Counting the Omer 5781

The Counting of the Omer takes place in the seven weeks between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot (Feast of Weeks). It is a counting of days leading up to the commemoration of when the Torah was given to the Israelites at Mount Sanai. Jews have been observing this tradition in various ways for many thousands of years, often using it as a time for self-improvement. Kabbalists use the time to study the sefirot (emanations of the Divine), specifically the lower 7. The study gets pretty meta, with the relationships between each of the sefirot studied one by one throughout the 49 days. For my daily ritual practice this year, I will be filming 49 short visual meditations/poems of these expressions/relationships. For a better understanding of this practice, I love love love the graphic and info from the Open Siddur Project.

Day 1: Chesed sh’b Chesed (Love within Love) – reciprocity, how we tend to each other, giving and receiving love in all the ways

Day 2: Gevurah sh’b Chesed (Strength within Love) – boundaries, how we teach others how to treat us, how we untangle our selves (again and again) from others with love to grow and interact in a healthier way

Day 3: Tiferet sh’b Chesed (Beauty within Love) – compassion, how we are kind to ourselves, how to love with a broken heart, care without judgment

I think we need to talk more about sorrow and heartbreak within the relationships that *aren’t* ending, how to sit with those feelings, how to feel compassion without judgment for ourselves and our loved ones during difficult times, how to keep the heart open even when it feels raw and vulnerable.

Day 4: Netzach sh’b Chesed (Eternity within Love) – commitment, in it for the long haul, how we relate to love over the course of time

How do we stay committed? There’s always the white knuckle approach, but when considering the hard work of marriage, parenting, self-development, and social justice, there is an ingredient that softens the rough edges: joy. I’m thinking of pleasure activism and all its manifestations.

"That self-connection shared is a measure of the joy which I know myself to be capable of feeling, 
a reminder of my capacity for feeling. And that deep and irreplaceable knowledge of my capacity 
for joy comes to demand from all of my life that it be lived within the knowledge that such 
satisfaction is possible, and does not have to be called marriage, nor god, nor an afterlife. This is 
one reason why the erotic is so feared, and so often relegated to the bedroom alone, when it is 
recognized at all. For once we begin to feel deeply all the aspects of our lives, we begin to demand 
from ourselves and from our life-pursuits that they feel in accordance with that joy which we know 
ourselves to be capable of. Our erotic knowledge empowers us, becomes a lens through which we 
scrutinize all aspects of our existence, forcing us to evaluate those aspects honestly in terms of 
their relative meaning within our lives. And this is a grave responsibility, projected from within each 
of us, not to settle for the convenient, the shoddy, the conventionally expected, nor the merely safe…" 
– from Uses of the Erotic by Audre Lorde

Day 5: Hod sh’b Chesed (Presence within Love) – acceptance, being fully here and now, letting go of shoulds and yearnings to see the beauty in what is

(Sound on if you want to hear a quiet niggun.) Magnolias belong to a plant family that dates back to at least 95 million years. 95 million years. Sit with that for a moment. And here it is now, blooming as it does every April. I smelled these before I saw them.

Day 6: Yesod sh’b Chesed (Foundation within Love) – centeredness, rootedness, loving from the core of our being

The loving-kindness metta meditation from Buddhist tradition is the first thing that came to mind when reflecting on Yesod sh’b Chesed. It’s a beautiful and simple practice in which we extend well wishes to ourselves, then to someone we love or care for, then someone we feel neutral about, then someone with whom we have some difficulty. It’s a practice that extends love to ourselves and then out from our center to others. It has always struck me how similar the metta meditation is to the birkat kohanim (priestly blessing):

Metta Meditation
May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be at peace.

Priestly Blessing
May God bless you and keep you.
May God shine their face upon you and be gracious to you.
May God bestow favor upon you and give you peace.

My practice today involves using the birkat kohanim as a metta meditation. I grappled with this idea all day as I was grappling in parallel with the Hebrew, converting the second person masculine language into first person singular and plural, and second person feminine and non-binary. This is all highly heretical for a number of reasons, but I refuse to be silenced by internalized patriarchy and dogma. Here is the transliterated Hebrew using various names for the Divine:

 (First Person Singular)
 Y’varekh’i HaShem v’yish’m’ri.
 Ya'er HaShem panav eli v'khuni.
 Yisa HaShem panav eli v’yasem li shalom.
 (First Person Plural)
 Y’varekh’einu Elyon v’yish’m’reinu.
 Ya'er Elyon panav eleinu v'khuneinu.
 Yisa Elyon panav eleinu v’yasem lienu shalom.
 (Second Person Masculine)
 Y’varekh’kha Adonai v’yish’m’rekha.
 Ya'er Adonai panav eleykha v'khuneikha.
 Yisa Adonai panav elekha v’yasem l’kha shalom.
 (Second Person Feminine)
 Y'varekhekh Shekhinah v'yish'm'rekh.  
 Yaer Shekhinah panav eleikh v'yekhuneikh.  
 Yisa Shekhinah panav eleikh v'yasem lakh shalom.
 (Second Person Non-Binary)
 Y'varekhekhol Elohim v’yish'm'rekhol.
 Ya’er Elohim panav elekhol v’yihunekhol.
 Yisa Elohim panav elekhol v'yasem lekhol shalom. 

I don’t have capacity to write out the Hebrew today, but may circle back at some point. Or feel free to do it and send to me! :D

Day 7: Malkhut/Shekhinah sh’b Chesed (Kingdom/Queendom within Love) – divinity, agency, how we lead in our lives and by example

Today was a difficult day of the Omer for me, and in general. Multiple people crossed established boundaries and I felt deeply hurt, while knowing I also have agency within these relationships. Every difficulty is an opportunity. I am the queen of my own life.

A few centuries ago, Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Peshischa suggested carrying two notes, one in each pocket. On one should be written “For my sake the world was created” and on the other “I am but dust and ashes.” The first phrasing makes me squirm, so for today’s practice I rewrote it a bit. “I AM MAGIC” is the other side of the “I AM DUST & ASHES” coin. These sayings were also helpful in granting perspective, not just on my place in the world, but also on these issues that feel so big today.

Day 8: Chesed sh’b Gevurah (Love within Strength) – discipline, boundaries, limits, the tension between expansion and restraint, maximalism vs minimalism

Even without the Counting of the Omer, discipline was already the theme of the day as I grapple with a parenting issue. I’m still figuring that one out, but in the meantime there’s other work to do. The yarrow in my herb garden is so tough and eager to spread that it has found a way outside of the walls of the raised bed. My expression of Chesed sh’b Gevurah is plucking and transplanting them so they can grow in a more appropriate way. (It’s worth mentioning that yarrow is an herb associated with boundaries and protection.) Sometimes the best course of action is to get rid of the plant completely, sometimes it’s better to redirect/establish a boundary (as I did here), and sometimes it’s fine to go with the flow. I’m not only talking about plants.

Day 9: Gevurah sh’b Gevurah (Strength within Strength) – doubling down, discipline without love or kindness, harsh restraint, or perhaps restraint of harsh discipline

My sister invited me to spend a few days at the beach with her, so here I am. I can’t explain how much I needed this, and I need it more this week than a few weeks ago. I’ve been carrying what feels like a lot of emotional weight and responsibility, so this is a welcome break. But it’s also not a break, because (a) I’m still working and (b) I have important things to assess and recalibrate while I’m here. Major props to sister for inviting me and to my partner who has done nothing but encourage me to take this break and made this possible (even though he needs and deserves a break, too). I’m not doubling down today. Instead, I am reminding myself to B R E A T H E.

Day 10: Tiferet sh’b Gevurah (Beauty within Strength) – shifting perspective, zooming out and in and out again, softening focus

Mitsui Collective shared a really impactful embodied practice for the Omer today. It involved adjusting, shifting, and softening focus with a few different exercises, while also serving as a powerful metaphor for making space for both detailed and big picture awareness. A few hours later, I went to the beach and began sifting through the sand for shells. Over time, I was able to notice smaller and smaller shells within the sand. If you look for small miracles, you will find them.

Day 11: Netzach sh’b Gevurah (Eternity within Strength) – endurance, perseverance, holding both the eternity of the present moment and the ability to see beyond current circumstances

I planted okra seeds a couple days before my trip. Since I water them 2-3 times a day, it didn’t feel right to leave them behind or burden my partner with that hassle. (Hassle for him; pleasure for me.) So here they are, on the balcony facing the Atlantic Ocean, basking in the morning and early afternoon sun. All of the seeds have now sprouted, an affirmation of life and perseverance.

Today is also Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day of mourning and honoring the 6 million Jews killed by the Nazi regime during WWII. We do this year after year. Never Forget. Never Again. As Mark Horn points out in Tarot and the Gates of Light, each day during the Counting of the Omer contains the shadow aspects of the sefirot. We say Never Again, while knowing injustice and cruelty endure. The day “calls for Perseverance on our part to work to establish Justice, even as we know it will never be perfect. . . . regardless of the fact that perfect Justice is unattainable, we are commanded to always seek it out.”

Day 12: Hod sh’b Gevurah (Presence within Strength) – humility, how to receive and be, how to hold and pour out (like a vessel)

"The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives. It is within this light that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized." – from Poetry is Not a Luxury by Audre Lorde