Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Standing In Front Of God.

כיצד היא הכוונה--שיפנה ליבו מכל המחשבות, ויראה עצמו כאילו הוא עומד לפני השכינה

Where does one direct his attention [during Shemona Esreh]? He should clear his mind from all [other] thoughts and picture himself as if he is standing in front of the Shechinah. (Rambam Hil Tefilah 4:16)

What is the meaning of “standing in front of the Shechinah”?

We do not sit, move, and occupy ourselves when we are alone and at home, in the same manner as we do in the presence of a great king. We speak and open our mouth as we please when we are with the people of our own household and with our relatives, but not so when we are in a royal assembly. If we therefore desire to attain human perfection, and to be truly men of God, we must awake from our sleep, and bear in mind that the great king that is over us, and is always joined to us, is greater than any earthly king, greater than David and Solomon were. The king that cleaves to us and embraces us is the Intellect that overflows towards us, and forms the link between God and us. We perceive God by means of that light that He sends down unto us…” (MN 3:52)

We use our minds in our search for God by trying to understand the world we live in of which He is its First Cause. When we do that, we connect with and absorb into our minds the “knowledge” that is out there and underlies our existence. That “knowledge” is the closest link we, humans, can have with God. It is the linkage between the transcendental and the physical. When we say we are in the presence of God, we are saying that our minds are speculating about our existence and the causes that brought it about all the way back up the chain of cause and effect that ends, or rather begins with God, the First Cause. That awareness of His existence is what we refer to metaphorically as Shechinah. The emotions of awe and fear that we feel as a result of this process are similar to the emotions we would feel were we to stand in front of a monarch that has our existence in his hands. But there is more.

וכשמחשב בדברים האלו עצמן, מיד הוא נרתע לאחוריו, ויירא ויפחד ויידע שהוא בריה קטנה שפלה אפלה, עומד בדעת קלה מעוטה לפני תמים דעות

When he thinks about these matters [physics and metaphysical speculation], he immediately steps back [awed], and he is fearful and scared knowing that he is a small lowly and obscure creature with a deficient and small mind, who stands in front of the perfect mind. (Hil Yesodei Hatorah 2:2)

Our insignificance in contrast with all the knowledge and wisdom that goes into our own existence is glaring and at the same time makes us aware of the greatness of the One who is the cause of all that. Whenever we think about this, we are standing in front of God. It is the frame of mind that we must have when praying.

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