy, love, and closeness.

The Baal Shem Tov
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R’ Yaakov Klein is the founder of the Lost Princess Initiative, an author, musician, and lecturer devoted to sharing the inner light of Torah through his books, music, and lectures.

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