(Courtesy: Louis Jacobs)

Levi Yitzhak’s work, Kedushat Levi (Holiness of Levi) is a commentary in the Hasidic vein to the Pentateuch and other sacred books. The first part of the work was published in Slavita in 1798, the second part in Berditchev in 1816, since when it has gone into a number of editions and is acknowledged as a supreme Hasidic classic.

A typical comment in the book is on the priestly blessing. While delivering the blessing the priests hold their hands outstretched with the palm facing downwards. When a man prays for himself he is in the category of a recipient. When a man wishes to receive something he holds out his hand with the palm upward and the back of the hand downward.

But when a man prays only for the sake of the delight that the Creator will have from his prayers, that man is a giver, giving something to God, so to speak. A giver holds his hand with the palm downward and the back of his hand upward. The priests thus bless the people that they themselves should be givers, that all their worship should be directed to the tremendous aim of giving delight to the Creator.

In Hasidic panentheistic vein is Levi Yitzhak’s remark on the first verse of Genesis:  ‘The general principle is that the Creator, blessed be He, created the all and He is the all and His influence never ceases. For He extends His influence at every moment to His creatures, and to all worlds, to all palaces, to all angels, and to all the Holy Hayyot. And this is why we say (in our prayers) that He forms light and creates darkness and not that He formed light and created darkness; “forms” in the present tense. For at every moment He creates, at every moment He bestows vitality to all living creatures and all is from Him, blessed be He, and He is perfect and He includes all.’

Levi Yitzhak stresses particularly the need for humility. But for him true humility is attained not through a man thinking how unworthy he is, since in this process he is thinking of himself. True humility consists in profound contemplation on the majesty of God before whom all creatures are as naught.

The book of Proverbs says: ‘An abomination of the Lord is every lofty heart’ (Proverbs 16:5) from which it follows that pride is an idol, an abomination of which the Torah says: ‘Thou shalt not bring an abomination into thy house (Deuteronomy 7:26).’

Louis Jacobs, a British rabbi and theologian, served as rabbi of the New London Synagogue. Rabbi Jacobs lectures at University College in London and at Lancaster University. He has written numerous books, including Jewish ValuesBeyond Reasonable Doubt, and Hasidic Prayer.

 Louis Jacobs, 1995. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be stored, transmitted, retransmitted, lent, or reproduced in any form or medium without the permission of Oxford University Press.