The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand. — Psalm 121:5
Psalm 121 is essentially a prayer for protection. Even today, it is often recited by Jews before they embark upon any kind of dangerous journey.
In the opening verse, the psalmist asks, “Where does my help come from?” (v.1). The rest of the verses reassure us that “My help comes from the LORD” (v.2) who “will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore” (v. 8). The Lord is our savior and protector who is always by our side.
In verse 5, the psalmist writes “the LORD is your shade at your right hand.” Most of the Jewish sages understand this verse to mean that God is like our shadow – wherever we go, He goes. We are accompanied throughout life with the ultimate bodyguard – He neither sleeps nor slumbers (v.4), and nothing can hurt us while He is with us (v.7).
However, there is one sage who saw a whole new meaning in this verse. He taught that just as our shadow mimics our actions, so too, does God copy what we do.
If I move my right hand, my shadow does the same. If I go backward, my shadow has to follow. So too, does God follow our lead. If we are kind and merciful toward others, then God will treat us with kindness. But if we are judgmental and cruel, then God will follow our lead and judge us harshly as well.
I have a friend with unbelievably kind children. They are tolerant of difficult people and calm in the face of offensive people. This whole family is known for being exceptionally gentle and compassionate. When my children were still young, I asked my friend the secret to raising such sweet children. He said that it was quite simple. He just told his children often – as often as they would fight with each other – that God would treat them how they treated others. This message stuck with them for a lifetime.
This idea is both empowering and sobering. It should cause us to pause and reflect upon how we treat the people in our lives. Are we as kind as we would like God to be with us? Are we as forgiving as we would hope God would be of us? What we extend to others comes right back to us. So we had better be careful.
It may not seem intuitive, but the most selfish thing that we can do is to be unselfish toward others. The greatest kindness that we can do for ourselves is to be profusely kind to everyone else!
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President