From Rabbi Johanna Hershenson
April showers bring May flowers... Mother Nature has certainly been teasing us with her sun's radiance, warm winds, and soaking rains. Verdant greens are sprouting in all the spots the sun touches in our local forests and meadows. Spring's rebirth, renewal, hope...
In our Jewish calendar, we find ourselves wandering in the wilderness from Egypt on a roundabout journey to the Promised Land. At this moment we, ancient Israelites, camp out at the foot of Sinai. Exhaustion replacing the adrenalin rush of Passover's liberation. Now, counting days of the Omer, counting down the days until Shavuot when Moses receives the Torah, we face doubt and boredom. We twiddle our thumbs waiting for Moses to bring us some sign that we will all be okay in the end.
Shavuot, the festival holiday of the season, falls on May 20th. Passover was on March 30th. From Passover's second day until Shavuot, we Jews, count the days of the Omer. Forty nine days of counting. The mitzvah is to recite a blessing for counting the days of the Omer and then to acknowledge which day of the Omer it is. Blessed are You YHWH our God, who sanctifies us with mitzvot, commanding us to count the days of the Omer. Today, May 1st, is the fourth week and third day, the 31st day of the Omer. That's it! That's the mitzvah!
I didn't understand the Omer until I went to rabbinical school. I can't say I fully understand it now. But lately I've been thinking about counting the Omer as an early mindfulness practice. Think about what it means to count days. Counting up, or counting down? Does counting the days mean that they count more than other days of the year? One of my favorite singer/songwriters, Billy Bragg, recently wrote these lyrics: Not everything that can be counted, counts. And not every thing that counts can be counted.
The Jewish mystics infused the counting of the Omer with kabbalistic reflection prompts. Each day of the Omer, the mystic looks at how different kabbalistic virtues play out in relationship to one another. For instance one day we look at how compassion relates to discipline and another day we might look at how initiative relates to wonder.
I like looking at the entire period of days (sometimes I forget to count, despite apps with notifications) in their context between two holy days. What happens between liberation and revelation? What is the journey between taking a risk and understanding what taking the risk was really all about?
The ancient Israelites left Egypt because they could no longer bear slavery. They left a taskmaster to connect with a stronger force. Did they know it would take time to adjust to freedom? Did they know self-determination would require so much? Did they know that they'd have to develop a legal and justice system to mitigate human greed and fear and anger? Did they realize that their courage to leave when they left began long before that day? How long does it take for an idea to spread? For people to coordinate and rely on one another? How long does it take before human nature kicks in and doubt or loss of trust of some individuals in the collective affect the entire collective?
Between Passover and Shavuot, I like to reflect on changes I am making in my life and what might be the course of those changes over time. How do they affect my relationships, my work, my sense of self? Where am I headed and what might I need to learn to keep moving forward?
We are always making slight changes, slight improvements in our behaviors and priorities. We get excited about new opportunities and we avoid or overdo all the steps that will get us to what we've decided we want. This time of year in our calendar is a time for paying attention. Revelation will only come to those open to new learning, to those who pay attention.
Spring makes it easy to pay attention as the transition from dormancy to verdant life naturally attracts the eye. We are wired to notice beauty. The Omer is about noticing the beauty and the spaces in between what's beautiful. Practicing noticing. Because that's when revelation happens.