“Shiviti Hashem l'negdi Tamid”: David HaMelech's Prescription For G-d Consciousness and Character Refinement  

A personal journey to Hashem, spiritual symmetry and emotional equilibrium

My Journey  Begins

Before setting out on this journey, I was a frustrated mother with a huge, seemingly uncontrollable temper. It felt impossible to diminish my intense rage that erupted in me every time my children acted  in a way that I deemed unacceptable.  Though  I  read numerous books  and attended a highly acclaimed chinuch   banim class  for two years, I struggled to  deal  calmly and  effectively with my kids in the heat of the  moment.   My yelling was hurting my children, ruining Shalom Bayit and destroying me!

  Until one day, an inspirational teacher, mentor and spiritual guide helped me finally break free from this  repetitive nightmare.  This woman was the first person to teach me how to deal calmly and effectively with my high energy kids.  The key to her success was in her teaching me how I could  bring myself  into a state of heightened awareness of Hashem’s presence,  “inviting” Him into every scenario I was facing.  This, I came to discover, is the true meaning of Emunah:  living with the Reality of Hashem’s Presence and recognizing His involvement in each and every moment of our lives

Now I will pause here to point out that up until this point in my life I had  been observant for over 20 years,   involved in Kiruv, and very aware of Hashem’s existence.  I always believed that He is constantly watching   over  me and  supervises  all the  details of my  day.  Yet, though I was aware of these Truths,  I taught them, and  I believed  in them intellectually , still my knee jerk response to certain circumstances in my life – such as my children’s “misbehavior” – indicated that I wasn’t living my Emunah.  

My journey continues: Making the “Shiviti Shift”

Around the same time I decided to take a course with my teacher’s teacher , a very spiritual and intuitive person. 

He taught our group to use the verse  “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi Tamid” in a matra- like  manner  to quiet our minds and guide us towards a relaxed, , more intuitive mental state.   Originating from Tehillim( 16:8)  this “Shiviti “ phrase fundamentally shifted the direction of my life.  I would repeat this verse over and over until I found myself entering into a very calm, centered, clear space.  Very soon thereafter as I began to add  this “Shiviti” relaxation to my  morning routine,  something quite magical  started to happen. 

Combining the “Shiviti” relaxation with the advice my teacher had originally suggested – namely to bring Hashem into the picture – represented a tangible step forward.  Embedded within the verse “Shiviti" was an effective reminder of what I knew all along - that Hashem is really right beside me all the time (“Hashem l’negdi tamid”)  and He is  orchestrating every scene of my life for the sole purpose of catching my attention and reminding  me to “invite Him in”.  He wants me too choose  to re-establish our connection. 

Put simply, by entering into this peaceful and focused space every morning, my brain began to associate saying out loud the words of this verse "Shiviit Hashem...|" with being in a calm, clear, and centered state.

 I began to discover the power of Rav Avigdor Miller zt”l’s teaching called “ auto- suggestion”.  In essence, the Rav explained how we can use words spoken out loud as a  means of re-wiring our brain.  Making this mental shift can consequently impact our future experiences. 

Though an in-depth discussion of this is beyond the scope of this article, I had already learnt that spiritually speaking we usually find ourselves in one of three states of consciousness at any given moment.  We are either  unconscious, self-conscious or G-d conscious.  I believe that the central  key to my spiritual and interpersonal growth  was learning to instantaneously  shift  my mental state from a state of “unconsciousness” to a state of “G-d consciousness” . Through my spiritual mentors and my constant “Shiviti” relaxation regiment,  Hashem  led me to uncover how to mentally shift from a frazzled,  unconscious, reactive state to a clearer, calmer, more G-d conscious state.   

Making this “shiviti” shift (as will be explained) needs to be practiced regularly in order to be effective. It is no coincidence therefore that the word Emunah has the same Hebrew shoresh (grammatical root) as the verb l’hitamen which means to practice or exercise.  Thus, practicing my “morning mantra” became an integral part of my daily “Avodat Hashem.”

The key to  my transformation began when I started actively summoning up this calm “Shiviti” state during “peak” times in the day when I needed it most.  Practically speaking this meant that whenever my kids would  push my buttons, acting in ways that would have aggravated me in the past ,  I would begin to say out loud: “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid”!  Suddenly,  the scene shifted.  My children   would  either  calm down,  make shalom with each other or express their needs or feelings with words.  .   Whereas moments earlier, the scene had seemed completely chaotic, now the same scene had been instantly transformed into calm resolution.  Bottom line, crisis averted.  I didn’t yell and I didn’t become impatient.  And assuming I remembered to say the passuk (which still remains a challenge!), I now wielded an effective tool to impact my children’s behavior without resorting to yelling at them.  For the first time, I began to feel a genuine liberation from this horrible middah of anger which had haunted me for so long!

Admittedly, behavior medication therapists would probably  explain the mechanics of this sudden shift simply as a reflection of my calm state.  By  re-wiring my brain  with saying the “Shiviti”  pasuk,  my  ensuing calm and centered state influenced my children to also be calm.  Any child  psychologist would point to the fact that as a mother, my mental state naturally affects my children’s mental states.   Yet, though I conceded that a mother’s energy significantly impacts upon her children, supporting the behavior modification argument,  I intuited that there was something deeper,  more " kodesh" going on.

Initially  I didn’t really understand what this “something” was. Yet, I longed to understand and I davened to Hashem to help me unravel the mystery behind these sacred words uttered by David HaMelech.  Intuition told me the key would be linked to the words of the pasuk itself and therin would be found the secret to d’vekut (attachment) to Hashem.

The Shiviti Shift

Around this time  I started developing and then  teaching an Emunah Building Workshop called Lights of Emunah.  I saw that the tools I was taught by my mentors provided a pathway  of coming closer to the ultimate Purpose of Life -  namely a more real and palpable relationship with Hashem Yitbarach. Together with my students, I continued searching for the keys to unlock the mystery of the “Shiviti” pasuk.

 I asked the women in my workshop the simple question:  "What is this verse teaching us that we don’t already know?" I reasoned that most G-d fearing Jews already know and believe intellectually that “Hashem l’negdi tamid”(Hashem is right here always) . So I asked them, “What is David HaMelech’s chiddush (novel thought) in adding the word “Shiviti””?  I reasoned that although we are intellectually aware that Hashem is “l’negdi tamid”,  the problem is we do not feel this Truth on a regular basis.  I presumed that the addition of the word “Shiviti” might contain the answer to this dilemma.

Then the pieces began to fall into place. .  Although  Artscroll translates the word as “I place” or “I set before me” I sensed there was a deepter meaning as well.    I asked my students to help me grammatically dissect the word  and  discover together what David HaMelech was trying to convey.

Setting aside any deeper meaning of the word for a momemt, we concluded that the word  is an active verb, written in the first person in the past tense, and as one of my students pointed out, is grammatically conjugated as “פיאל“ connoting an action done in a strong way.  Therefore,  the Hebrew grammar attached to the word “Shiviti” indicated a prerequisite action that I must fulfill and do in a strong way in order to experience the Reality that Hashem is with me always (“Hashem l’negdi tamid”).  In other words, the experience of Hashem being with me always is predicated upon this as yet undefined action word.  Of course, in reality, Hashem is beside me all the time.  David HaMelech’s chiddush is that there is something I need to do in order to open myself to the constant Truth that Hashem is with me always.  It is a mental action I need to make that allows me to be more aware of His constant Reality. 

Thus, I coined the phrase “Shiviti shift” to describe the mental action I had yet to discover,  and I davened to Hashem to help me find out more.

The mystery began  unraveling further when I was learning the book Inner Space by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan zt”l.  In describing the process whereby Prophets were able to receive prophecy,  Rabbi Kaplan  explained that:

“prophets use the third person because they are on a level of objectivity, of total detachment from themselves.  It could be that this is the concept of Hishtavut (השתוות) mentioned in a number of texts.  This term is derived from the root Shava (שוה), meaning equal.  It denotes a certain kind of equanimity… “ (Inner Space pp.138-9)

He goes on to quote from Rav Issac of Acco in the sefer Me’irat Eynayim  that:

“ Hishtavut is the ability to totally nullify one’s ego and to feel exactly the same whether he is praised or insulted… All of these steps are a preparation for receiving prophecy itself.  They indicate that a person is utterly detached from his ‘I’.  He can then look down at himself from outside of himself and refer to himself in the third person.  This is an extremely important point.  We know that a prophetic vision can only be obtained when one is in a perfectly balanced mental state.” (See Rambam’s Moreh Nevukhim 2:36).

Reading these words made me feel as though the Heavens had opened up!  Hashem was guiding me on a very personal special journey indeed!  I now strongly suspected that this thing called “Hishtavut”( or as I later learned it to be called “Hishtavut Hanefesh”) is related to the word ”Shiviti”   since they both share the same Hebrew root שוה.

I soon became obsessed with  learning whatever I could about  “Hishtavut” and how it was connected to “Shiviti”.  I strongly believed this connection would  help me uncover how to feel a constant awareness of “Hashem l‘negdi tamid”.  I researched further.  The footnotes of this  Rav Aryeh Kaplan source cited above revealed that:

“The concept of Hishtavut is also found in the Talmud where it is called ‘overcoming one’s natural tendencies’(being ma’avir al midotav) as found in Megillah 28a; Taanit 25a. According to Rabbi Issac, The Divine Presence (Shekhinah) is only revealed to one who has attained this level of total indifference to all outside influences.”  (Inner Space pp.220, footnote #-56)

 Eureka!  That’s it!!!  At this point I became totally convinced that “Shiviti” and “Hishtavut” were essentially one and the same .  As R. Kaplan alludes to above, one who strives towards attaining a level of “Hishtavut Hanefesh" (ie. Shiviti) is blessed with a measure of the Divine Presence revealed   (“Hashem l’negdi tamid”). 

Though the connection between the words “Shiviti” and “Hishtavut” now seemed completely obvious to me, I still needed more concrete evidence and sources to support my intuited link between them.  To obtain a clearer grasp of the simple meaning of the Hebrew word myself,  I looked up “Hishtavut” in a Hebrew-English dictionary.  I came across the following definitions: (Alcalay dictionary) כובש יצרו(being ma’avir al midotav, overcoming one’s natural tendencies as cited above); מבליג (restraining, restraint, cheerfulness);  and שולט ברוחו(control over moods).

I then asked  Rav Dovid Shteinhaus, the Rosh Kollel where I live,  for assistance in obtaining  more Torah sources for the  meaning of “Hishtavut”  The Rav pointed me to  Chovot HaLevovot: Gate of Wholehearted Devotion of all Acts, chapter 5. The relevant paragraph  says:

“It is related that one of the pious asked another, ‘Do you possess equanimity.’ (הנשתוית) ‘In what sense?’ he asked. ‘Are praise and insult equal in your eyes?’ (נשתוה) ‘No’. ‘Then you have not yet arrived.  Make the effort! Perhaps you will reach this level.  For it is the highest level among the pious and the most precious of virtues.’”

More Shiviti Secrets

Meanwhile,  I further researched the pasuk“Shiviti Hashem l'negdi tamid".

In addition to its origin in Sefer Tehillim, this verse also appears in the opening sif of the Shulchan Aruch and represents the halacha with which the Beit Yosef begins his master codification of Jewish Law (see Shulchan Orech: Siman א (ג)). The halachic sefer the Chaye Adam elaborates on how to fulfill the dictum “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid” as brought in the Shulchan Orech .  This Acharon explains that the way one can become d’vuk (attached) to Hashem is by “attaching  always his thoughts on Him (“  ("דבוק במחשבותו בוas it is written "Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid”.   This idea is also brought down by the Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:56):

“The power of thought that Hashem granted us is what connects us to Him.” 

The ideas that our thinking is what connects us to Hashem is supported by R. Shimshon Pincus zt”l’s teaching  in his sefer Shabbos Kodesh (pp. 119-120) where he writes that:

“When we think about Hashem, we are actually with Him.  And when we think about something else, we simply disconnect from Hashem.” 

These sources finally provided concrete support for my inner belief that   there is a thought process involved in fulfillment of the active “Shiviti” verb.   I  surmised that mental effort must be required to achieve  Hishtavut Hanefesh.  In order to nullify one’s ego, overcome our  natural tendencies, and transcend the surrounding situation and its triggers (subjective to each person) requires a supreme,  disciplined mental effort.  I felt Hashem was starting to reveal to me that the common denominators between “Shiviti” and “Hishtavut” are the power of thought and our way of thinking.   However, my investigation was by no means complete.  I still felt there was one more crucial piece that needed to fall into  place.  Specifically I needed to find a source linking the words “Shiviti” and “Hishtavut”. 

Baruch Hashem,  Hakadosh Baruch Hu provided me with the final piece to this puzzle in a relatively short period of time.  It was the  day after Shavuot.  I was listening to a shiur by R. Moshe Weinberger   His introductory words still  reverberate throughout my being.   Quoting from The Last Will and Testament of The Ba’al Shem Tov , the first words Rav Weinberger  translated  were…:

 “Shiviti  loshon  Hishtavut”. 

I screamed with joy and excitement louder than I had ever screamed before (and my mother being an opera singer I know how to scream!) It felt like my own personal Matan Torah,  a gift bestowed on me by Hashem the very day after the  celebration  of our national receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.    The Ba’al Shem Tov very closely echoes the Chovot Levovot cited above.  As Rav Weinberger explains:

“Hishtavut means  הכל שוה אצלו  - that is I am always equal, I am always in a state of equilibrium whether I am being praised or I am being insulted, everything is שוה (equal) by him...  As seen in the light of the greater awesome presence of Elokut and what that is calling upon you to do, all is equal…”

 R. Weinberger  elaborates that:

 “ Everything is equal because the yetzer hara has been removed from him.”

The main role of the yetzer hara is to  confound our thinking.  It is there to block our way from  perceiving  the Elokut, the G-dliness in all of Reality. 

This block causes a total tuning out of Reality, the  Reality of Hashem’s Presence surrounding me (“Hashem l’negdi tamid”) and we act out of an unconscious or re-active mode.

This phenomenon is explained by the Ramchal in his sefer  The Derech Eitz Chaim .  Here the Ramchal  describes the best way to defeat the yetzer is by being conscious:

“Being Conscious will strengthen the soul and certainly distance from him the yetzer. There is nothing that weakens the soul before the yetzer like the lack of consciousness.  And if someone’s consciousness is broad and stands on his heart, he would never sin at all…Since G-d wants that man will be ruler over his yetzer,…He put in him the ability to be conscious…”

In the words of the Ba’al Shem Tov “a person needs only to direct this consciousness to the presence of holiness in everthing.”

 

A Full Circle

Thus, I discovered that my suspicions were correct. In essence, “Shiviti means Hishtavut”.  Parahphrasing Rav Weinberger:

“When I am feeling in a state of spiritual symmetry and equilibrium (ie.Histavut Hanefesh/Shiviti),  it is because I have cleared my mind to a point where I am aware that Hashem l’negdi tamid.”

Reassuringly, Rav Weinberger teaches us that at all times and in every situation,  every person  on his own individual level can  meet up with Elokut ( G-dliness) to some degree.  Based on the sources above, what is the thinking process one should  undertake in order fulfill  “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid”?    R. Weinberger explains that we must ask ourselves:  “right now what is my Avodat Hashem?  What is Hashem communicating to me right now in each situation that He wants me to do?  What is the Elokut that is present in this moment right now? “ The Rav also explains that  one is able to respond effectively and clearly in each  situation by using the”Histavut HaNefesh” mode of thinking – that means having the perspective that “הכל שוה אצלו”. Rav Weinberger concludes that “Shiviti becomes the battle cry of the Jew in this world.  Everything is Elokut.  Everything is שוה (equal) when perceived from that perspective.” 

Thus, to fulfill the Shulchan Aruch’s prescription “Shivit Hashem l’negdi tamid" requires a  circular mental process.  This means that in any given situation, the degree that I have a strong consciousness that Hashem is with me, (“Hashem l’negdi tamid”),  is the degree to which I can reach a state of inner calm and mental  equilibrium ("Shiviti/Hishtavut hanefesh").   Correspondingly  to the degree that I have disciplined my thinking in accordance with this  “Shiviti shift” , namely to  bring myself into a calm and balanced space , then I will be prepared to experience more of the Reality of “Hashem l’negdi tamid”.  Or to put it back in the words of David HaMelech, “Shiviti….”   therefore I am able to recognize “Hashem l’negdi tamid.”

Practically Speaking

Though we do not have access to prophecy today, the Gemara reminds us that we are  still “B’nai Neviim”  as it says, “If the Jews are not prophets, they are the children of prophets.”  (Pesachim 66a).  Thus, we all   have the potential to access  and to experience more Elokut in our lives and to create a more real,   palpable  and personal connection with Hashem.

It is for the sake of this relationship that  G-d created the whole world as stated by the Ramchal:  

“man was created for the sole purpose of rejoicing in G-d and deriving pleasure from the splendor of His Presence; for this is true joy and the greatest pleasure that can be found.”  (see Chapter 1 Path of the Just)

 Bringing all of this down to a practical level,  how does one live with “Shiviti Hashem l’negdi tamid”?  As I said at the very beginning,  the key method,  I experienced,  is to repeat again and again the exact phrase of this pasuk whilest in a relaxed, calm, focused state  until you begin to feel even more relaxed and calm.

With practice, (again Emumah from the verb l’hitamen meaning to practice) one ideally begins to experience the wonderful, indescribable  sensation of being in Hashem’s  Presence.  This “avodah” is bext explained in the Introduction of a very powerful sefer called To Heal the Soul, by R. Kalanymus Kalman Shapira (The Piacezer Rebbe). {Note: To listen to an inspiring and exact description of this process the Rebbe calls ‘Inner Silence’ by Rav Moshe Weinberger, click here.}

One can also add in a  focused, individually-worded tefillah alongside the “Shiviti” pasuk.  For instance,  with every repetition of “Shiviti” ask Hashem to bless you with the quality of Hishtavut hanefesh,  and that this feeling of equilibrium, inner calmness, and self – control should remain with you throughout the day.   Or one might ask Hashem to help transcend whatever situations one  finds herself in during the day, to go above the normal operative controlling state and rise to the level of seeing the Elokut in all situations.  Or one might go inside and ask: 

“ what is the message that Hashem is communicating to me right now? Or “ what is the personal ratzon (will) that He has set out for me in this moment?”

Once  one feels an inner calmness,  balance, and focus, then begin to repeat out loud: "Shiviti Hashem l'negdi tamid" over and over.  Whilst in this space of inner silence, one can ask Hashem to help anchor these thoughts and feelings to  repetition of the “Shiviti” phrase throughout the day. Then in subsequent challenging situations,  repeating this phrase will trigger the  brain  to recapture the associated feeling of calmness that was created in the morning.    This comes with practice but from my own personal experience it really works!   In the words of the Piacezer Rebbe:

“After a few weeks of faith repetitions in the inner-silence state, when one recites the verse, ‘This is my G-d and I shall adorn Him’ (Shemot: 15:2), one will be able to ‘point with his finger’ as it says in the Midrash (Shemot Rabbah 23:15), that is, he will have an immediate experience of the divine.”

Whenever I find myself slipping into an unconscious, re-active mode or I notice myself beginning to overly control a situation during the day, this practice enables me to pause, catch myself, breathe (I find taking that first deep breath is essential)  and remind myself out loud:  “Shiviti Hashem!”   The key is to consciously make this mental shift before snapping out of reality.   Sometimes if I am really  edgy, I’ll shout “SHIVITI”!  My kids have become accustomed to this but it sure beats shouting at them!   Repeating these words enables me to recapture both the comforting thoughts that Hashem is right here, that Hashem is the One sending me this situation,  along with the associated feelings of calm and equanimity that I generated in the morning.

As soon as I remember Hashem is with me, that He loves me and  is  trying to get my attention in order to re-establish our connection,   then any situation I am facing at that moment feels manageable and good.  Even if we accept all this in theory,  the key is to feel it and to live with it every day,  and to learn to transform any negative thinking towards spiritual symmetry and mental equilibrium.  Rather than reacting to a situation from a place of control or anxiety, this mental switch, triggered by the "Shiviti shift" frees us to respond from a place of equanimity and peace!

 {Read a personal account from one of my students who tried and tested this for herself.}  

Sharing the Shiviti Secret

As we share more and more of our experiences in this journey towards closeness to Hashem and mental mastery, I believe that together we can help each other break through the walls of deception and the barriers of illusion.   By constantly  reminding ourselves and one another that every nuance in life is really Hashem’s way of  talking to us and connecting to us, b’ezrat Hashem we will experience constant joy in everything that we do and in every single moment of life!

Check out LIGHTS OF EMUNAH to learn more about  how to apply this “Shiviti” shift" along with other practical tools to access our Emunah resources for healing, spiritual empowerment, and greater joy in daily living.  Visit www.G-dDirectTorah.com to see more fantastic seminars and resources on how to develop a more personal and palpable relationship with our Creator. 

 

A new Lights of Emunah series will be beginning after Pesach, IY”H. For more information and/or to register, contact Devorah Yaffa at: DevorahYaffa@G-dDirectTorah.com