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The Mishnah says:

“…If one is standing outside Palestine, he should turn direct his heart [y’kavin et lebo/יכוין את לבו] towards Eretz Yisrael…If he stands in Eretz Yisrael, he should direct his heart [turn mentally] towards Jerusalem…If he’s standing in Jerusalem he should direct his heart to the Temple…If he’s standing in the Temple, he should [turn mentally] towards the Holy of Holies…If he was standing in the Holy of Holies he should turn mentally towards the ‘mercy-seat’ [ark-cover; Heb: kaporet; כפרת]. If he was standing behind the ‘mercy-seat,’ he should imagine himself [יראה את עצמו/yirah et atzmo – i.e. see himself; visualize himself] to be in front of the ‘mercy-seat’.” [1]

This is commonly understood to mean that we should physically face Jerusalem when we pray:

“When praying the Amidah, one should stand facing East [or in whichever direction Jerusalem is from where you are]…” [2

Yet, the mishnah tells us something more: The physical facing should be accompanied by a “directing of the heart” towards not only Jerusalem in general, but specifically towards the cover of the ark, from where Torah recounts God speaking to Mosheh. “Directing the heart” in its most intense form means to [mentally] imagine or see oneself/יראה את עצמו in a chosen place.

While arguably all Jews pray facing Jerusalem, it’s questionable how many accompany this with a cognitive or mental directing of the heart towards the cover of the ark. Few, I think, know how to “direct their hearts.” Those who do are visualizing themselves in the designated place, whether they’re fully aware of it or not.

When the Mishnah says to “face Jerusalem” etc., it doesn’t mean that there’s any space or distance between us and Jerusalem [i.e. the ark-cover] at that moment; no space between us and God. Instead, it’s telling us that when we pray, we are to know that we’re in God’s Presence no less than if we were standing in front of the ark and its cover in the Holiest Place. The Talmud reiterates this idea in a slightly different form: 

“When you pray: Know before Whom you stand.” [3]

Rabbi Dr. Raymond Apple makes a particularly apt comment on this:

“From the spiritual point of view, it tells us that if we open our hearts, souls and minds to Him, we feel His presence – in the synagogue and everywhere else.” [4]

Yet, “direct your heart” is vague in how it might be applied, until we realize that it’s synonymous with “[mentally] see yourself…” The structured approach to “seeing ourselves…” is called “Visualization.” It can be learned, practiced and we can make progress in our application of it.

We could, then, visualize ourselves as standing in the “Temple” etc., but I recommend using the Mishkan, at least initially. While both Temples were built on the design of the Mishkan, the Mishkan itself is simpler and easier to visualize.

“Visualization” ultimately means “contemplation.”

To use the Mishkan as a guide to contemplation:

First, relax yourself physically. Find a way to relax that is comfortable for you. There are many examples available online. Then see yourself in the following sequence.

Close your eyes.

Outside the Mishkan.
You are immersed in your daily activity – be it farming or selling or building, etc. Your mind is taken up by the difficulties in your work, although you experience occasional periods when things flow easily. You are surrounded by the noises of other people, or perhaps by a monotonous silence broken only by the noise of your work, by the daily problems you face, by inner unrest.
Your thoughts of God are no more than infrequent mental acknowledgements that there is a tent, somewhere distant, where God’s Presence is found. But you are quickly distracted from any thought of this by the demands of your daily activity.
What is that activity?
What do you see? Hear? Touch? Taste? Smell?

Approach the Mishkan.
Your daily concerns and thoughts subside somewhat and the thought of God increases to a limited extent. Your main identification is still with yourself in the world outside the Mishkan.

Enter the Mishkan.
See the courtyard, with the altar in the middle. The “Tent of Meeting” stands at the far end of the courtyard, with its opening facing you. The water-basin is between the altar and the Tent.
Thoughts of the world subcide substantially, while thoughts of God increase until they are equally prominent with your thoughts of the world. You participate in the sacrificial service, step by step.
Bring your offering, representing all of your concerns, next to the alter. A kohen performs the sacrifice.
Move past the altar, to the water-basin, and rinse your hands and feet.

Enter the “Holy Place” (the outer room of the Tent)
Before you, you see the small, golden altar for incense. To your left is the 7-branched menorah. To your right is the table with the bread displayed. Past the incense-altar is the curtain that divides the “Holy Place” from the “Holiest Place.”

Thoughts of God predominate; thoughts of the world gradually fall off as the Divine Peace permeates your mind and heart. As your mind and heart are completely permeated, the world – your individual concerns, thoughts, etc. – are of little to no concern. You are barely aware of them, if at all. 

Enter the Holy of Holies (the “Holiest Place;” the inner room of the Tent)
Move into the inner room by passing through the curtain.
Stand before the Ark and its cover.
The room is otherwise empty. 

It’s length, width and height are all equal; all the same. 
You are completely unconcerned with the world or any of your personal issues or problems. Let go of everything. Have no concern for them at all. All is in God’s Hands for the good.
Count backwards from 10 to 1. Repeat if desired.
You are surrounded and filled by a blissful, peaceful silence. There is nothing but that Silence. You and that Silence are one and the same.
Stay with that as long as is comfortable.

Re-enter the “Holy Place” (outer room)
Back through the curtain.
Re-enter the outer room, see the menorah, incense alter and bread-table, while maintaining the Silence experienced in the inner room. 

Re-enter the courtyard.
See the water-basin and the altar and see the sacrifice being done, maintaining that Silence of the inner room along with “seeing.”

Exit the Mishkan
Re-enter the world. Your thoughts and concerns re-emerge. 
Maintain the Silence along with your thoughts.
See yourself going through all the familiar activities of your daily life, now filled with the Silence of the inner room. 

Open your eyes slowly.
The things in the room around you and your thoughts about your concerns and issues predominate. 
Momentarily remember the Silence.

Repeat this visualization often; at least once weekly. 
As it become familiar to you, you will likely find that it goes more quickly and that you’re able to remain in the Silence in the inner room for longer periods of time without thoughts or feelings arising.

(There are allegorical interpretations of the Mishkan similar to this, but I’m proposing an actual, systematic exercise using mental imagery. In another age, those allegorical interpretations might have led spontaneously to mental imagery. I post this now, but might add to it in the future. You can add to it, too, by incorporating more details from what Torah and Talmud say about the Mishkan and the services in it.)

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[1] Berachot 30a
[2] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 18:10
[3] Berachot 28b
[4] http://www.oztorah.com/2007/06/know-before-whom-you-stand-ask-the-rabbi/ 

Rabbi Eli Mallon

photo by Carl Merkin (cmerkin@verizon.net

Rabbi Eli Mallon, M.Ed., LMSW

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