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November 5, 2014

Shavuot-Meditation on the Mountain

Rabbi Jill Hammer


1. “The Eternal called to him from the mountain, saying: ‘Thus shall you say to the house of Jacob, and speak to the children of Israel: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, how I bore you on eagle’s wings and brought you to me.'”

Exodus 19:3-4

Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. As you sit in meditation, imagine climbing on the back of a great bird and being lifted on the wings of a great bird, so that you can see the world from high above. What do you see? What does it feel like to be carried by this winged presence? What perspective do you gain from high in the air? What does this new vision of the world ask of you?

Now, imagine that, from the back of the winged bird, you are looking down at yourself. What do you see that you were unable to see from the ground? What does this new vision of yourself demand of you?

Let the bird return you to earth. Sit and integrate these new visions of self and world.

2. “Let them be ready for the third day, for on the third day the Eternal will come down, in the sight of all the people, on Mount Sinai. You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying: ‘Guard yourselves from ascending the mountain or touching its edges.'”

Exodus 19:11-12

Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. As you sit in meditation, imagine that before you is a mountain. The mountain has boundaries around it. Visualize the boundaries. What do they look, sound, or feel like? How do they communicate the holiness of the mountain? Imagine standing just beyond the boundaries and looking up at the mountain. What do you see? Do you feel longing to ascend? Fear? Curiosity? Reverence? Some other emotion?

Consider: What is the sacred mountain, for you? What are the boundaries around what is holy in your life? How have you maintained them? When have you abandoned them? What has happened when the boundaries have not been maintained? Which boundaries need to be shifted or re-established? When has it felt right to cross a boundary?

Step away from the border of the mountain and return to your breath. Renew your commitment to keeping a holy space in your life.

3. “On the third day, as morning dawned, there was thunder, and lightning, and a dense cloud upon the mountain, and a very loud blast of the horn, and all the people who were in camp trembled.”

Exodus 19:16

Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. As you sit in meditation, imagine walking toward a dense cloud. What happens when you enter the cloud? Breathe in the cloud. Feel its presence. What is it communicating to you?

Consider: when in your life have you touched the mystery at the heart of things? When have you felt in communion with the divine? What places, people, words, ideas, or feelings allow you to experience the mystery of being? What mystery are you experiencing at this moment?

Take one more moment to be with the mystery. Then return and walk out of the cloud. Return to your breath. Feel the cloud of mystery that is present within your breath.

4. “Moses led the people out of the camp toward the Eternal, and they took their places beneath the mountain.”

Exodus 19:16

Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. As you sit in meditation, imagine you are walking toward a mountain, coming closer and closer to its base. Looking closely, you discover a door into the mountain. Enter the door. Notice what kind of door it is. What is beyond the door? What do you see beneath the mountain? How does revelation look different from the underside of Mount Sinai?

Consider: What is the underside of Torah for you? What reveals itself when you look more closely into Torah? For you, what are the secrets behind the words? What, if anything, is there that you don’t want to see? What is hidden inside the sacred text?

Return through the door and leave the underside of the mountain. Return to your breath. Choose a verse of Torah to explore more deeply, so that you can see what lies beneath it.

5. “The Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.”

Exodus 19:20

Close your eyes and pay attention to your breath. As you sit in meditation, imagine that you are looking up at Mount Sinai. Someone, a tiny figure in the distance, is climbing the mountain. Who is the figure? Is it Moses? Someone else? The figure disappears into the mist. How do you feel as the person vanishes?

Consider: Who has gone up for you to receive wisdom? Whom do you honor as ancestors or teachers? When have you felt that teachers were not available to you? In what areas of your life do you still need teachers? What instruction do you need in order to grow and learn?

Let the image of the mountain fade. Think of someone in your life right now from whom you are learning. Honor that person as an embodiment of Torah for you. As you return to your breath, meditate on your gratitude.

“All the people saw the thunder and lightning, and the voice of the shofar and the mountain smoking.”  (Exodus 20:15). May we all be privileged to witness the mystery. A revelatory Shavuot to all.

Rabbi Jill Hammer is the Director of Spiritual Education at the Academy for Jewish Religion.