Excerpted from “Hitbodedo-It: The Science, Art and Heart of Hitbodedut” (unpublished ms.) by Rabbi Perets Auerbach. Source references and glossary have been omitted from this online version.
The beginning of hitbodedut is meditation on being in the Presence of God. This itself can be expanded and expounded to become an entire discussion unto itself. It involves talking about omniscience. The Divine light fills all worlds and surrounds all worlds, is above all worlds and beneath all worlds. This can be expanded to wider and wider horizons of hasagot Elokut (Divine perception).
“Shiviti [I put] YHVH always before me” (Psalms 16:8). The Arizal explains that the verse refers to seeing the Tetragrammaton always before the mental eyes. This is a great foundation of yirah. “And the appearance of God [i.e., seeing YHVH] is as [letters of] consuming [white] fire at the top of the mountain [the soul source]—to the [mental] eyes of the children [offshoots of Israel [i.e., the Eyn Sof, or Infinite, as expresed in Zeir Anpin of Atsilut]” (Exodus 24:17). Envision the Name in fiery white shining letters.
A word about what this can lead to: There is a famous story of a group of Jews who dwelled in an Arab country. A certain sheik was known to miraculously help people. A tzaddik who lived there wanted to fathom the secret source of his power. He was very wise also in secular wisdom, which he had heard that the sheik loved. So he went to the sheik and allowed him to pose any question he had. The sheik was delighted to see a great display of wisdom and receive answers the likes of which he had never known before. After going through many topics, they finally reached the sheik’s favorite issues of knowledge. At this point the tzaddik told him that he would proceed only if the sheik told him his secret. At first he declined. However, when he saw that the tzaddik was adamant about not revealing any more knowledge, he acquiesced to reveal his secret. He told the tzaddik to fast and immerse and to meet him on a certain day. The tzaddik did so. The sheik took him into special hidden chambers and showed the source of his secret power: The tzaddik saw a big engraving of the Tetragrammaton. Because the sheik treated it with great respect, he merited to be answered very directly.
Many have heard this story only to feel disappointed at what seemed to be leading to a great revelation, but ended up being anti-climatic. Don’t we already know that? In truth, it is a great piece of mussar. It demonstrates how important it is to honor God’s Name and how good the results can be. But there is something more.
“I walk before God in the land of the living” (Psalms 116:9). Did we think that anyone is up and walking in the land of the dead?! Why would Dovid HaMelekh hint to zombies? We have no known record of any episode of Alfred Hitchcock, Vincent Price, or even “Creature Feature” dating back to his time.
“And you who cleave to God your Lord are all alive today” (Deuteronomy 4:4). Life is only genuine if it is connected to the Source of All. And Divine life-force is channeled through God’s Names. A basic way of cleaving to God is through picturing His name. This is called walking before Him in a true state of life. One can merit to know everything just by seeing how the Name reacts. If you are pondering doing something, see if the Name “shines.”
In order for this to work, one needs to be aligned. Rebbe Nachman’s story of ‘The King Who Decreed Destruction” tells of a king who fell upon a way to conquer the world without war. Each one of the seven planets (the Kabbalists count only seven) shines its energy into one of the seven continents, and also into seven types of metals. The king gathered the metals and made them into the form of a man—the head of gold, the body of silver, the other limbs from other metals. (This echoes of the form seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream in the Book of Daniel. He too was king of the whole world.) This statue was placed upon a high mountain, where all of the planets shine. When a person needed advice on whether or not to do something, he would go to the mountain, meditate on his question, and gaze at the man. If it shined, he knew that it was the thing to do; if not, not. The “mountain man” only worked if the king “subdued the high and uplifted the lowly” (Siddur).
Providence transmits destiny to nature by means of the planets and constellations. The statue represents the partzuf of the sefirot as they are expressed within nature. The Tetragrammaton manifests through the concept of “adam ha’elyon”—by way of the form of a spiritual human archetype. For one who is connected to God, He will shine His light through the Tetragrammaton, causing it to light up when the meditator ponders doing something that he should do. This is similar to the letters of the breastplate that lit up when the Kohen Gadol sought counsel, when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem.
God says to one who is proud, “This world is not big enough for both of us!” In order to see the Name in lights, one must subjugate the higher parts in himself—
pride—and raise up the low parts—low self-esteem. One has to really believe that God dwells within him and is there, ready to give direct answers.
In the story, the statue was used for selfish power and intrinsically was coming from Other Side. “ELHYM made this opposite that” (Ecclesiastes). From it can be learned “the advantage of light from darkness” (ibid.) about the way it works on the good side. “And I poured out My king on Zion, My holy mountain” (Psalms 2:6). This refers to Mashiach, who is the human embodiment of the adam ha’elyon. He collectively includes the entire “awakening from below” of all of mankind, from the whole world, throughout the entire six millennia. He will put the finishing touches on this collective effort, “customize it,” and take it all upstairs to complete the redemption. He is in the category of Dovid HaMelech, whose energy manifests in space upon Mount Zion/malchut. Malchut, the seventh sefirah, includes the entire world, in all of its aspects of seven (continents, planets, metals). They all shine into malchut, which receives them, concentrates their energy, and through this can be used to receive advice.
The way to actualize all of this is in the self is through hitbodedut. Always speak to God as if He is there—because He really is! Don’t hold yourself too small to see His name. “Shiviti” is a basic privilege that everyone has a right to fulfill—no matter who they are, where they find themselves, and to where they have fallen. Focus on the name while having hitbodedut. This unearths one’s own personal messianic point. (This is something to focus on when saying the words in Shemoneh Esreh “Make speedily sprout the scion of Dovid Your servant...”—that one’s personal Mashiach-point should surface.) “And raise his horn in Your salvation”—the horn of your soul should be elevated to its fullness (see Likutey Moharan I, 17).
The author of Chovot HaLevavot states that one who concentrates for three days straight on the Name will merit to see the unseen, hear what is not heard, and know the unknown. Even one who has not yet mastered to hold the awareness for so long can merit to see the Name shine, scintillate, and give true answers by simply treating God and His name with proper honor by always remembering being in His Presence and by constantly speaking to Him.