A friend came to me for a Chanukah gift for his wife. He wanted it to incorporate at the very least the initials of the Hebrew names of his wife (ד, daled or "D") and his son (י, yud or "Y"), and if possible his as well (נ, nun or "N"). I've done some work for them before, so I knew what would fit in with his wife's style, but we needed a motif. We discussed themes like the Tree of Life or a mother-and-child, but through the process I wound up designing something completely different. As I was ruminating on their names, I wondered if one of the Kabbalistic Seventy-Two Names of God happened to be comprised of their three initials. As it happens, one Name is: דני, the 50th Name.
In Judaism we frequently refer to God by different names depending on the motive behind the particular prayer; e.g. we look to El Shaddai when we need God's might, and to Avinu Malkeinu when we need God's parentage. The Name דני has various interpretations, starting with a literal one derived from the spelling. The vowel placement is debated and certainly isn't the same, but the arrangement of the three consonants is the same as in the Hebrew name Dani, which means "my judgement" (the same letters that begin the name "Daniel" which means "God is my judge"). Thus the Name דני is associated with breaking through judgements to awaken spiritual growth. Some kabbalists say one should meditate on this Name when refusing to settle for one's circumstances, and for banishing all negativity in favor of operating only from a place of positivity. Moreover, the verse is associated with Psalms 149:9, which reads "The Lord is good to all, and God's mercy is upon all God's works." This implies that no matter the judgement, God is merciful. Taken together, all of this may mean that no matter the tribulations, when one continues to work from a place of positivity, God will judge one mercifully. This seemed an apt description of how my friend and his wife have built their relationship, their family and their role within their community.
That settled the matter of the Name being at the center of the piece as simultaneous representation of the family themselves and the role of God in their lives, but I still needed a design. The Name got me thinking about mercy as a theme. While I didn't use the previously discussed Tree of Life or mother-and-child, I noted an implication of protection in those two motifs, and God's mercy is the ultimate protection. "The Seat of Mercy" is a common name for the Kaporet (כפרת), the space between the two cherubim on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant. The Kaporet was supposedly the space from which Moses spoke to God in the Tabernacle—so it was no great leap to place the Name דני between two cherubim in the design. The cherubim on the cover of the Ark are traditionally depicted as facing each other with their wings stretched in front of them, in a sheltering pose—another motif of protection. The result is a design where God is found at the Seat of Mercy, and where two angels (who, in the Jewish tradition, are the mouthpieces of God) are sheltering the family as represented by their initials. Rounding out the intent of the design, angels were a favorite motif in the Art Deco movement, an artistic school that I knew would work well with the recipient's personal style.