Shadayim: A Blessing and Ritual of/for Breast Self Examination

hand holding one apple blossom

שַׁדַּי֙ וִיבָ֣רְכֶ֔ךָּ בִּרְכֹ֤ת שָׁמַ֙יִם֙ מֵעָ֔ל בִּרְכֹ֥ת תְּה֖וֹם רֹבֶ֣צֶת תָּ֑חַת בִּרְכֹ֥ת שָׁדַ֖יִם וָרָֽחַם
Shaddai vi’y’varkhekha birkhot shamayim mei’al birkhot te’hom rovetzet takhat birkhot shadayim varakham. 

Shaddai, give your blessing:
blessings of the heavens, from above,
blessings of Ocean crouching below,
blessings of breasts and of womb
(Genesis 49:25, trs Everett Fox, the Shocken Bible )

The Hebrew word for “breast” is שַׁדַּ (“shad”), and, especially in the Book of Bereshit, the Divine Presence repeatedly self-identifies to our ancestors as אֵ֣ל שַׁדַּ֔, El Shaddai, a Divine name specifically connected to breasts/breastedness.

Rabbi Jill Hausman points out that “The name El Shaddai is sometimes translated as God Almighty, but it really means something quite different. El means God but Shaddai comes from the word, Dai, as in Dayenu. It means enough or sufficient. El Shaddai means God who provides sufficiently for us: in other words, God the nurturer. This role of nurturer or provider is further reinforced by another meaning of Shaddai: from the word Shadayim, or breasts. God is the Mother who feeds us, takes care of us, and provides for all our needs.”

And Rabbi Arthur Waskow writes in “The Breasted God,” “Shaddai is the Breasted One…if we look back at all the blessings in which Shaddai is over and over invoked, they are about fruitfulness and fertility. God is seen as Infinite Mother, pouring forth blessings from the Breasts Above and the Womb Below, from the heavens that pour forth nourishing rain, from the ocean deeps that birth new life.”

The importance of regular breast self-examination is well established, helping you understand the normal look and feel of your breasts and allowing you to notice changes to your breasts. Elevating breast self-examination as an act of holy inquiry is in keeping with awareness of the sacred function of breasts and body, whether one is of child-bearing age, in menopause or post-menopause.


1. Blessing before Breast Self-Examination

Blessed are you, Havayah, Ever-Flowing Source of Existence, who creates us with breasts and gives us the ability to provide sustenance and pleasure with them.


2. Conducting a Sacred Examination of Your Breasts

In the shower or standing or lying on a flat surface, connect with your breath. Warm your hands by rubbing them together, noticing the warmth and energy that you are generating in your hands. Use your fingers as “eyes” in order to become familiar and be in right relationship with your breasts.

Move your hands across your breasts in four directions:

to the East/Mizrach: the direction associated with the spirit of life
to the West/Ma’arav: the direction associated with strength and survival
to the South/Darom: the direction associated with the sun at its height
to the North/Tsafon: the direction associated with hiddenness

Move your fingers across your breast and back across again to the opposite direction.

Gently pick up your beast and examine your breast tissue—as it is slightly separated from the bones and muscles of your chest, but be gentle and do not use much pressure.

Standing up or lying flat on your back will provide some information; lying on your side will allow getting to the tissue differently.

Be sure to include your underarm area.

As your hands move across your breasts, remind yourself of the flow of lymph through your breasts, the system that is called “the River of Life.”

Express gratitude to your body through your gentle, inquiring touch.


3. Blessing After Completing Your Self-Examination

Blessed Are You, Havayah, Ever-Flowing Source of Existence, who causes my bodily fluids to flow freely.

With deep gratitude to Rabbi Lori Shapiro of the Open Temple of Venice, CA, and Kat Schraiber of Surya Spa, Santa Monica, CA, for the Adar Sacred Moon Circle 2/23/23 that focused on learning about breast health and inspired this blessing and ritual.

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