The Meaning of Tefisah


תיפסה (Tefisah) Perception

You must consider…that mental perception, because connected with matter, is subject to conditions similar to those to which physical perception is subject. That is to say, if your eye looks around, you can perceive all that is within range of your vision; if, however, you overstrain your eye, exerting it too much by attempting to see an object which is too distant for your eye, or to examine writings or engravings too small for your sight, and forcing it to obtain a correct perception of them, you will not only weaken your sight with regard to that special object, but also for those things which you otherwise are able to perceive: your eye will have become too weak to perceive what you were able to see before you exerted yourself and exceeded the limits of your vision.

Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, Vol. I, trans. Friedländer (London: Trübner & Co, 1885)

That which we call “art” exists in order to remedy our perception of life, to make things felt, to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to evoke in [us] a sensation of things, to make [us] perceive things rather than merely recognize them. In order to do so art uses two devices: making things strange and complicating the form, so as to increase the duration and difficulty of perception.

Victor Shklovsky in Aviva Zornberg, Murmuring the Deep: Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious (New York: Knopf Doubleday, 2009)

These are my perceptions. Sometimes our perceptions are fleeting, born out of a particular moment or experience. In other cases, our perceptions are the very things that define us, they shape our perspective, our outlook on the world and the way we inhabit it. Perception is a sensory process—what we see, feel, touch, taste, hear—but it is not passive. It is mediated by our experiences, memories, studies, and traditions. Reflecting on how and what shapes our perceptions can, I believe, help us make sense of our lives and  find meaningful direction with which to put our values into practice.