March 25, 2013 by mcknz
Welcome to the counting of the Omer! In the weeks to come you can expect to receive several different approaches to counting the Omer. Rabbi Jill Hammer, the author of the excellent “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women” calendar puts it best:
“The counting of the Omer, which spans the forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuot, stems from the biblical commandment to set aside one sheaf (omer) of barley on each of forty-nine days between the two spring festivals, and then to offer the barley as a sacrifice on Shavuot. After the destruction of the Temple, the command became simply to count the days sequentially: Today is one day of the Omer, today is two days of the Omer… today is one week and one day, that is eight days of the Omer, and so forth.”
Today the practice of counting the Omer has evolved to include ways of cultivating mindfulness each day of the counting as we symbolically participate in the 49 day journey beginning with our fleeing Egypt, and culminating with our receiving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Our rabbis teach us that much spiritual work needs to be done in these intermittent days to fully prepare us for something so profound as revelation. It is common practice in mystic circles to attribute each week of the Omer to a different aspect of G-d, and 7 of the 10 sefirot (aspects of G-d) are meditated on during this time.
With this in mind, I offer you a practice of chesed, or loving-kindness, for our first week of counting Omer together. Let’s also include compassion, or rachamim, into the mix, as one cannot exist without the other and it is really compassion that leads us into a space where we are able to take the step into loving-kindness. Throughout this week we will journey from the inside out, each day directing our practice to a different element of our daily lives.
Each night we will recite the blessing over counting the Omer, followed by the actual count. If you forget to count one night, then you can count the next morning but without the blessing preceding it.
Every night, the blessing is like this, followed by the words for the counting – the blessings for the first week are all right here, and you can find the blessings for every day of the Omer here.
Baruch atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh Ha-olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al S’firat Ha-omer.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who makes us holy with your commandments, and commanded us about the counting of the Omer.
Week 1: Chesed (Loving-kindness) and Mindfulness
Day 1: Chesed and Our Self
א’ם א’ן אני לי מי לי וכשאני לעצמי מה אני ואם לא עכש’ו אמתי
Hillel says, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” –Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers), 1:14
What is the balance between self-care and self-indulgence? What about selflessness and lack of self-preservation? Rabbi Hillel grappled with this question 2,000 years ago, and we have been struggling to figure it out ever since. The balance of cultivating chesed inwards can be difficult, if not downright painful, but ultimately lends itself towards chesed emanating outwards, as we tend to our own needs and stand firm in our sense of self-worth. Day 1 of Counting the Omer is dedicated to mindfulness and loving-kindness towards our own true self.
הַיום יוֹם אֶחָד לָעוֹמר.
Ha-yom yom echad la-Omer. – Today is one day of the Omer.
Day 2: Chesed and Food
“By eating some foods and refraining from others we elevate the act of eating so that it can become a vehicle for godliness.” –Louis Jacobs, “The Book of Jewish Belief”
Whether you have two sinks in your kitchen or enjoy a bacon cheeseburger, Day 2 of our Omer is dedicated to creating a mindful relationship with our food. Judaism has long taught us about the need for a deep awareness of and constant gratitude for everything we put into our body. The act of eating is an act of holiness, a teaching that can easily become lost in the daily grind as we struggle to scarf down a bagel on our way to the train. Eating takes time, something we New Yorkers are constantly feeling deprived of, but carving out a moment to acknowledge the process that has taken place to bring us the fuel we consume can begin us on a path to creating a whole new relationship with the food we eat.
הַיום שְנֵי יָמִים לָעוֹמר.
Ha-yom sh’ney ya-mim la-Omer. – Today is 2 days of the Omer.
Day 3: Chesed towards Family
כַּבֵּ֥ד אֶת־אָבִ֖יךָ וְאֶת־אִמֶּ֑ך
Honor your Mother and Father… -from D’varim (Deuteronomy) 5:16
Parents, siblings, partners, grandparents, cousins, and the family we create for ourselves can often pose a deep challenge to the depths of our loving-kindness resources. Those we love the most deeply are also often the ones we find ourselves treating the most carelessly. Today we dedicate our chesed on the 3rd day of counting to those we consider to be our family, most deserving of our love and compassion.
הַיום שְלִישָה יָמִים לָעוֹמר.
Ha-yom sh’li-sha ya-mim la-Omer. – Today is 3 days of the Omer.
Day 4: Chesed towards our Earth
Grant me the ability to be alone;
may it be my custom to go outdoors each day
among the trees and grass – among all growing things
and there may I be alone, and enter into prayer,
to talk with the One to whom I belong.
May I express there everything in my heart,
and may all the foliage of the field –
all grasses, trees, and plants –
awake at my coming,
to send the powers of their life into the words of my prayer
so that my prayer and speech are made whole
through the life and spirit of all growing things,
which are made as one by their transcendent Source.
-Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
This urban jungle we call home serves up it’s own unique beauty, with awe-inspiring sights and wonders that become all to commonplace as we go about our daily lives. Fair enough. It is easy, even in Brooklyn, to forget that we are also part of an incredible eco-system deserving of praise that we had no hand in creating. Tonight, as you recite the blessing for the 4th day of counting, recite it outside under the moonlight.
הַיום אַרְבָעָה יָמִים לָעוֹמר.
Ha-yom ar-ba-ah ya-mim la-Omer. – Today is 4 days of the Omer.
Day 5: Chesed towards Co-Workers
טוֹבִ֥ים הַשְּׁנַ֖יִם מִן־הָאֶחָ֑ד אֲשֶׁ֧ר יֵֽשׁ־לָהֶ֛ם שָׂכָ֥ר ט֖וֹב בַּֽעֲמָלָֽם
Two are better off than one, in that they have greater benefit from their earnings.
-Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 4:9
Somewhere between a friend and stranger, our co-workers are an inescapable aspect of our daily lives. In extreme situations this can be wonderful or extraordinarily painful, and often falls somewhere in-between several times throughout the course of a day. Day 5 of Omer is dedicated to mindful loving-kindness towards those with whom we often spend the most time, and whose daily habits we may know more intimately than our own.
הַיום חֲמִשָה יָמִים לָעוֹמר.
Ha-yom cha-mi-sha ya-mim la-Omer. – Today is 5 days of the Omer.
Day 6: Chesed towards Strangers
וַֽאֲהַבְתֶּ֖ם אֶת־הַגֵּ֑ר כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם
You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
–D’varim (Deuteronomy) 10:19
Nowhere is this more challenging to cultivate on a daily basis than in the daily rigors of New York City. That which we perceive to be most outward of ourselves, the stranger, can often serve to be the clearest mirror for how we exist in our world. It is quote possible (likely?) that sometime during any given day, a stranger will come along and trigger an angry reaction from our own displaced frustration. Today, day 6, we will make an effort to view each stranger as a fellow friend, deserving of our acutely placed loving-kindness.
הַיום שִשָה יָמִים לָעוֹמר.
Ha-yom shi-sha ya-mim la-Omer.
Today is 6 days of the Omer.
Day 7: Chesed and the Divine
שְׁמַ֖ע יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל יְהוָֹ֥ה אֱלֹהֵ֖ינוּ יְהוָֹ֥ה ׀ אֶחָֽד:
Hear, Oh Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One.
-D’varim (Deuteronomy) 6:4
As our first week of Omer counting comes to a close, we can look back on the past 6 days, taking stock of our week of mindfulness towards some truly intense relationships that exist in our world. What does it look like to combine all 6 of these days, and to find their connection to each other? It might be nothing short of divine, leaving us meditating on the words of the Shema: “Hear, Oh Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is ONE.” The collective nature of this recitation reminds us that no matter where we stand in our self-assessment of this first week’s journey towards revelation, we did not go it alone, and stand with our brothers and sisters across the world counting these very same days, taking this very same journey. The 7th day of counting Omer is dedicated to the divinity of our collective journey towards our higher selves, towards God.
הַיום שִבְעָה יָמִים שֶהֵם שָבְועַ אֶחָד לָעוֹמֶר.
Ha-yom shiv-ah ya-mim she-hem sha-vu-ah e-chad la-Omer.
Today is 7 days, which is one week of the Omer.
Rachel Brook is the co-coordinator of Locally Grown Shabbat at Kolot Chayeinu and a 2nd year Cantorial student at the Academy for Jewish Religion. When she is not counting the Omer, Rachel conducts Shir Chadash: The Brooklyn Jewish Community Chorus and the Westchester chapter of HaZamir: the International Jewish High School Choir, leads family services at Kolot Chayeinu and B’nai Jeshrun, sings with Zamir Chorale, lays down Hebrew kirtan tracks with Kirtan Rabbi, dabbles in Jewish dreamwork, and hangs out with her personal trumpeter/husband at home in Prospect Heights.