Counting the Omer with Locally Grown: Week 5, with Russ Agdern

Leave a comment

April 21, 2013 by mcknz

Ah, the fifth week. We’re now closer to Shavuos than to the beginning of Pesach, more than halfway through the Omer, thoroughly enveloped in a spring that was barely awake when we started this journey. The fifth week brings us from Netzach to Hod, another remarkable transition. Netzach is defined as victory, and the attributes most associated with it are strength and endurance. Hod is defined as majesty, and the attributes often associated with it are humility, gratitude, and awe. My friend and teacher Rabbi Ezra Weinberg also pointed out last year that missing in the translation was the concept of submission, as he puts it, “a specific intention within prayer, as in ‘submitting to the will of the Creator,’” a theme he notes is critical to prayer in Islam, but also occurs in Judaism through Tachanun.[1]

I’m also struck by the dichotomy of the majesty of G-d and our own humility in a lot of the High Holiday liturgy. The liturgical poems (or piyutim) said over the High Holidays with the refrains of Maaseh Eloheinu and Melech Elyon both have incredibly powerful images of the glory of G-d and often sang with the ark open and the community standing, except when the narrative of the poems switches from the view of G-d to that of the human race. The ark is closed, the verses are quietly said to ourselves as we note that we cannot possibly compare to the majesty of G-d. Going from a week that tested our strength, our resolve, our endurance, to a week of Hod that suggests humility, gratitude, awe, and even submission is not necessarily what we’re ready for, but could be just what the doctor ordered. Indeed, the intersection of these two sets of attributes is a crossroads of much of our existence: How much of our life is within our control versus beyond it? When are the moments where are the masters of our fate and when are the times when we breathe and accept?

Just as Erika Davis noted last week that compassion needs endurance to truly exist, I believe endurance and strength need humility and submission to be properly focused and used effectively. Self awareness is the key component here. Enduring for its own sake is not working smart. If you can accept in yourself your flaws, your fears, your limits, you can begin to walk humbly. If you try to tackle extremely big things without knowing and accepting yourself, you risk using what endurance you have to battle obstacles you don’t even know are there. Then, you’ll probably use what strength you have left to beat yourself up for failing. With this acceptance, you can deploy your strengths to overcome your challenges. Not only that, but in knowing where you are strong and where you need support, you now have the opportunity and space in your heart to lean on your loved ones, rather than striking blindly at a hydra with more heads than you can comprehend.

Beyond that, there is a real peace in Hod. We are scared that we’re not good enough, but when we take a moment to understand our biggest difficulties, it can help us shed the all encompassing fear of big problems we don’t understand. This frees us from the paralysis of not knowing where to start, but also gives us more space for self acceptance and to be grateful for our strengths and our blessings.
The lesson in Hod is that sometimes there is glory in acceptance, in acquiescence. While we should always work to make ourselves and the world a better place, we also must accept that we cannot do everything alone. Further, once we forgive ourselves for not being able to solve it all, then we can begin to fix what we actually have the power to change, and have the ability to breathe in the majesty that is all around us.
My hope and prayer for us, as we move from Netzach to Hod, from strength to majesty, from endurance to submission, that we get to know ourselves well enough to know when to persevere, and when to let go, and that we are able to use those two countering attributes to move ourselves closer to the heights.


Russ Agdern is a professional trouble-making, musical, writing Yid from New York. He’s one of the founding volunteer organizers of Shir HaMaalos, a friday night musical services and potluck dinner havurah that meets monthly in Prospect and Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Find out more about Shir HaMaalos at


[1] Reb Ezra Weinberg, “HOD Still and Be Counted.” Huffington Post, May 3, 2012,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: