Dynamic Balancing: Notes from our Omer Count

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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.

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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

Malchut

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Guest post by Nigel Savage, President of Hazon 

 

I am not a kabbalist but I love the rhythms and the specificity of the omer and of the Jewish calendar. The calendar is a kind of mirror, each day and each week. It offers refracted questions that are universal and timeless, and yet also unique to each one of us in a particular time and place.

This is how we may read the weekly parsha; and this is how I count the omer.

From Purim to Pesach we get rid of our chometz; the superfluity that stops us being free. So on seder night we are able to be truly free; free from all sorts of things – oppression, want, hunger. But seder night is only the start of the journey. Now we have to figure out what to do with our freedom. And so we count the omer, the seven sefirot, representing different aspects of our being in the world, leading us towards becoming the person we aspire to be.

Malchut, the last week of the omer, is thus a culmination. The 49th day of the omer, malchut she’b’malchut, is the last day of the omer and the penultimate day of a cycle that begins with Purim, pivots around seder night, and ends with Shavuot, the giving of the Torah – which is, at it were, the 50th day of the omer.

So malchut – this week; this last day – is our opportunity to think about openness and kindness; about boundaries and discipline; about beauty and balance; about endurance, simplicity, humility, fundamentals, sexuality. Each of these aspects of who we are and of how we choose to live has been the subject of the different weeks of the omer. Malchut – literally kingship – suggests that we have immense power and immense responsibility. It invites us to use our power and our choice wisely.

Yesod

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Guest post by Dr. Zvi Bellin

When I was a child my family spent a long summer weekend strolling the boardwalk of Wildwood, NJ. I have a particular memory of going into a beach front store that sold iron-on T-shirts. Every inch of the store’s walls were covered with different pictures that a consumer can choose to have ironed on to just about any colored shirt. My older siblings wanted one, so of course, I did too. Continue reading

Hod

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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?

Netzach – March of the Penguin

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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.

Tiferet

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Guest Post by Rabbi Ariel Burger, Designer of Adult Learning at PJ Library

13 Ways of Looking At Tiferet

 

1.  It was so beautiful I had to catch my breath.

2.  It’s not the blending of kindness and discipline; it’s the tension between them. It is the love and the abyss between a father and a son after the Akedah. It is a feminine word but it is always associated with Jacob. It is untranslatable, not just beauty, not merely glory, a moving swirling river of colors and feelings. It receives in one hand and gives with the other. Imagine a dervish dancing, one hand cupped upward to catch spirit, the other open and relaxed, letting go, sharing. In receiving, giving; in giving, wholeness. Continue reading

Gevurah

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Guest post by Rabbi Zac Kamenetz, Senior Jewish Educator at the JCCSF

 

Once, a young man went beyond the walls of his city, with nothing but his pocketknife, and journeyed out to the tree line toward the horizon, until he came upon a wild jungle. He immediately delighted in the jungle’s overwhelming fructuousness. Stepping on and over mounds of plants vying for more space, the young man marveled at the vivid swirling colors—deep vertical browns, bursts of yellow and purple splashed on soft green, glossy orange and red specks dotting off-white, light sandy wisps poking out of loamy grey.

While moving deeper into the jungle, the faint rustling of leaves gave way to a low humming, and as he looked, he saw that every shoot, leaf, and flower was slowly but audibly swelling and growing and pulsating. To the young man, the once-vivid beauty of the wilderness began to look grotesquely chaotic. Continue reading

Chesed

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Thoughts from Rabbi Lee Moore

Chesed is often translated as loving-kindness, but I prefer the term Grace. Chesed denotes a kind of expansiveness that we often do associate with love. Where there is a willingness to open, a willingness to accept, a willingness to allow what was previously wrong be OK – Chesed breaks through.

This kind of breakthrough feels like love in the sense that Chesed provides a truly unconditional milieu where connections are forged and closeness happens beyond what one might have thought was possible. We see Chesed at work when we reach the edge of what is possible, and then realize that we can actually go farther, expand our horizons, generate new ideas, forge new connections, embrace new ways of being, and discover new places to be. Continue reading

Why Count the Omer?

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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