Torah Musings: Imagination: The Power of Visualization


Sarah Pachter            

When my son, Josh, was five years old, he loved to pretend to be Kobe Bryant, the recently retired Los Angeles Lakers basketball star. As I watched him play, sporting his determined “game face,” I knew that in his mind, he was not pretending to be Kobe Bryant – he was Kobe Bryant.

Children’s imaginations are so vivid that when they play make-believe or dress-up, they are not just pretending. The transformation is real for them.

As adults, we often witness these games and laugh. However, like our kids, we fantasize and use our imaginations all the time. Our fantasizing is not only a vehicle to occasionally escape our present, but it’s also an essential part of our psyche that can affect our goals, decisions, and life trajectories.

Our imagination, or dimyon in Hebrew, paints strong images in our minds, which can excite or motivate us. Like my little athlete, adults sometimes try their hand at a task or skill and muster up enough confidence to think of themselves as a Kobe-esque professional, even for just a pride-filled moment.

The Lesson of the Manna

When the Jewish people were wandering in the desert, their food came to them in the form of manna, which fell from the sky.

The Jews in the desert could imagine whatever food or flavor they craved, and the physical manna would taste just like that (See Rashi on Bamidbar 11:8). Yet, they complained. They kvetched about wanting the delicious fish that they remembered eating in Egypt (even though, in reality, they only ever ate the Egyptians’ leftover skin and bones).

This begs the question: How could the Jews complain about such a special gift from Hashem?

The gift of the manna was not that a person envisioning ice cream, for example, would cause ice cream to appear. Affecting the manna was actually hard work. Each Jew had to do a lot of ruminating over the manna first – he had to imagine each and every bite, feel the texture, and taste it on his tongue, in order to conjure the desired flavor. This process had to be repeated for each meal.

Forget even imagining every bite – most of us cannot even concentrate on the first bite!

How many times do we zip through a brachah, speedily inhale our food, and not think for a moment about the Source of it all? Frankly, we may not want to imagine where that food came from. This involves too much effort. We didn’t want to think about our food in the desert, and we do not want to think about it now. However, if we think about our food like the Jews in the desert thought about the manna, we would have a much deeper appreciation for what we have and from where it comes.

Through the manna, Hashem is giving us a simple formula for getting what we want out of life. You desire something? You wish for success? Here is how to achieve it. Step one: stop thinking that life is better someplace else. You are here now, so embrace it. Step two: think about exactly what it is that you want, imagine it in detail, and then ask Hashem for it.

The message is simple: dream it and you can achieve it.

This is both the power of prayer and positive thinking. We should picture the goal first in our minds, then apply that imagery to our prayers. This will facilitate the proper kavana – focus and intensity of prayer – when imploring the Almighty. We should also mentally encourage ourselves and imagine ourselves achieving our aspirations. This will increase our chances of attaining our goals.

The mind-body connection is extremely powerful. For example, when someone runs on a treadmill at the gym and visualizes their desired mileage, they are more apt to run that distance than someone who reflexively plods through the routine.

How does this happen? The body creates a synapse or pathway for the task that the brain visualizes, establishing a brain pattern. This makes the task mentally and physically familiar and easier for the body to execute. If the synapse exists in the brain, then the person is one step closer to achieving his or her goal – because he or she has already imagined it.

Top basketball players are often asked how they have become so adept at shooting the ball. Many of them attribute their success during games to visualizing the ball going through the hoop before shooting it. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest professional basketball player of all time, famously said, “You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.” As such, if a player imagines (i.e. expects) the ball to swish through the net, it is more likely to do so.

While my son has not morphed into Kobe Bryant, despite his imaginary stint as a professional basketball star, he is on the right track with his conviction in his undertaking. (Truthfully, there’s a chance he could become a six foot six athlete, given the fact that my husband is the same height as Kobe Bryant!) My hope for him is that he will use his dimyon to achieve everything he sets out to accomplish as he grows. Likewise, if we work on seeing our aspirations in our mind’s eye, we will be one step ahead on our path to success.