Report on Panel: Shivisi: Keeping G-d Before Me in This World
R' Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer. Discussion groups facilitated by R' Bechhofer and Sharon Kantrowitz. Someone else will have to report on Sharon's group.
Going to address something I’m not all that knowledgeable about, in the spirit of practical processes of improvement, the theme of AishDas and this event.
Read & translated Ps 16, where it is found. "Shivis Hashem Lenegdi Tamid, ki miymini bal emot." I have placed Hashem opposite me eternally, so as not to budge from my right. Shav’ – placed, also hishtavvut, equanimity.
It’s very hard for us as Americans to maintain concentration on anything for more than 5-7 seconds – which is why TV news switches positions or cameras that often, to keep up attention.
But we are to visualize the Divine Name, YKVK, before us at all times. The Name itself. There is some quality to the Name that we can use it. However, the name is a stand-in, since we can’t really imagine the Infinite.
We should, however, be able to train ourselves to imagine the Name before us, for a few minutes a day, and see how that changes us. Ideally, for Shma and Shmone Esreh – the Rambam requires us to think about God all day. He tried himself just to reach thinking about God 22 out of 24 hours a day, but thinking about God all day was the level of the prophets.
One starts by trying to say Shma and the first two paragraphs of Shmone Esreh with proper kavvanah – this alone is a work of years. This requires a visualized focus. The Piaseczner Rebbe, in Poland before the War, went so far as to say that if one can’t do it any other way, one can bedieved use the Raavad’s position that imagining God with a body is not apikorsus, and use one’s God-image as a focus. Can you imagine? Allowing the Raavad lehalacha today? But this was so important.
One should visualize the Name hanging in front of one, ideally in black letters on white parchment, in Torah script, or better as black fire on white fire.
What’s the goal? As Metzudos says, if I keep Hashem before me always, I will have equanimity (same root: shav and hishtavvus). We say “lenegdi”, not “lefanai” (opposite me, not before me). Before me is easy. Opposite me, well, that opposes my tendencies to do things not for God’s sake. Limiting my reactions. Keeping me towards equanimity.
Reactions from discussion:
Micha & I, with prompting from R’ Bechhofer, explained visualizations that we’ve used in similar contexts. Micha visualizes a white light, coming from Infinitely far away, down tohim, when saying the Name, in the first bracha of the Shmone Esreh – the Name Havayah, the Name of Existence, as fundamentally we are created beings to whom God gives Existence at all times. I, following R’ Brill, sometimes do a thing visualizing pickin up the letters of God’s name, cleaning them off, hanging them in a row, then setting the Name a little above my line of vision, to be a focus for further mystical ascents.
Much discussion about keeping God’s middos before one, vs. keeping God (and/or as represented by His Name) before one – special quality to the Name.
Difficulties with imaging things. R’ Bechhofer was convinced he couldn’t do so at all, until someone took him through it. The AriZal says it’s better to imagine the Name inside one, a bit behind the head.