Friday, June 20, 2014

Quote of the Week: Improve the World

US Capitol Grounds Memorial Tree
Aesculus Hippocastanum (Horse Chestnut)
Sponsored by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz to honor Anne Frank

"No one need wait; start right now to improve the world"

You may remember in April that I was very excited about the upcoming planting of a sapling from Anne Frank's chestnut tree outside of the Capitol.  Well, last week I moved to DC to begin a brand new graduate school program at George Washington University (more on that later) and celebrated my first full week in the city by walking down the Mall to find Anne Frank's tree.

There are a lot of trees across the west lawn of the Capitol, so if you are looking for the Anne Frank tree, go up to the steps of the Capitol and follow the path south.  The tree will be on your left, right about where the circled tree is here:

I love the quote that they have chosen to accompany this tree, though I think it is a paraphrasing of this longer Anne Frank quote: "How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world."  It seems especially appropriate in this location.  The city seems constantly charged with a sense of purpose, perhaps because of its transient nature, which is inevitable in a city built around our ever-changing politics.  Even when our government is at a near standstill, the people are active.  DC is filled with long-time residents, newcomers, students, and visitors, who use every moment to learn and grow and improve the world - and the world needs a lot of improvements.  Here are some recent issues that Congress has failed to make any better:
No wonder Congress' approval rating is only seven percent, the lowest it has been in history.  I think it would do Congress some good to take another look at this little tree on their way to work.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Count the Omer 2014

It's Passover, which means it is time once again to start counting the Omer!  If you will recall from last year, the Omer is the period between Passover and Shavuot when we count from day one on the second night of Passover to day forty-nine.  In Temple times, this seven-week period was the barley harvest between the Passover offering and the Shavuot offering (learn more at My Jewish Learning).

In today's context, these seven weeks represent the journey from slavery (Passover) to freedom (receiving the Torah at Sinai on Shavuot).  Accordingly, Kabbalah mimics this Biblical journey by considering the counting of the Omer as a time of reflection and personal growth.  Each week and day is assigned one of seven sephirot (characteristics) that we should try to improve.  They are:
  1. Chesed - Lovingkindness
  2. Gevurah - Strength, Justice
  3. Tiferet - Balance, Compassion
  4. Netzach - Endurance, Ambition
  5. Hod - Gratitude, Humility
  6. Yesod - Foundation, Connection
  7. Malchut - Kingdom, Leadership has a great calendar and the daily blessings for you to keep up with counting the Omer (bonus: Simpsons quotes!).  Last year, I blogged all the days, which was fun and also very time-consuming.  So this year, while I will be doing my own personal reflection, I am taking a different approach online.  I encourage you to count the Omer and reflect, daily or weekly, on ways that you can improve yourself in the seven sephirot.  For a refresher, feel free to check out my posts from last year.  If a day or week hits you with particular meaning, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.

Happy counting!

Count the Omer Posts, 2013

  1. Chesed sheb'Chesed, Lovingkindness within Lovingkindness
  2. Gevurah sheb'Chesed, Strength within Lovingkindness
  3. Tiferet sheb'Chesed, Harmony within Lovingkindness
  4. Netzach sheb'Chesed, Ambition within Lovingkindness
  5. Hod sheb'Chesed, Gratituted within Lovingkindness
  6. Yesod sheb'Chesed, Foundation within Lovingkindness
  7. Malchut sheb'Chesed. Kingdom within Lovingkindness
  8. Chesed sheb'Gevurah, Lovingkindness within Justice
  9. Gevurah sheb'Gevurah, Strength within Restraint
  10. Tiferet sheb'Gevurah, Harmony within Restraint
  11. Netzach sheb'Gevurah, Endurance within Strength
  12. Hod sheb'Gevurah, Humility within Strength
  13. Yesod sheb'Gevurah, Foundation within Strength
  14. Malchut sheb'Gevurah, Leadership within Power
  15. Chesed sheb'Tiferet, Lovingkindness within Balance
  16. Gevurah sheb'Tiferet, Power within Beauty
  17. Tiferet sheb'Tiferet, Harmony within Harmony
  18. Netzach sheb'Tiferet, Endurance within Compassion
  19. Hod sheb'Tiferet, Gratitude within Compassion
  20. Yesod sheb'Tiferet, Connection within Compassion
  21. Malchut sheb'Tiferet, Leadership within Compassion
  22. Chesed sheb'Netzach, Lovingkindness within Ambition
  23. Gevurah sheb'Netzach, Strength within Endurance
  24. Tiferet sheb'Netzach, Compassion within Endurance
  25. Netzach sheb'Netzach, Ambition within Endurance
  26. Hod sheb'Netzach, Gratitude within Ambition
  27. Yesod sheb'Netzach, Foundation within Ambition
  28. Malchut sheb'Netzach, Leadership within Endurance
  29. Chesed sheb'Hod, Lovingkindness within Majesty
  30. Gevurah sheb'Hod, Justice within Humility
  31. Tiferet sheb'Hod, Beauty within Majesty
  32. Netzach sheb'Hod, Ambition within Humility
  33. Hod sheb'Hod, Humility within Majesty
  34. Yesod sheb'Hod, Foundation within Gratitude
  35. Malchut sheb'Hod, Leadership within Humility
  36. Chesed sheb'Yesod, Lovingkindness within Connection
  37. Gevurah sheb'Yesod, Power within Connection
  38. Tiferet sheb'Yesod, Harmony within Connection
  39. Netzach sheb'Yesod, Endurance within Connection
  40. Hod sheb'Yesod, Majesty within Connection
  41. Yesod sheb'Yesod, Connection within Connection
  42. Malchut sheb'Yesod, Kingdom within Foundation
  43. Chesed sheb'Malchut, Lovingkindness within Kingdom
  44. Gevurah sheb'Malchut, Strength within Leadership
  45. Tiferet sheb'Malchut, Harmony within Leadership
  46. Netzach sheb'Malchut, Endurance within Kingdom
  47. Hod sheb'Malchut, Humility within Kingdom
  48. Yesod sheb'Malchut, Foundation within Kingdom
  49. Malchut sheb'Malchut, Kingdom within Kingdom

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Quote of the Week: Chestnut Tree

"Nearly every morning I go to the attic to blow the stuffy air out of my lungs, from my favorite spot on the floor I look up at the blue sky and the bare chestnut tree, on whose branches little raindrops shine, appearing like silver, and at the seagulls and other birds as they glide on the wind.  As long as this exists, I thought, and I may live to see it, this sunshine, the cloudless skies, while this lasts I cannot be unhappy." -Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl, February 23, 1944
Fourteen years ago, right around the time that I walked away from Lutheranism, I read The Diary of a Young Girl for a study hall class and tried (but failed) to hide my tears when I came to the end of it.  I remember following the cut-it-down-don't-cut-it-down debate of 2007 over Anne Frank's dying chestnut tree with a vested interest and being saddened to learn in 2010 (just as I was beginning the official conversion process to become Jewish) that it had finally fallen down.

Since then, saplings from Anne Frank's tree have been planted all over the world and now, the tree is coming to Washington, DC!  I am so excited!
Anne Frank's Tree outside the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, circa 2009
Image courtesy of The New York Times