Mystical Ascent: Heavenly Body, Soul, and Mind
Judaism has long taught the practice of the mystically projecting oneself into higher realms while still alive.
Moshe Idel identifies three types of ascents described in Jewish texts:somanoda(bodily ascent), psychanodia (soul ascent), and nousanodia (ascent of the intellect).1
Bodily ascent can itself take two diverse forms - the "taking up" of the physical body, as in the case of Elijah, or of the "spiritual body," called the guf ha-dak in Hebrew. On the other hand, the idea of projecting the intellect is a particularly medieval one, based on the Aristotilian notion that the Intellect is an attribute linking the person to the higher spheres.
Both apocalyptic literature and the New Testament (Paul, obliquely describing himself - II Cor. 12:3) make it clear that such ascensions were known of and accepted in Early Judaism. Different versions of these ascents can be found at virtual all periods of Jewish history.
Apocalyptic traditions tend to limit ascents to the mythic past; only Biblical worthies merited such experiences, figures such as Enoch, Abraham, and Moses. There is little or no indication in apocalyptic writings, however, that the experience is accessible to the contemporary reader. By contrast, the Dead Sea Scrolls (Perhaps inspired by the language of Zechariah 3:7) suggest for the first time that mingling with angelic realms is possible for the priestly elite.
Later Hekhalot literature radically “democratizes” (for lack of a better word) the possibility of mystical ascent – any intellectually and spiritually worthy person can now do it, though it is exceedingly dangerous - and offers descriptions of some of the rituals and preparations necessary for such ascents.
The German Pietists preserved and continued these practices. After the 13th Century, this journey was most often characterized as climbing the "rungs" or "degrees" of the sefirot.
Famous post-Biblical practitioners of ascent include Rabbis Akiba and Ishmael, Isaac Luria, the Baal Shem Tov, and Abraham Joshua Heschel of Apt.
As one might discern from above, terminology for the experience of entering divine realms changes over Jewish history, and has been known variously as Nichnas Pardes (Entering Paradise), Yered ha-Merkavah (Descent to Chariot), Yichud (Unificaiton) and Davekut (Cleaving).
Techniques for ascent in Jewish sources include ritual purification, immersion, fasting, study of sacred and mystical texts, sleep deprivation, reciting word mantras (especially divine names), self-isolation, and even self-mortification.
The purposes of heavenly ascension include various forms of unio mystica, sometimes in an ineffable experience, other times by a visionary enthronement before God or angelification, receiving answers to questions, the power over angels, or even gaining inspiration (for composing liturgical songs).
Zal g'mor - To learn more consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050
 Idel, Moshe, Ascensions on High in Judaism. 27-28.
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