Post by Rabbi Lee Moore
Shavuot is just around the corner. Meaning ‘weeks’ in Hebrew, this under-observed holiday among many North American Jews celebrates the offering of first fruits in Temple times and, according to Rabbinic teaching, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai following the Exodus from Egypt. The period between Pesach and Shavuot is marked by seven weeks of “counting the Omer” each day. As the tradition of Omer counting developed, each week and day came to be associated with its own unique set of reflections, based on the Kabbalistic concept of the Sephirot – emanations that channel the Divine creative force into the manifest world.
This year, we at Lippman Kanfer Foundation for Living Torah invited a group of colleagues to offer their reflections on the various Sephirot and the implications they have for our lives today. Continue reading
Guest post by Rabbi Lisa Goldstein,
Executive Director of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality.
Hod is the sefirah of opening, of taking in, of receiving. It is fully inhabiting the morning blessing which praises God for opening the eyes of the blind. Hod is raising the eyelids and letting the world pour in, just as it is, in all of its colors and shapes and shadows.
Sometimes the eye sees something that is ugly or distressing. It is easy, as Americans and Jews, to leap straight to action, to the desire to fix and set straight. We are more acculturated to find ourselves in Hod’s brother sefirah, Netzach, who urges us on to do and correct and get involved. But sister Hod is also divine. She waits, knowing that wisdom and creativity can bubble up from the quiet opening to the fullness that is also in and surrounding the ugly or distressing thing. Netzach and Hod’s third sibling, Yesod, the grounding balance between action and receptivity, draws upon that wisdom and creativity to act in righteousness.
Hod is the sefirah of gratitude. It seeks out what Rabbi Nachman of Breslov called “the good points” that are in everything, even in the wicked person, even in ourselves. Good points are often so easy for our critical minds to overlook. Hod reminds us that when we turn a good eye towards them, we reveal the inherent majesty that otherwise might have stayed hidden.
The Omer invites us to open to Hod this week. What echoes might we receive on our journey towards Sinai?
Guest post by Rabbi Avi Orlow,
Director of Education at Foundation for Jewish Camp
March of the Penguins is a documentary depicting the annual journey of Antarctica‘s emperor penguins. In autumn, all the penguins of breeding age leave their normal habitat of the ocean to walk inland across the frozen tundra to their ancestral breeding grounds. There, the penguins participate in their yearly courtship ritual that, if successful, results in a chick. for their baby to survive the brutally cold environment, both parents must make multiple arduous journeys between the ocean and the breeding grounds over the ensuing months.
This harsh prelude introduces the immense joy of the next generation of penguins. Watching these families of penguins surviving the winter in these extreme conditions is mesmerizing. It is more invigorating then watching your favorite sports team win a come from behind victory in the last second of the game. The endurance and fortitude of the emperor penguin is a wonderful depiction of the sefirah of Netzach.
With the resurgence of global anti-Semitism, our low birthrates, and growing assimilation rate, on communal level it is hard not relating to the difficult polar conditions of the emperor penguins. In a 1975 interview, Professor Salo W. Baron, thought to be the greatest Jewish historian of the 20th century, said “Suffering is part of the destiny [of the Jews], but so is repeated joy as well as ultimate redemption.” This is Netzach Yisrael– the joy, victory, and eternity of Jewish life.
It seems that the power of Netzach, like the annual journey of emperor penguins, is that we need to know that falling is not the same as failing, we are never doing it alone, community is critical to success, and the greatest joy is when a family shares its love with the next generation.
Life speeds past us so quickly.
Jewish practice offers multiple techniques to slow down and appreciate the passing of time, the change of the seasons, the preciousness of the days that we have. Without a reminder, a gimmick of sorts, it’s hard to remember to do this kind of inhale and exhale that can help us get a handle on our lives as they otherwise speed past.
Counting the Omer begins the second night of Passover to offer such an opportunity — both to stop and appreciate the next 49 evenings, and to continue the same kind of self-reflective work that many of us begin at the Seder when we ask ourselves: where am I stuck? How can I help myself and others become free? Continue reading