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A shiviti (Hebrew: שויתי, also shivisi in the Ashkenazic pronunciation) is a meditative representation of a verse from Psalms. It is crowned at the top by the sacred name of God, followed by the rest of the passage set in the shape of the Temple lampstand. It is used in some Jewish communities for contemplation over God's name. The shiviti is usually placed over the amud, the lectern from which the prayer service is led by the hazzan. A decorated parochet or mizrach tapestry, or a special illustrated page in the siddur (prayer book) with similar imagery, may also serve the same function.
The Shiviti displays the Divine Name of God or Tetragrammaton (יהוה, YHWH) followed by[clarification needed] a representation of the seven-branched candelabrum from the Temple, or more accurately, the Temple lamp-stand, since oil rather than wax was used, as described in Exodus 25:31.
Significance and use
The Hebrew text of Psalms 16:8 starts with shiviti, "I have placed", and the next word is the aforementioned Tetragrammaton, which is written in large print. The complete verse means "I place YHWH before me always", or "I have placed the LORD always before me", and is written at the top. This item is meant to enable the worshipper, while praying, to assume an appropriate posture and frame of mind, not unlike the Eastern mandala tradition.
This meditative diagram is often found in synagogues (mostly Sephardic ones). Psalms 16:8 urges one to conduct his entire life with the consciousness of God at all times, especially during prayer as explained in the universally accepted Code of Jewish Law (The Shulchan Aruch, i.e. 'The Set Table' by Rabbi Yosef Caro), which literally begins with this phrase as the code for all of one's conduct.
The Kabbalists observed that Psalms 67 has a sentence structure such that it may be said to figuratively represent a lamp-stand. The first verse is the title, and it stretches across the entire stand, marking out the burning lamps. Of the actual text which follows, the fourth, middle verse is the longest, and represents the middle trunk and the long supporting shaft. The first and seventh are the next longest, and represent the long outer branches. The remaining inner branches are of equal word length.
In the 18th and 19th centuries this tradition turned into a whole branch of Judaic art. Today, a number of Jewish artists produce various modern forms of Shiviti, sometimes merging the old Kabbalistic traditions with New Age and Far Eastern motifs.
See mizrach article for double-purpose items, the mizrach-shiviti, sometimes in the shape of artistic papercuts, with highly elaborate examples from the 19th to early 20th century in the collection of the Jewish Museum of New York.
Similar examples from Kabbalistic numerology
There are various meditations during prayer services with which one intends through the texts, for example when saying אמן (AMeN) during קדיש (QaDdISh), one intends that AMEN (which equals 91, as do יהוה +אדני, YHWH+ADoNaY = 26+65).[clarification needed] Psalms 67 and 23, as well as the prayer Ana b'Koah, are also written in the form of a menorah, and are also read from these diagrams in such a form.[clarification needed]