Counting and Caring

Today is the First Day of the Omer, a Jewish period of counting and reflecting that connects the liberation of Passover to the receiving of the Covenant at Mount Sinai on Shavuot.

Each of the days of the seven weeks of the Counting have been given a theme by Jewish mystics. The first week and first day are both devoted to the idea of chesed in Hebrew, or loving-kindness, in English.

Just what is loving-kindness?

In the culture of the Jewish Bible, a colleague of mine, Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, pointed out that "love" can be better understood to be devotional loyalty - as in "You must love God" and describing that love by talking about upholding the Covenant between the Universe and the Jewish People.

So we can talk about chesed as noticing what the world and the people around us need most, and offering it with care and devotion, and with no expectation of compensation.

Let us all find a moment to realize the great caring accomplished for our souls, our friends and family, and our larger communities, when we give out of compassion and devotion.

Offering gratitude with our entirety

[a prayer I wrote for tonight's Shabbat worship - join us!]

We offer thanks with our whole selves:
good inclinations and less than good intentions,
anger, fear, and jealousy,
compassion, courage, and generosity.

We are all of these together.
We offer thanks and gratitude
for the chance to transform our difficulties
into opportunities for creation and connection.

We offer thanks with our whole selves.

Kindling our hearts in prayer

This Shabbat we read about the lighting of the menorah in the Tabernacle, an obligation that we all have to bring light into our homes, here's a quick meditation inspired by that and an anonymous 13th Century text, see Daniel Matt 's The Essential Kabbalah, p. 119 for the source text:

When we pray on our own we aim for unity with all,
we kindle the fire on the altar of our hearts.
By concentrating our thoughts, we unify our feelings,
our principles, our hopes, our dreams,
until they are drawn to the source of the infinitely sublime flame.
Here lies the secret of unifying which we perform in prayer,
raising up our ideas, like an elevating offering, towards one source.
In praise and in thanks
we draw ourselves nearer to the spark that ignites all.

Day Twenty-Five of the Omer

Netzach in Netzach - the everlasting in the long view.

On this day when I was so honored to celebrate Shabbat with the Teen Vocal Ensemble and the Teen Band of Temple Beth El, I am deeply touched by how easily our actions can ripple forward and backward in time.

One of the first students I met here, Caleb Seidler, gave a D'var Torah, a teaching of Torah, about the importance of caring for the earth. As I have been honored to be his teacher, so he as one of our youth assistant teachers has been an influential teacher of my son Jude.

Our actions, our stories, our attempts at wisdom, they strike the fabric of time and weave a tapestry so quickly beyond our own individual threads.

I am in awe of it all.

Day 49 of the Omer - time to do

Malchut in Malchut - the fullness of well-considered meaningful presence and realization in itself.

This is it. Plans have been laid, preparations have been made, we stand in front of our next big motion.

For the Israelites in our story, the mountain and revelation and eventually the holy land lay before them.

What is imminently in front of us? How can we bring all that we have learned and reflected on into the next moment?

Breathe, think, feel, balance, act.

May we all create and find and celebrate as we go forward.

Happy Shavuot tomorrow night everyone!

Day 48 of the Omer - leap from solid ground

Yesod in Malchut - the solid balancing point in the wholeness that rules useful doings.

Our best steps start from solid ground. Bringing all the ingredients together to create that stable starting off spot requires all the principles that we have reflected on up until now.

Find that spot, build it even, and then take the next step trusting in our preparations, hoping for the best, and maintain openness to all the unpredictability that may ensue!

Prepare, plan, set our feet solidly, and then go and do!

Almost through the Omer now - we look towards Shavuot on Tuesday night.

Day 45 of the Omer - inspire the moment

Tiferet in Malchut - balanced beauty in the implementation of divine presence into reality.

Ever been perched on one of those moments when all is ready and we have done everything possible to be prepared and our anticipation is a thrill of perfect beginning?

This could be a physical preparation - about to start a race, or look down the perfect ski slope. An intellectual, social, or emotional endeavor - sitting down to write when we've done the right mental preparation, or sitting across from a person we've been eagerly waiting to talk to for a long time. It could be a spiritual moment - finally getting the chance to sit and reflect or meditate on something important.

All of these reflect some of the great balance and beauty of injecting Tiferet into the next moment of doing. Let us balance our expectations with preparations, and infuse the next minute with some inspired excitement.

Happy Friday, Shabbat Shalom, and more great counting everyone!

Day 44 of the Omer - wise strength

Gevurah in Malchut - rigor and strength in the imminent and sovereign presence.

The application of strength with all of our values behind it requires force and restraint, power and a fine sense of where to apply it and how much.

As we look at a task that requires firmness let us always see it as needing appropriate levels of rigor, tempered and informed by all our other faculties too.

Be strong, and use our strength wisely.

Shavuot is coming!

Day 39 of the Omer - aim for the future

Netzach in Yesod - the persistent victory of the self in a balanced foundation.

Eternity gets crafted out of well thought out actions that form a solid base.

As we get ready to act, to put our thoughts into reality, we keep in mind the long term even as we focus on forming something simple, balanced, and basic.

In every part of the foundation we place our hopes and plans for the distant future.

Let us build for the long term - why waste the effort on anything else?

The counting is nearing its conclusion!

Day 38 of the Omer - higher and lower balance

Tiferet in Yesod - lofty balance of principles in the grounded balance of applications.

Keeping high minded ideas of balance and beauty as guides while in the thick of crafting the basics almost requires some cognitive dissonance.

Still, the two notions - a balance between intellectual concepts of beauty and a sturdy balance grounded in connecting to actually creating - fortify each other.

We aim to dig trenches that eventually lead to beautiful structures. All of this in the hope of fulfilling ideals balanced between other important values.

Including everything takes patience and attention - include some counting too!

Day 37 of the Omer - Rigor towards balance

Gevurah in Yesod - rigor and strength in solid balanced foundations.

While a foundation stands as a symbol of strength the idea of Gevurah as the application of discipline may inform us when we aim for creating foundations the fulfill their purposes.

To use rigor to help create balance requires care.

Still catching up - this applied to the Omer for Wednesday through Thursday.

Day 36 of the Omer - See kindly then build

Chesed in Yesod - loving kindness in foundation.

Before undertaking something from the bottom up, building solidly, we must see it through compassionate eyes.

A foundation stands well when started with the needs of others and the world in mind.

This is from Tuesday-Wednesday's Omer Count, catching up!

Day 35 of the Omer - Grow from smallness

Malchut in Hod - the manifestation of reality in humble smallness.

Gaining perspective must be put to some use. We engage in contemplating how insignificant we are so that we can act effectively. So we must put that acquired wisdom into action and not get lost in our insignificance.

The seed must germinate and grow or not fulfill its purpose.

May our counting lead us to better agency!

Day 34 of the Omer - Details Build Foundations

Yesod in Hod - a balanced foundation in smallness and humility.

Building solidly requires taking into account all the details, even the smallest of them.

Each fastener, each two by four, each decision in design, reminds us of their value when we look upon something well constructed.

Happy counting, building something out of small details noticed each day.

Day 33 of the Omer - Smallness as Inspiration

Happy LaG b'Omer - the 33rd of the Omer is here - shaving and hair-cutting and going to parties allowed again.

This is the 5th day of the 5th week of the Omer, Hod in Hod - the awe we get from seeing the universe from our place of smallness, in that place itself.

Let us remember that our smallness may be a crutch. It too is small.

Let us embrace a realistic sense of proportion, the infinite inspires awe, let us use this awe to inspire us to be humble so that we act well.

Still catching up - this is from Saturday night, and Sunday.

Day 32 of the Omer - In Every Atom the Universe

Netzach in Hod - eternal self-centered victory in the awe-inspiring perspective from the minuscule.

In the tiniest pixelated particles, the humblest of building blocks of the universe, lay the fundamentals to the mystery behind all existence.

The connections between the ends of the spectrum - ego and humility, grandeur and infinitesimal - run through every aspect of the universe and our innermost selves.

In every moment we may find the everlasting, and the grandest perspectives include an infinity of minutia.

Keeping it all in proportion is one goal of consciousness.

Catching up on reflections - enjoy!

Day 31 of the Omer - balanced self-reduction

Tiferet in Hod - harmonious beautiful fine-tuned balance in smallness and grace.

We know that we should embrace some sense of smallness, to self-diminish and withdraw to make room for the growth of others. This is called tzimtzum by the Kabbalists and they imagine the Infinite reducing in order to create.

Doing this well requires a light and balanced touch - too much space and growth isn't cultivated, too much and it is stymied. A garden can easily be abandoned or over-attended - neither leads to flourishing growth or partnership.

Hold values in mind, pause and reflect, and then figure out the right amount of tzimtzum.

The days of the Omer are diminshing - this is the 3rd day of the 5th week.

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Day 29 of the Omer - Humility and Compassion

Chesed in Hod - compassion in awe and humility.

I find it easy to see compassion coming from our sense of smallness - this allows us to sympathize easily.

We must proceed cautiously lest we get swept up in sympathizing and lose our ability to help out.

We need compassion for ourselves when in the place of grace in our smallness, so that we can avoid powerlessness.

Happy return to Chesed day 1 of week 5!

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Day 28 of the Omer - Knowing Now Planning Better

Malchut in Netzach - sovereignty, the rule of the present, in the persistent eternal victory.

Taking a "now" view when we plan long term - we work to appropriately assess the situation as it is, before we think strategically.

How many of our plans start with a ideas less than realistically connected to our current situation?

Taking moments or minutes, depending upon the scope of our hopes and projections, to reflect on where we are before deciding where we will go, connects our visions of the future to the present where we start.

Wishing everyone insight into the present so that we can count towards a better future.

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Day 27 of the Omer - Feel towards the future

Yesod in Netzach - a firm and balanced foundation in the persistent perpetuity of the self.

Finding a path into the future for ourselves requires more than a sense of values and a good plan, we must also feel out stable footholds on firm pathways.

We aim to integrate our different senses and easily swayed emotions into stable foundations. I often find this kind of stability through thoughtful pauses that allow me to identify an emotional response and think through how best to react once I've taken a moment to breathe and reflect.

May all our projects include peaceful moments to think and feel our way ahead.

Blessings as we close out the week of Netzach tomorrow.

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