Thursday, April 30, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 26

Day 26: Hod within Netzach, Glory within Eternity
Remember Boy Meets World? I loved that show! There is one scene in particular in season 4 between Eric and his father, Alan, that has stuck with me and stands out now.

Eric: "You said to me that there would come a time when you weren't going to be around anymore and, and that's not so."
Alan: "Eric -"
Eric: "No, no, no. No, Dad, I remember everything that you taught me and I'm going to turn around and I'm gonna teach that to my children. So you see, Dad, you're always gonna be around."

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 25

Day 25: Netzach within NetzachEndurance within Endurance
We have hit the half-way point today, everyone! There are just 25 days left until Shavuot and I am reminded today of Nachshon. According to midrash, Nachshon was the hero of the Sea of Reeds. When the Israelites were fleeing Egypt and reached the Sea of Reeds, they feared that they were trapped. Moses prayed to God for help while the Israelites refused to move forward into the water. Nachshon (who by some accounts was afraid to swim) strode forward into the water and only when the water had reached his head without him turning back did God split the sea.

Netzach within netzach and the story of Nachshon remind us that endurance can breed endurance and that if we have faith in our own power and in God, we can reach new shores. At the halfway point of the Omer today, it is good to look at how far we have come while charging headlong toward our goal.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 24

Day 24: Tiferet within NetzachSpirituality within Endurance
I have written about my conversion many times here. It is, after all, the reason I began blogging in the first place. One post in particular aligns perfectly with today's Omer reflection:
"I participated regularly in Jewish services, holidays, and study for over a year before it finally all clicked for me.  Looking back on it, it makes sense that I would only feel a connection to God through Judaism after becoming comfortable with it in all the other aspects I was exploring, but at the time it seemed like I suddenly felt closer to God out of nowhere."
You can read the entire post here, but my point today is that sometimes spirituality requires endurance. For years, I wanted to feel closer to God, to fully believe in something. I had connected on a logical level with Judaism long before I connected on a spiritual level and if I could have simply willed spirituality on myself, I would have. Instead, I stuck it out the long way, enjoying the parts of Judaism I had come to love and doing my best to wait patiently for the rest to come together.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 23

Day 23: Gevurah within NetzachPower within Endurance
How does endurance impact power? One might say that a powerful person's legacy will endure, but I think it is just as easy to say that an enduring memory gains a power of its own.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 22

Day 22: Chesed within NetzachLoving-kindness within Eternity
You've Got Mail

Ah, You've Got Mail. This is a great movie. It's got everything you miss about the late 1990s: young Tom Hanks, Meg Ryan, independently-owned bookstores (ok, even giant bookstores), dial-up internet, and that familiar cheerful AOL voice saying, "you've got mail!" Now, the movie looks dated; I mean, look at Tom Hanks' computer in this scene. Even the concept of receiving an emailed letter from a stranger (or a friend) is outdated. All I ever get is junk mail, spam, and occasionally a friend sends me a link to an interesting article. Needless to say, this movie would be very different today.

Why am I going on about You've Got Mail? Because of this scene, of course. If you haven't seen the movie, you really should, but let me give you some context for this scene. Tom Hanks, the owner of Fox Books (basically, Borders or Barnes & Noble), is building a branch of his giant bookstore down the street from Meg Ryan's independently-owned, family-operated bookstore. Since he is putting her out of business, she dislikes him. At the same time, the two become anonymous email acquaintances and find that they have a lot in common. After some back-and-forth, they agree to meet at a coffee house, but when Tom Hanks arrives and realizes that he has been emailing with Meg Ryan, he backs out of the meeting, choosing instead to confront her as the jerk who is putting her out of business instead of the pen pal she has come to know and trust. Embarrassed at being stood up and hurt by the appearance of her professional enemy, Meg Ryan lashes out at him. We see her regret her harsh words in this scene.

Hindsight is 20/20 and with some distance from a problem, we can look back on it in context. It is easy to be kind in hindsight, but today should remind us that it is equally important, if not more so, to be kind in the here and now.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 21

Day 21: Malchut within TiferetKingdom within Balance
"When God began to create heaven and earth - the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water - God said 'Let there be light'; and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and he darkness God called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day." -Bereishit
How does balance impact kingdom? God began the world with balance: night and day, earth and sky, sun and moon. The balance is what makes God's kingdom - our life on Earth - beautiful.
Sunset in Tel Aviv

Friday, April 24, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 20

Day 21: Yesod within TiferetConnection within Balance
To connect with a friend requires balance. Sometimes you share something important about yourself and other times you listen to your friend's hopes and concerns. Balancing your talking and your listening can help build a stronger connection.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 19

Day 19: Hod within TiferetMajesty within Beauty
You're walking along, you look up, and suddenly stop. Your breath has been taken away by an unexpectedly beautiful scene. This is hod within tiferet: the beauty of nature can help us see majesty in the world.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 18

Day 18: Netzach within TiferetEndurance/Victory within Balance
"Bugs Learns a Lesson"
"Slow and steady wins the race." Aesop's fable, The Tortoise and the Hare, perfectly illustrates netzach within tiferet.

The hare, swift and overconfident, quickly pulls ahead in the race, but becomes distracted and quickly tires himself out. His short burst of energy could not be sustained for the entire race.

On the other hand, the tortoise's steady pace and equanimity gave him the endurance to cross the finish line in victory.

Have you ever bitten off more than you could chew or dove head-first into a task that quickly burned you out? Where is the line between confidence and overconfidence? The story of the tortoise and the hare and the lesson for Day 18 is to know the pace with which you're comfortable for the long haul. Don't overexert yourself, but balance out your energy to achieve your goals.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 17

Day 17: Tiferet within TiferetBalance within Balance
Achieving balance can be difficult, whether it is a work-life balance, a social-alone time balance, or an outdoor activity-Netflix marathon balance. Yet, today is a reminder that balance is important, so important that it bears repeating. If you have achieved balance in one aspect of your life, think of today as a chance to start working on another area.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 16

Day 16: Gevurah within Tiferet, Strength within Integration
I am currently in graduate school getting a Masters degree in Experiential Education & Jewish Cultural Arts (EEJCA). Read more about my experiences in the program here and here. EEJCA is basically informal Jewish education or any educational experience/opportunity outside of the classroom. It is a combination of Museum Education and Jewish cultural studies and is based on the premise that a cross-disciplinary education will build stronger leaders in the field of Jewish education. So far, I have to agree.

Why am I talking up my program? Well, today is about strength within integration and I think the EEJCA is a great example of how the integration of two disciplines can make them both stronger.

EEJCA is currently accepting applications for the second cohort and, in honor of the Omer and strength within integration, I think you should consider applying.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 15

Day 15: Chesed within Tiferet, Loving-kindness within Balance
Welcome to the week of tiferet, of balance, beauty, and compassion. How does balance impact kindness? When my life feels out of balance, it is easy for me to get wrapped up in whatever issue is dominating my time, often to the detriment of my relationships with others. I can unintentionally brush people off unkindly if my mind is elsewhere.

Today's challenge is to balance your preoccupations with the people in front of you. Even when your life feels dominated by one thing, take a deep breath and remember that it is equally (if not more) important to give others your undivided attention at times too.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 14

Day 14: Malchut within Gevurah
Leadership within Strength
This is the end of the week of gevurah. I think that it is fitting for each week to end with malchut, because we should be able to take all the lessons of the week and use them to become better leaders. We can learn from Hillary's campaign how to show kindness in a position of power; consciously develop different kinds of strength within ourselves, including self-confidence; find inspiration in the incredible inner strength of Mary Todd Lincoln and Holocaust survivors like Eva Kor; and work to ensure that the foundations of our skills and experiences are strong. By strengthening ourselves in these ways, we can become stronger leaders.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 13

Day 13: Yesod within Gevurah, Foundation within Strength
When you have a strong foundation, it is easier to build upon. This is as true of life skills as it is of construction. In the immortal words of Bob Dylan:

"May your hands always be busy
May your feet always be swift
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift
May your heart always be joyful
And may your song always be sung
May you stay forever young."

"Forever Young" by Bob Dylan

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 12

Day 12: Hod within GevurahGlory within Strength
Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. In honor of the incredible strength it took to endure the horrors of the Holocaust, I will let Eva Kor, a Holocaust survivor, speak for herself about glory within strength.
"The fact that I have overcome so much adversity in my life helps me have hope during tough times. If I could survive Auschwitz, if I could survive crawling on the barrack floor between life and death, I could probably survive anything. I also like the fact that people who hear me speak can feel inspired. They see that I could do it, and they realize they can overcome whatever they are trying to overcome, too. That is helpful to realize, that maybe each of us can help others overcome by sharing our stories." -Eva Kor
Eva continues to draw strength from her life at Auschwitz, bringing glory and hope into the lives of others. You can read Eva's whole inspiring story of strength and survival here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 11

Day 11: Netzach within GevurahEndurance within Strength
How does strength impact endurance? Strength makes things easier to endure, whether one has the physical strength to run a marathon or the emotional strength to survive a great deal of grief.

Today, is not only day 11 of the Omer, but also the 150th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln's death. I spent last night at Ford's Theatre, commemorating Lincoln's life and legacy. Mary Todd Lincoln is most often remembered for her erratic behavior and possible insanity, but participants in last night's commemoration were reminded of her incredible endurance, surviving the loss of three of her four children and her husband.

Do you have an inner strength that has helped you endure when you thought you would not be able to do so?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 10

Day 10: Tiferet within Gevurah, Beauty within Strength
I like to think of today's strength not as physical strength, but as emotional or character strength. Regardless of physical appearance, we can find beauty in self-assuredness.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 9

Day 9: Gevurah within GevurahStrength within Strength
There are many different kinds of strength: physical strength, emotional strength, strength of character. Today, as we think of strength within strength, how can we improve upon our strengths?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 8

Day 8: Chesed within GevurahLoving-kindness within Power
Hillary Clinton has announced that she is officially running for president with this video:

I have been #ReadyforHillary since her first presidential run in 2008 and have been following the will-she-won't-she political speculation for a long time. Since she officially entered the race (and even before) people have been speculating about the kind of campaign she will run, particularly noting the difficulty she will face in relating to everyday people. 

What perfect timing to discuss loving-kindness within power. It seems that there is a different kind of kindness that one must show when one is in a position of power. We believe those in power to be out of touch with everyday problems - whether they know the price of milk or the joys and discomforts of a long road trip - and thus expect them to go the extra mile to relate to us. Our presidential candidates, all powerful people, must also be incredibly kind and likable. As politicians on both sides continue to enter the field for the 2016 race, it will be important for them to strike a balance between power and kindness early.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 7

Day 7: Malchut within ChesedKingdom within Loving-kindness
Today is the last day of the week of chesed and I am spending it, fittingly, celebrating a wedding! Marriage is a loving contract that creates a kind of kingdom for the bride and groom, in which they build a life together. Best wishes to my friends Leah and Scottie for a continuing happy life full of loving-kindness!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 6

Day 6: Yesod within ChesedFoundation/Connection within Loving-kindness
I will be spending the weekend in Boston celebrating the wedding of two of my good friends. They have been together in love for many years now, but their marriage will symbolize a new connection between them and a new foundation upon which to build their lives.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 5

Day 5: Hod within ChesedSplendor/Majesty/Glory within Loving-kindness
How is glory impacted by kindness? I would hope that being a good, kind person would give one a level of glory that could not be achieved by other means. It is important to recognize and acknowledge kindness when it is offered to you. Today, try to make someone feel glorious for being kind.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 4

Day 4: Netzach within ChesedEndurance within Loving-kindness
Today's Omer lesson comes from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride! It is a tale of "fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...," the story of Buttercup and Westley, torn apart, reunited, torn apart, and reunited again.

After Westley's apparent death at sea, Buttercup was chosen to wed Prince Humperdinck. When Westley returned alive (see their reunion below), Prince Humperdinck threatened to kill him and Buttercup tried to save him by returning with Humperdinck to the castle, trusting him to give Westley safe passage out of the country. Instead, Humperdinck secretly imprisoned Westley and when Buttercup discovered that he had been lying to her, she delivered some harsh news to him: "You can't hurt me. Westley and I are joined by the bonds of love and you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords."

So, true love allowed her to endure the pain of separation. True love also allowed Westley to come back from being "mostly dead" to be reunited with Buttercup in the end.

"Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while."

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 3

Day 3: Tiferet within Chesed, Balance within Loving-kindness

Love and kindness can make burdens seem lighter. My family and friends help me to balance my sometimes hectic life with support, fun, and love.

I owe a special debt of gratitude to my husband, who keeps me sane.
Thank you, Marc; I love you! 

Monday, April 6, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 2

Day 2: Gevurah within Chesed, Strength or Power within Loving-kindness
I often have trouble thinking of power within loving-kindness as something different from loving-kindness within power, which we will get to next week. The best way I can think of it is that the sephirah (emotion) of the week (this week, it's chesed) should be the main focus and we should think of how each day's sephirot are impacted. With that in mind, how is power impacted by kindness?

Last night, after reciting the blessing for the second day of the Omer, I turned on the TV to find The Ten Commandments playing. As I was lying in bed later thinking about power within loving-kindness and Charleton Heston, I thought of how beloved Moses was in the movie by everyone - Egyptians, Hebrews, Ethiopians, and Midianites. He attained great power by showing kindness to everyone, whether they were royalty or slaves, a nation he was sent to conquer or migratory desert-dwellers. Because of his kindness, Moses was almost named Pharaoh, was welcomed into Midian, and was successful in leading his people to freedom. Ramses, on the other hand, was greedy, jealous, and cruel and, while he received temporary power by these means, these traits ultimately led to his downfall.

Power within loving-kindness - one can attain power through kindness and that will be a greater power than that achieved through greed and deceit.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Count the Omer 2015: Day 1

Welcome to another thrilling journey of self-reflection. That's right, it's time to Count the Omer! If you're new to Counting the Omer, I have included some really great resources below for you.

Literally, an omer is a unit of measurement, and when the Temple stood, an omer of barley was given as an offering on the second night of Passover (which was last night). Beginning on the second night of Passover, we count for seven weeks from day 1 to day 49. Counting the Omer is a mitzvah, beginning with Passover and ending on Shavuot. The counting commemorates our exodus from Egypt (our physical freedom) and God giving us the Torah at Mount Sinai (our spiritual freedom).

Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) teaches that human experience is made up of seven sephirot (characteristics or emotions) and as we Count the Omer, we should also contemplate our inner selves. Just as the Israelites moved in seven weeks from slavery to freedom, we should seek in these seven weeks to better ourselves.

The seven sephirot are:
1. Chesed (חסד): loving-kindness, mercy
2. Gevurah (גבורה): strength, justice, power, severity
3. Tiferet (תפארת): beauty, balance, integration, miracles, compassion, spirituality
4. Netzach (נצח‎): eternity, endurance, victory
5. Hod (הוד): splendor, majesty, glory (sometimes translated as humility)
6. Yesod (יסוד): foundation, connection
7. Malchut (מלכות): leadership, kingdom

Clearly there are many (sometimes conflicting) translations of each of these sephirot, but we will do our best to work them out over the next seven weeks.

Each week and each day of the Omer represents a different emotion and they go in order, so it is easy to follow along. The first week is the week of chesed and the first day is also chesed, so day 1 of the Omer is chesed within chesed.

Day 1: Chesed within Chesed
Loving-kindness within Loving-kindness or Mercy within Mercy

We begin with love, because, as every good poet and Harry Potter fan knows, love is the greatest power in the world. I'm not sure that the Beatles were entirely right in thinking that "all you need is love," but it is certainly important and love is stronger and more enduring when it is all-encompassing, mutually reciprocated, within and without. That, I think, is chesed within chesed; not only to love, but to express it.

I'll be counting for the next 49 days, so feel free to follow along!

Resources for Counting the Omer
The Homer Calendar
Judaism 101: The Counting of the Omer
Aish: The ABC's of the Omer
Aish: Daily Omer Meditation
My Jewish Learning: How to Count the Omer
Omer Friends Style (daily Omer meditations as they relate to Friends)
Go And Learn It: Count the Omer 2014
Go And Learn It: Count the Omer 2013, Day 1

G-dcast's 49 Facts for 49 Days