The Mishkan Within

Guided meditation for Parashat Terumah based on these sources – written by Rabbi Heather for Illini Hillel students

Plant your feet on the floor and sit in a way that is comfortable for you. Take a deep breath. Now take one more. When you’re ready, close your eyes or soften your gaze. Take another deep breath. Begin to feel your body relax. Your toes. Legs. Hips. Keep breathing. Release any tightness you’re holding in your torso. Your chest. Drop your shoulders. Keep breathing. Release your jaws. See if you can feel your eyes and ears. Relax those too. Take one more deep breath.

Picture yourself in a desert. In Hebrew, it’s called a midbar – it means wilderness as well as desert. Notice the sand – feel its texture beneath your feet [pause] Gaze up at the wide blue sky and the mountains [pause]. Notice the colors of the mountains. Brown, beige, red – what else is there? [pause] Breathe in the stillness. The silence. The emptiness. [longer pause]

Imagine a beloved leader is up on one of the mountains. You followed this leader out of Mitzrayim, the narrow place, and now you are here, in this vast, expansive wilderness. From the constriction of slavery you arrived in open nothingness. What does this nothing sound like? Smell like? [pause] You don’t know where you are going. You don’t know what’s coming next. You are afraid.

When your leader returns, you receive instructions. You are to build a mishkan, a sanctuary. Here in the desert. Here in the nothingness. Here where you’re far from everything you’ve ever known. A place for the Divine to dwell. God does not need this space – “God is garbed in everything. No place is devoid of the Divine.” But we need a space where we can connect with God. A sanctuary in the desert of our souls. What should this sanctuary look like? Imagine its colors and structure. What textures are part of this sanctuary? Take a few moments to explore it.

Now bring your attention back to your body with another deep breath. The rabbinic tradition links the mishkan to the human body. You are a dwelling place for the Divine.

Like your skin that covers and protects you, there are tapestries and wool hangings around the sanctuary. Your sense of touch is one of the first ways you connected with the world as an infant, while your other senses slowly developed. Your skin is a gateway to human intimacy. Imagine slowly dipping your hand into the desert sand. Notice its temperature, its texture. [Pause] Lift a handful of sand on an inhale. And release the sand with an exhale. Notice the sensation of the sand slipping through your fingers. [Pause] Take another deep breath. And when you are ready, you can release them.

There is an incense altar in the sanctuary, connected to your sense of smell. Scent can return memories to us from long ago. Inhale deeply now through your nose, and exhale through your mouth. Is there a scent that feels like a sanctuary to you? [Pause]

There is a menorah in the sanctuary, and a menorah in you – as the menorah sheds light, your mind, your intellect, enlightens your body. Take a deep breath and envision a warm light filling the sanctuary of yourself. Notice the quality of this light. Are there specks of dust that float across? What color is the light? White, yellow, blue, something else? Feel the warmth of this light that brightens even the darkest places, making the desert feel like home. [Pause]

Now place your hand over your heart and see if you can feel its beat. Tap. Bum-bum. Bum-bum. Tap gently with me. Your heart is the innermost part of the sanctuary – the Holy Ark, containing the Tablets of the Covenant. What else does your heart contain? Listen for its wisdom as you continue tapping. [Pause]

Take a deep breath and pause your tapping. You can keep your hand on your heart if you wish, or you can let it rest. [Pause]

Your body is the sanctuary. Your textures and colors, your breath and your skin. God said that all those whose hearts were moved to give, should bring a gift to the sanctuary. Everyone was asked to give according to their ability – no more, and no less. Every gift was perfect. Every gift was accepted. However your body looks or feels, you are a holy sanctuary. You are accepted. You are loved. You are whole. You are a dwelling place for the Divine.

Take another deep breath and we’ll sit with that for a moment. Explore the sanctuary within.[Pause]

Take another deep breath. Notice the ground beneath your feet. The temperature in the room. The sound of your companions breathing beside you. Take a last few deep breaths in this space and when you are ready, slowly, gently – open your eyes.