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April 2, 2021 in Hazzan Asa Fradkin
A practice within a practice
It’s counting time. On the second evening of Pesach we began counting the Omer. What’s an Omer you ask? It’s an ancient allotment of wheat that’s counted over 49 days leading to the harvest at the time of Shavuot and the giving of the Torah.
Counting seems like a simple task. It conjures images of Sesame Street and the Count. Counting is for children learning their number values and at this time of year, for accountants as well. Well, I suppose that type of counting isn’t so simple after all.
On Rosh HaShanah we take an accounting, a Heshbon Nefesh ( soul check), to see where we have been and how we have grown.
The Omer, though, is not about seeing where you’ve been, it’s about staying in the moment.
The counting of the Omer comes from the Torah itself, a commandment from Leviticus 23:15-16. “You shall count 49 days from the beginning of the grain harvest until the giving of the Torah on Shavuot”- paraphrased.
So on the surface, it’s literally keeping track on the days leading up to the giving of Torah. We say a bracha beforehand and complete the mitzvah of counting.
Up until a few years ago, I struggled mightily with this mitzvah of counting. Of what use is it to simply count the days of a harvest that we no longer have any connection with? What spiritual or religious value can this possibly contain?
I felt that way until I found a mystical chart. I discovered that, according to the Kabbalists, there is a chart of the 49 days, each day reflecting different aspects of God’s divinity, called Sefirot, which is a homonym with the word Sefira, which means counting.
Week 1 is a focus on Hesed or Lovingkindness. Week 2 is Gevurah. So on and so forth. Each day possesses a combination of qualities. Today is day 5, counting downwards, so that we experience the quality of Hod in Hesed. The humility in loving kindness.
It’s not clear how old this chart is, but it probably has been observed for several hundred years, as Kabbalah first appeared in the 16th century with the sefirot as it’s core.
In this way, observing the sefirot of the omer, the divine qualities, as well as the actual counting, we create a practice within a practice.
So now, when you count the omer, you can use this chart to center yourself on the divine aspects of the day, the slow ascent to Sinai and the joy of meeting the divine on Shavuot, a culmination of mindful steps up the mountain.
Speaking of counting, we will be voting this coming Tuesday to welcome rabbi Deborah Megdal to our community. Please join us for this momentous occasion.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach