Today is twenty-nine days, which is four weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5781. חסד שבהוד, Chesed ShebeHod, Lovingkindness of Splendor.
Bridging the chasms between skepticism and belief
I do not attempt to prove God’s existence. I lived in the world of disbelief long enough to understand that written words cannot bridge the chasm between skepticism and belief. Yet, the doubt edges into the sides of my writing.
I know most progressive Jews do not spend much time thinking about God. And I wonder whether these posts find resonance with anyone who is skeptical. Or if people turn away because there are much more interesting things to read / listen to / watch.
Splendor, Gratitude, Humility
Most modern writers speak about humility as the outward manifestation of Hod. The root, which means splendor / majesty, is also used to form the verb give thanks (hodu) and the noun gratitude (hoda’ah). From there, people pivot to humility: the contraction of the ego needed in order to authentically express gratitude.
The other aspect of Hod is that alongside Netzach, they form the pillars of the Temple. So, this can also be a week of defining how to create splendor in physical reality: building space that is both centering and awe-inspiring to allow the soul to emerge and soar.
Lovingkindness, Divine Flow within Splendor
Lovingkindness, the tender consideration and support of the Divine as we journey through our mortal coils. Perhaps the Source of Life is not tangible in your life. The touch of flow is the hand of lovingkindness. Creative synergy, deep intellectual resonance, beautiful conversations causing time to expand: these are examples of the flow of Divine energy within and between us.
Creating space for Divine flow, making ourselves and our environments open to this vital creative energy is the work of the 29th day of the Omer. Chesed ShebeNetzach. Lovingkindness within Splendor.
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the Omer, in the year 5781. שחינה שבנצח. Shechinah ShebeNetzach. Indwelling of Eternity. Is it possible to touch the Eternal? Is my Will a conduit of Divine Endurance?
Becoming a God Knower
One of the reasons I continue meditating into the Omer publicly is that these Sephirot are the most concrete definition of God that resonates with me. I was highly skeptical of Kabbalistic theology fifteen years ago. I grew up firmly rooted in rational, scientific intelligence. No natural compartment in me existed to file mystical knowledge. I try hard to remember back to my initial skepticism when explaining my convictions today. I recognize that some people will never choose a mystical path to God knowledge. Some people cling to agnosticism as a badge of honor, a sign of intellect. Some people root themselves in atheism, secure within a humanist understanding of human flourishing.
Counting the Omer is how I sunk into the reality of the Divine and the importance of continuing Jewish wisdom. Our concepts and rituals are deeply soul nourishing. My soul expands with every revolution around the sun because I track time by the moon and hold myself accountable to the changing seasons.
Sephira: Emanation, Sephirot: Emanations
A sephira means “number,” and in Jewish mysticism it reflects an aspect of the Divine that can be understood by humans. Jewish mysticism built on neo-Platonism in developing an emanatory system of Ideals that lead towards the Infinite / Unknowable Essence of God. Through the ten sephirot (-ot is a common plural ending for Hebrew words), we reach towards the Eternal. While the language is multi-vocal, it is not meant to proclaim multiple divines. Rather, it is a way of concretizing the multi-faceted nature of divinity.
There are ten sephirot. The top three are the hardest to fully know, closest to the knowing beyond language. They live purely in the realm of Ideals and are not part of the counting of the Omer.
The Lower Seven
The Omer countes the lower seven sephirot. These emanations connect most closely with humans. They exist as triads. Shekhinah stands alone in exile. Chesed begins a triad. He exists in tension with his opposite, Gevurah. Tiferet synthesizes their energy. In the androcentric, pre-modern understanding of creation, life begins on the male side (Chesed) and its opposite, the receptacle, the feminine, can also be a conduit of evil. The Other Side, the Sitra Achra, enters the world through Gevurah, the Strength that lives in tension with Chesed, Lovingkindness.
Another confusing thing about the sephirot is that some of them go by multiple names, and there are multiple ways to describe a sephira in English. Again, this is because the Infinite is beyond the stricture of language.
Also, I choose to learn Jewish wisdom without apologetics. I am not going to try to explain away misogyny, although I do have sympathy for the triumphalism inherent in many of our texts. After all, for the majority of our history, Jews have been a nation without political sovereignty, a minority used by authorities to carry out unsavory elements of government (like tax collection), and cast out / slaughtered of when our power grew too deep (especially when sovereigns could not afford to pay back their loans).
With all this in mind, my meditations on the Omer count attempt to connect the eternal essence of these sephirot with my lived experience.
Ascending towards spiritual liberation
The Omer count is a way to count time from the beginning of the barley harvest (at Passover) to the beginning of the wheat harvest (at Shavuot / Pentecost) in ancient Israel. The commandment to count 49 days between Passover and on the 50th day declare Shavuot (literally Weeks) is Biblical. Overlaying iterations of the sephirot is a Kabbalistic invention. It is a meditative path towards shedding some of the spiritual shmutz keeping us from understanding Divine truth.
We physically leave Egypt on Passover. It takes spiritual fortitude to become vessels worthy of Divine revelation. The rabbis declared Shavuot as the day the Ten Commandments were revealed to the Israelites. Originally, it was just a harvest festival. So now, we walk 49 steps towards deeper understanding of the Divine, deeper insight into our soul’s experience, to create space for deeper revelation of Divine truth on Shavuot.
Indwelling of the Eternal
The Jewish people and Shekhinah connect as dual manifestations of Divine exile. When we make space for the Indwelling Presence, the Immanent aspect of the Divine, we help heal the core brokenness within ourselves and within the world. This Indwelling can hold space for the Eternal.
When I align my Will with the highest ideals within me, my soul flourishes. The space for the Divine within material reality grows. The pure Indwelling of Endurance allows the Mother of Being to expand, spreading Goodness and Deep Meaning throughout the world.
Today is twenty-seven days, which is three weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5781. יסוד שבנצח, Yesod ShebeNetzach, Bonding within Eternity.
Find your people and prioritize them
Finding your people is more important than any job or material possession. Remembering to prioritize them, and prioritize your own human journey are keys to a fulfilling life. Whatever your life circumstance — whether you are single or partnered, a parent or childfree: a key ingredient to a fulfilled life is a sense of belonging. Finding your people, building your family by choice and your larger chosen community: these are essential aspect of life.
Then you have to prioritize your people. Do not dismiss the opportunity to talk. Real conversations require one’s full attention, which might be why they are so few and far between. Relish the opportunity to witness someone else flowering into themselves.
Build community by holding space for emotional journeys
More than anything we do with other people, it is how we witness their emotional journeys that impacts them the most. People need to be seen and heard for who they are. We humans need to matter existentially to other people. We need to know that our presence is valued and that our absence makes us missed.
Similarly, raising children is not primarily about whether they finish their homework or make you proud through other accomplishments. It is about accompanying souls on the journey towards adulthood. Helping souls awaken to the breadth of possibility contained in being alive.
“To love another person is to see the face of God.” –Victor Hugo, Les Miserables
Through this bonding, we awaken to the Eternal
It is not possible to truly understand the Source of Creation alone. We must live in this world fully and completely to appreciate metaphysical reality beyond and within it. Our lives are both material and spiritual.
Embracing and supporting all aspects of ourselves allows us to grow into our depths and begin to reach the edges of the Eternal. By building supportive, nourishing communities, our Endurance becomes a natural extension of Divine Will.
Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days, of the Omer in the year 5781. הוד שבנצח, Hod ShebeNetzach, Splendor of Eternal Will. How do I manifest my connection to the Divine in the physical world? Does my countenance and personal space reflect my desire for communion with eternity?
My head is often in the clouds. Thinking about my to-do list, wondering about an intractable communal problem, or composing my thoughts. It is difficult for me to stay comfortably present in the moment. Fleeting moments of present awareness arrive when preparing a meal, praying, or talking with someone face-to-face.
Prayer as a way into Now
Ideally, prayer helps refocus one’s energy into the present moment. Remembering the eternity of every moment, I can let go of my anxieties and embrace the joy of being here right now.
Babies also capture Presence
Regardless of what else is going on, if you bring a baby into the room and I guarantee you I’ll smile. I cannot explain why my countenance lights up immediately when I see a baby. Let me hold your kid and I’ll be savoring that energy for days. Several newborns arrived recently. My radical amazement at the holy act of creation is infinite.
For me, the Splendor of Eternal Will is manifested through every new life. My deepest prayer is for every person who wants to parent is able to do so. And that as a society, we build the infrastructure necessary to support families.
Today is twenty-five days, which is three weeks and four days of the Omer in the year 5781. נצח שבנצח, Netzach ShebeNetzach, Enduring Will. The ability to reach beyond the inclination towards destructiveness and accomplish your vision. Ultimately, deciding to keep on your upright path, despite the many ways the real world fails to live up to ideals.
The pounding voice of external reality
The farther inward I go, the deeper I feel the pain around me.
Black and Latinx children and adults dying from encounters with the police.
Horrific abuse and murder of Asian neighbors.
Skeptical refusal to accept the public health imperative to wear masks in public.
Sharp clarity regarding white skin privilege. Others firmly rooted in the denial of structural racism.
Splintering anger between those who assert “white Jews” exist and those who define themselves as “white-passing” Jews.
The divisions within us are real and growing. Yet, these are only social differences. We build our identities around material world views, never allowing for the possibility that our enemies share our enduring concerns.
Counting the Omer orients me towards the Eternal and Enduring. I waffle between wanting to share the metaphysical thoughts inspired by the day’s count and feeling drawn into the never-ending struggle to bend the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
Live into the truth pursuing you
I do not know how to compel a child to complete their homework. Clearly, yelling is not the answer. It is unclear to me exactly what is. So we plod along, praying that tomorrow the child will find the internal inspiration to complete his work.
I pray for the Enduring Will to complete this school year without pressure on my children or my spouse. May I have the focus to begin writing my thesis and the willpower to continue the journey. I pray the constant distractions that surround me daily are thwarted by my growing clarity and will.
Today is twenty-four days, which is three weeks and three days of the Omer, in the year 5781. רחמים שבנצח, Rachamim ShebeNetzach, Compassion within Will. As Mark Horn says, it is “a day for learning to be patient with those one is often impatient with,” Tarot and the Gates of Light, p237.
Though it can be difficult to find one’s passion, it is even more difficult to pursue goals while holding space for the people around us. I have been thinking deeply this week about all the ways my choices make me better or less able to be present with empathy. When I reflect on interactions that are less than ideal, I marvel at how I lacked the capacity for empathy. Whether it is because I am out-touched and cannot handle one more hand in my hair as a security blanket, or because my need to Learn More Things At All Times makes me a less than ideal classmate, empathy is often the missing ingredient. This short film based on a Brene Brown speech clearly explains empathy:
It is also interesting to think about the barriers to compassion. When I was isolated from my authentic self, casting about on a sea of malaise, I had no capacity for compassion. I lived for far too long stuck in a self-perpetuating story of isolation. Clearly, not every negative situation is self-imposed. Systemic problems make growth difficult for many people. Nevertheless, internal purpose and meaning build fortitude for life.
Choosing to be the main character
My life changed when I decided to take control of my story. Choosing to take responsibility for my happiness and sense of purpose drastically changed my life. And deciding to hold myself accountable for how my presence affects other people is the next step.
We all have bad days and bad moments. I do not flagellate myself. Nor will I hide from my mistakes. An honest, compassionate accounting alongside a choice to act better in the future leads to new horizons.
Today is twenty-two days, which is three weeks and one day of the Omer in the year 5781. חסד שבנצח, Chesed ShebeNetzach, Lovingkindness within Eternity.
Entering the Week of Eternity, Will, and Victory
נצח, Netzach, is a noun that means eternity. The shoresh, the three letters of the noun are also the Hebrew root for winning. This is a week to begin creating concrete manifestations of our path toward spiritual liberation. After three weeks of heady meditation, now is the time to determine how I want to act in the coming year. How will I create the will to embrace eternity?
Letting go of bad habits
I am not denouncing the self who spent hours watching mindless YouTube videos. Nor am I castigating myself for my pandemic purchases of fleeting ephemeral enjoyment. Though I recognize that wasting time and money are perpetual Achilles heels, there is something deeper I choose to contemplate this week.
Instead, I choose to look at how I articulate my political convictions verbally. Within online communities, there is a strong bias against tone policing. Yet, that is not the same cultural expectation in all circumstances. I have encountered people who have trouble hearing my words because they are reacting to my tone. My forceful articulation of political opinions does not always sound open to hearing alternative points of view. Though I am not convinced that my righteous indignation needs to be thrown out, I welcome the opportunity to explore alternative forms of communication.
Certainly, I do not enter all conversations with eyes of lovingkindness. My eternal will must begin from grace if I am to become who I choose to be. Without rejecting my convictions, I choose to let go of the eternal political activist within in order to make space for the emerging spiritual leader. To be clear, I do not believe I should stop being politically active. Rather, I choose to center myself in a different persona while fighting for a better world.
Today is twenty-one days, which is three weeks of the Omer in the year 5781. שכינה שברחמים, Shekhinah ShebeRachamim, Indwelling Presence of Compassion.
Shekhinah is the Immanent Presence of the Divine, the Spirit Who nourishes us on the journey through material reality. Traditionally, in the androcentric understanding of conception and divinity, she is a passive receptacle for Yesod, and all of the previous sephirot he represents.
I choose to see Shekhinah as the Daughter of Binah, the Heavenly Mother of Understanding. Gevurah, Heavenly Mother of Boundaries and Strength also provides her vital energy. Shekhinah is the still, small voice within. She urges you to trust your instincts and become the person you were meant to be.
Indwelling of Compassion: Heart of Joyous Community
Today, I have the opportunity to relish how beautiful life is when I make space for compassion to flow through me. I choose to see the world with compassionate eyes. Balancing my inclination towards judgment with the flow of Divine grace and love, I become a conduit for deep community.
Everyone wants to see themselves as elevated and evolved. The truth is, it is very difficult to surmount our habits and obstacles. …
We call to our soul: Come out, my beloved, my friend. Come, let us feely deeply and act accordingly: with faith, with love, with awe.
It is relatively easy to count 49 days. It is much more difficult to walk forty-nine steps towards spiritual liberation.
This is why we need to gather in conscious community. Let us support one another as we each grow into ourselves. May we have the strength to lift each other up through the struggles of life. I pray we never forget how necessary our souls and our spirits are on this journey through material reality. May the Indwelling Presence of Compassion guide us on our journeys.
Today is twenty days, which is two weeks and six days of the Omer in the year 5781. יסוד שברחמים, Yesod ShebeRachamim, Foundation of Compassion.
Firm foundations require boundaries and clarity. Vitality comes from Yesod: it channels the energy of all previous sephirot into material reality. And yet, a foundation too rigid to allow movement will crumble under pressure. Stay vigilant: ensure empty space in your soul, a container for Divine flow.
Brace against compassion fatigue
Bad news can overwhelm like flood waters. Give yourself permission to laugh and dance and relish your life.
Never forget that serious discourse on social issues will never satisfy the breadth of human needs. Laugh, dance, enjoy your life. And work towards creating a better world. Make sure you don’t pull the ladder up behind yourself. Carefully investigate your own bias. Make sure you never stop enjoying the journey.
Love yourself without reservation
Compassion must begin with yourself. I am enough in every moment. Whether I am doom-scrolling Facebook or meditating into the Omer: I am enough. My need for joy and beauty and frivolity is as deep as my need for ideas and learning and community. I embrace all of me.
When I begin with self-compassion, I am able to reach with compassion to my family and the wider world. Allow yourself to be as important to your journey as the other people in your life. The foundation of compassion is self love.