Counting the Omer, an ancient custom that was once virtually ignored, is making a comeback in Reform Judaism. It is a meaningful way to mark time, express gratitude, refocus priorities, and contemplate deeply the meaning and purpose of our existence. I’ve been doing this ritual for about 9 years now, and each year I find myself longing for the re-connection with myself and with G-d that I experience through this process. It is so powerful for me that we begin just as we celebrate our liberation from Egypt.
The Hebrew word for Egypt, mitzrayim, means the “narrow or tight place”, and when I begin I am reminded of the narrowness that often enslaves us, and the work I will do to reach an ultimate level of expansiveness. This process helps me to reach the inner depths to that ultimate goal. Whatever your personal situation, we all have something that enslaves us, some “tight place” in our lives. In this time of the Coronavirus Pandemic that has restricted and affected us all, it may be hard to see beyond this one global enslavement. But for some of us, there may be other issues that are affecting us, some that are amplified by the COVID-19 crisis, and others that existed before this all began. It might be a restrictive relationship, a job that stifles our creativity or expression, a health challenge that limits us, a reduction of income, a painful past experience that has left emotional tension in its wake, or something else either in or out of our control that limits our choices, or feels like a limitation to us. Some of these things may change, and some may always be in our lives. We can learn how to move away from the tight places in our lives, away from those parts of ourselves that are enslaved, by considering the many gifts we have in our lives. This journey is about finding a more open space within ourselves where we can fully appreciate all that we have and all that we are, and can feel our connection to each other, to our world and to G-d with humility and thankfulness.
I will use the concept of the sephirot, what I think of as the qualities of G-d that are within each of us, as a framework for the journey. Each week concentrates on a specific sephira, and each day we consider that sephira in relation to one of the other sephirot. The sephirot are “mapped” on the human body as well, so you know “where” they are concentrated within us.
We begin with Chesed – Lovingkindness
COUNTING THE OMER – This prayer is traditionally recited between sundown and sunrise of each day. Day one begins after the 2nd night Seder, on April 9, 2020 this year. (I apologize for the delay in getting this blog written, but I only decided to do it after I began my annual ritual this year.)
Day 1: Chesed she b’Chesed
The Blessing (Day 1):
Baruch atah Adonai elohaynu melech ha’olam asher kidshanu b”mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sephirat ha’omer.
Blessed are you, G-D, Source of Lovingkindness, You make us holy through your mitzvot, commanding us to count the Omer.
Hayom yom echad l’Omer.
Today is the first day of the Omer.
Week One – Chesed (Lovingkindness, Compassion, Grace)
Day one – Chesed she b’Chesed (Lovingkindness within Lovingkindness) – RIGHT SHOULDER to RIGHT SHOULDER
Chesed she b’Chesed represents the kind of unconditional love that we all deserve. Sometimes we can be afraid to open ourselves up wide enough for love to enter, but today we will try to overcome that fear to allow G-D’s love to enter us all. Love is the single most powerful component in life. Love allows us to reach above and beyond ourselves. Chesed she b’Chesed represents the experience of pure limitless, boundless love. As recipients of sparks of Divine Love, each of us is invited to spread Lovingkindness wherever we go.
We can ask ourselves – How can I spread Lovingkindness through my words, my actions, my decisions, and my attitudes? How can I inspire others to be more caring to themselves and to each other?
Today we focus in feelings of caring, kindness, and loving witness without boundaries.
Both giving and receiving are necessary parts of sharing Lovingkindness, so we should seek the balance between getting and giving love.
Breathing slowly, take a few deep breaths, and with each breath focus on how you are being sustained at this moment by the unconditional love of G-D. As you relax into your breathing, imagine a “tight place” within yourself opening and receiving the unconditional love and support of G-d. As you exhale, try to imagine this dark area opening wide and on the inhale, imagine the space filling with a bright light of love and worthiness.