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Counting from the Heart

04/14/2020 10:45:13 AM

Apr14

Today is April 14, 2020. It’s a Tuesday. It’s the last day of the “intermediate” days of Passover. It’s the first “weekday” after the Easter holiday weekend.  It’s spring, the time of the earliest flowering bloomers and budding trees.

Or, as one of the many internet posts offered on the theme of “when someone asks what day it is,” we get a clip of the dazzling Bernadette Peters singing : “Tuesday, Thursday, April, August, autumn, winter, next year, some year ….”

Staying oriented, feeling grounded, keeping if not to a tight schedule then at least to a sense of connection to the days of the week, can seem like a crushingly monumental and elusive task. Calculating what- “week”-of-the-shut-down we’re in seems like our most relevant shared source of orientation. 

Starting from the second night of Passover, though, we get the gift of another way of counting time, that of the omer. We count the days for 7 weeks, until we get to the day after 7x7 and then, voila, it’s Shavuot.

This brief video covers all the basics about the omer period, including its unfortunate linkage to a reported plague in the days of Rabbi Akiva. We can, perhaps, take heart from the traditional notion that when the plague gets lifted on the 33rd day of the omer, everyone can – among other things – get haircuts!

Plague humour aside, I find the practice of counting the omer using the qualities associated with the Kabbalist sefirot to be a grounding, orienting and heart-opening practice. What could be better, or more helpful, than noting that this week we are in the week of hesed, or loving-kindness. You’ll see this image of the ten spheres briefly in the video; the counting of the omer uses the “lower” seven qualities. This simple counting guide is keyed to this year’s Gregorian calendar.

Hesed is truly a meaningful attribute to recognize, to participate in, to celebrate, to notice. When we sing along to Sim Shalom in the Shabbat morning service, the list of attributes, beginning with peace, includes loving-kindness along with goodness, blessing, beauty, and compassion.

It’s a hard time, but it is also a time of abundant loving-kindness being wrought around us. The pandemic, while creating a difficult and tightly controlled environment that feels highly restrictive, has also loosened an outpouring of creative and caring offerings. When we see the world through hesed, we may more readily find glimmers of hope and renewal. 

The psalmist offers it this way: teach us to count our days so that we may open our hearts. Keyn yehi ratzon. May it be so.

Thu, August 6 2020 16 Av 5780