Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Counting the Omer

You shall count seven weeks for yourselves; from when the sickle is first put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks. - Deuteronomy 16:9

These seven weeks fall between Passover and Shavuot, so that after celebrating freedom, we prepare to receive the Torah by working on refining character traits and focusing on developing our own potential and having more meaningful relationships with God and with our fellow man.  

What to read during this season?

Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt"l, founder of Aish HaTorah, taught a course based on the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, Chapter 6, Verse 6: "Torah is acquired by means of forty-eight qualities." Allowing one day for review, a quality, such as humility, joy or sharing the burden, can be reviewed each day. Rabbi Weinberg's course material has been adapted and updated by Rabbis Nechemia Coopersmith and Shraga Simmons. The short chapters discuss the "ways." At the end of each chapter is a section entitled "Applied Wisdom," which suggestions for thought and action.  Easy to read and insightful this Shaar Press (2017) book is particularly appropriate for the Omer, but worthwhile all year long.

During the seven weeks of counting, we focus on the seven basic emotions that make up the spectrum of human experience: 
Chesed - Lovingkindness
Gevurah - Justice and Discipline
Tiferet - Harmony, Beauty in Balance
Netzach - Endurance
Hod - Humility
Yesod - Bonding
Malchut - Kingship.

Two books that explore these are Simon Jacobson's A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer: Forty-Nine Steps to Personal Refinement According to the Jewish Tradition and Rabbi Yaacov Haber's Sefiros: Spiritual Refinement Through Counting the Omer. While Rabbi Jacobson focuses on the individual, Rabbi Haber (with Rabbi David Sedley) looks at ways to develop yourself, your relationship with God, and your relationship with your fellow man. These books also delve further into the Kabbalistic aspects of Sefirat HaOmer.

Looking for something a little more creative? Through the Gates: A Practice for Counting the Omer by Susan Windle compiled her thoughts and poems and her experience in a "Counting Group." One of my favorite selections is about Tiferet:

Tiferet is the wide-angle lens of the heart. Tiferet makes music, integrates a diversity of voices into one song beautiful and true. In Tiferet, we hold the truth with reverence, accepting what is so with grace. Tiferet balances Chesed and Gevurah -- holding in equal measure the flow of loving-kindness and the ability to set appropriate boundaries. Tiferet offers a wide open "yes" to love and delight and firm, assured "no" to self-indulgence.

And for something completely out of the box, try Iyanla Vanzant's One Day My Soul Just Opened Up: 40 Days and 40 Nights Toward Spiritual Strength and Personal Growth. At first it seems a little sacrilegious to include this with books by venerated rabbis. But this Yoruba Princess and Oprah favorite has some sage wisdom that aligns with the themes of the Omer:

Remain open. There is something bigger than you know going on here.

Experience taught me that to believe in God is to recognize and acknowledge God's divine presence within yourself.

Your are not being tested! You are being fortified!

For those more comfortable on the Internet, there are loads of resources, including the ever-popular Homer (Simpson) Omer website with a printable calendar

Yesh Shem has a wealth of information and different Omer practices, from the traditional blessing and count to special Psalms and ways of studying Jewish text. The site is a challenge to navigate, but worth the extra effort if you are looking for more esoteric material.

We miss you Felix!

Meaningful reading!

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