Introduction to the Menorah Shiviti (Newly Edited June 2012)
Earlier this year with the coming of the Sefirat haOmer when I released the sections of the Nusach haAri-z”l relating to the blessings of the count I also felt the odd urge to muse concerning the kavanah (Heb. “intention;” meditation) of Psalm 67 as instructed by the Baal haTanya. Little did I know that would become one of the most well read blogs I’ve written. It was later followed up by introducing to the morning prayers the kavanah of Shiviti Hashem, as an example of meditative liturgy; this post is also one the most requested to date. In both blogs I made mention of the kavanah of the Menorat L’MaNatzeach – commonly known as the Menorah Psalm – but did not explain the actual practice of saying these menorah kavanot. But it was a good start because we got to see how to do a kavanah and then how to Shiviti, before we work on putting both practices together today. It is due to the high interest regarding this topic I will now be explaining these practices for the first time, we will start simple and continue to work our way up one level of understanding as we go. I would encourage you to read the other two blogs to get an idea of the background of such traditions, and the meaning of the Psalms itself. Here we go….
The History of this Practice
No one is certain how far back the tradition of saying the kavanah of the menorah goes. What we do know is that the custom of reading Psalm 67 in the form of the menorah was encouraged by great mystics such as Rabbi David ben Yosef Avudraham as far back as 14th century Spain. That is the same country and around the time in which the first siddurim (Hebrew prayerbooks) were created. But even before siddurim it was the custom of some to say this psalm from a written parchment, akin the the custom of the pious to read the ketoret from a handwritten parchment that some still practice to this day.
Judaism has never been inclined toward using images or iconography, lest these be misconstrued with idolatry. Instead, in the near-eastern tradition art is often made of the written word. If images are use, they are generally of items which relate to the elements of the Holy Temple. In a blending of these traditions comes forth the Shiviti of the Menorah, in which the words of Psalm 67 are depicted in the form of the seven branched menorah of the Temple. Though this is often depicted in the siddurim of the orient and of mystical schools, this is more widely known for being hung in holy shrines and in synagogues in front of the place from which the chazzan lead prayers, and in sight of all to see.
Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, the Ari z”l, instituted this practice and instructed that we should say Psalm 67 at certain times during our davening. First is during the morning Pekudei D’Zemirah – the introductory psalms of the Shacharit; then after the Vidui confession, and for the closing of Shabbat1. It is also included along with prayers for certain mitzvot such as Sefirat haOmer and the lighting of the Chanukah candles. Some say it after the close of the Amidah. Others say it in preparation for or during a journey. It may be said at any time.2 The custom is to read Psalms 67 in the form of the menorah whenever it is said.
The Purpose of This Meditation
The purpose of this kavanah is to ready the mind and purify ones thoughts. As we do this we are putting aside all distractions. For this reason the shviti first charges us:
“Know before whom you stand,
before the King who reigns over kings,
the Holy One, blessed be He.”
דע ליפני מי אתה עומד |
לפי מלך מלכי המלכים |
Then the shviti opens up with the words of Psalm 16:8, the main thought of the kavanah:
“I have set YHVH before me at all times”
שִׁוִּיתִי יְהוָה לְנֶגְדִּי תָמִיד
Shiviti YHVH l’negdi tamid
We begin to place G-d before us. We recognize that G-d is watching over us, so we take on a solemness of being before the King. Not only that, we focus on the placing the name of G-d before us. Not just figuratively, in its form as literally done in a artistic shviti. We mean to make a conscious choice to connect to G-d through the meaning of His Four-Letter Name, Havayah (יהוה); havaya (הֲוָיָה), as the name is refereed to among the kabbalists means being, existence or experience. In everything we encounter though out our day we make a choice to experience G-d in it.
We wish to draw the light of righteousness and truth to shine over the face of the earth. We do this by meditating on this happening and connecting to the holy Name of Havayah (יהוה), to seek Hashem so that He “ya’air panav itanu / shine His face towards us” as described in verse 2. Ya’air means to enlighten, to brighten, to illuminate, and to kindle.
How To Say this Meditation
As we focus on this psalm we consider ourselves as though we are lighting the actual menorah of the Temple. But we should not think that our devotion in any way kindles the Light of G-d, meaning to set His glory ablaze. No, the light of G-d is eternal. It is like the ner tamid, the light of the center shaft that is always kept lit day and night; unlike the six branches of the menorah of the Temple which was only kept alight at night. The center light is the Shechinah, the presence of G-d that is eternal, with no beginning nor end. It has no correspondence to anything as it is a manifestation of the Ohr Ain Sof, the Infinite Light that is transcendent; we only know it through the familiar Name of Havayah (יהוה). Thus the name of Hashem stands in the center of the Shiviti, in the place of the center light.
From that eternal life of G-d’s whole and holy light we seek to light our own flame. The Torah tells us how the lamps of the menorah are to be aligned and lit. What do I mean by aligned? When the menorah was created it was made so that “v’he’ehlah et nairoteh’ha v’hay’ir al ay’ver paneh’ha / they shall light the lamps so that it lights the face of it.” (Exodus 25:37) And this is exactly how it happened when Aharon (Aaron) the High Priest went about it, as instructed by G-d through Mosheh (Moses), “Behalotecha et-ha-neirot / when you light the lamps / el mol pnei menorah / toward the face of the menorah / yairu shivat hanerot / shall the seven lamps be lit.” (Numbers 8:2) The lights are lit and are turned in order to shine towards the center light, which symbolizes the Shechinah (Presence of G-d), in order to accentuate and aggrandize it. And being turned in this way the lamps also shine off the body of the menorah as well, so that the very face of its body reflects this light and floods the whole sanctuary with light. The body of the menorah has seven branches which relate the seven lower sefirot – the mystical manifestations of Divine action in the physical world – from Chesed to Malchut.3 First we focus our minds toward G-d. Then we make the intention to take every element of our physical lives and reflect the Light of G-d’s goodness on to it, bringing the light of His presence to all parts of our mundane existence; then shinning it into our entire world.
The first line consists of the first four words of Psalm 67, this is not considered actually part of the psalm but the header to it. These four words of verse 1, “L’MaNatzeach b’neginot mizmor shir4 / For the conductor, on the neginot (an instrument); a psalm, a song,” span across the six flames and the additional ornamental bowl that tops the menorah. These words help us set up the psalm. From right to left these words are set up, just like we set up our candles on Chanukah. This order of right to left is also the direction in which Hebrew is read. The letters of the phrase are almost evenly divided, to span all the branches.
Now one will notice that the seven branches contain verses which are set on their side. The words of each verse span from top to bottom. It is the custom that as the words begin to bend and turn we keep the Shiviti upright, focusing in order be able (to read the verses without turning it in any way. Of course, as one reads it they should consider the meaning and significance each line.
There are 49 words of the Psalm that relate to parts of the menorah body. These words begin with verse 2, “Elohim yachanainu viybaracheinu / May G-d be gracious to us and bless us…” It is common tradition for the next seven verse to go from left to right. One verse for each of the branches, including the center shaft. This is candle-lighting order, the same order that candles are to be lit on Chanukah. Though the verses can be said in any order, the only requirement of our custom is to say it in the form of the menorah.
Further Contemplation: Considering Our Core
There are also other ways we can further contemplate upon the menorah when lined up in this progressive fashion. Let us take a look at two more quick kavanot to further fine-tune our minds and focus, ones that can be done while saying the psalm.
As we say the psalm we make notice that the verses concerning the benefit of Israel, and the well being of all the nations intertwined through out the chapter. Now notice that the 3rd and 5th branches, the innermost spanning arm contains a unique occurrence of mirroring verses. The two arms bear the words “Yoducha amim Elohim / G-d, may the peoples give thanks to You / yoduch elohim kulam / let the peoples, all of them, give thanks to You.” At our core we should be aware and intend that our actions bring godliness to all parts or our lives, so that we can show people the goodness of life for which one can be grateful. First we can start considering all the reasons we have to be grateful. Then we think about sharing this attitude of gratitude. Why is this represented on the right arm and the left arm of the menorah? Its like a person that shares a loaf of bread with a friend, he tears it in half, this is your share and this is mine; however, like a good friend, the pieces in both hands are equal.
Keeping Ones Self Grounded
Other wonderful thought is to consider the center shaft of the menorah. It contains 49 letters, just like our Psalm contains 49 words that associate with the body of menorah. This psalm can be thought of a summary of the whole chapter, the nature of the chapter condensed down and concentrated in this one verse. Also the center shaft is where the menorah meets the ground, and upon which all the other branches rely. This is what we should hang out hopes on. Understanding our goal here is what keeps us “grounded.” This is the central reason for our devotion, to make this possible, that…
“The nations will be gland and sing for joy.
For You will judge the nations fairly,
and the peoples of the earth will rejoice.
| Yismauchu viyarnenu, l’amim.
| Ki tishpot amim mishor:
| ul’amim ba’aretz tan’chaim
We are desire and intend to draw godliness in the world so that not only will we be singing and praying songs of gladness, so too will the entire world. Let let all the nations of the world sing for joy! We desire and intend to help spread equality, fairness and justice across the entire face of the earth.
Also, feel like your are in a situation where an unfair judgment is hanging over you? This is a perfect time to open one’s heart and feel the light of G-d’s truth illuminating the situation so that the darkness of confusion dissipates.
Download the Liturgy Aids!
It is with great excitement that I release the two shivit shown above that I have created. They are according to traditional texts and created after carefully comparing many traditional sources.
As this is a liturgy based project I am keeping my commitment to partner with the Open Siddur Project, and release traditional materials with a Creative Commons Zero licensing. Using free and open source material that are free of copyright helps enriches the entire Jewish community! You may download, print, copy and redistribute this material as much as you want. These items are now liberated and the property of the entire Jewish community!
I owe a special thank you to my friend Aharon Varady, founding director of Open Siddur, for guiding me through the design of these graphics.
Included in the following packet are the two full paged shviti presented above, and a new translation of Psalm 67 with brief instructions to help you focus on each branch of this kavanah.
To download click on the image below. As usual, this is a work in progress. Do keep a look out for future updates and additions that are sure to come!
1 – It is not the case for Ashkenazim to say it motzei shabbat, as expressed by the Rema in the Shulchan Aruch. Nor is it the custom after the Vidui, which is a Sephardic custom.
2 – In an informative paper titled “Seven Branches of the Menorah” Rabbi Dovid Sears presents the following wonderful leads that confirm its varied placement in various siddurim: “For example, the popular Sefardic Siddur Tefilat Yesharim arranged by Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad presents this Menorah facing the “Baruch she-amar” prayer. Among the editions of the Siddur ha-ARI, in the 1972 reprint of the Siddur Kol Ya’akov (Slavita 1804) it appears immediately following the Author’s Introduction, while in the 18th century ms. Siddur ha-ARI of Rabbi Avraham Shimshon of Rashkov (facsimile ed. Bnei Brak 1995), it follows the passage of Ketoret.”
3 – 1 Chronicles 29:11
4 – however, here it includes a Vav, coming from the use of a holam “וֹ“, thus a silent letter for the sake of implying a vowel. However, the Vav is intentional, as it represents a dividing line of one side from the other.