Friday, March 30, 2007

Help me apply S'firat ha Omer, PLEASE!!

Pesach. April. Aviv. Spring. Everyone around me is perking up. And it's getting so that I don't have to wear my thermal underwear every day. Yesterday I went outside in the sun on my lounger; the warm rays baked my hair and slid through my skin. I was content in the warmth that brought me back to summer days lying on a towel on Santa Monica beach, the rhythmic splash and hiss of waves my most soothing and serene memory.
Pesach brings with it the beginning of the counting of the Omer, the 49 days of improvement linking liberation from slavery with spiritual readiness to receive the Torah. I've been counting the Omer for lots of years; more than what I consider my age, actually, but I have yet to make the complete 49 day process without missing one. I'm determined; I've printed out my Rabbi Simon Jacobson daily Omer meditation that prods me to focus on the s'firot, the characteristics that embellish each day, and which I can tap into to uplift my own behavior. If only I could REALLY understand the true meaning of "netzach," which I suspect isn't really "endurance," or "yesod," which I doubt really means "bonding." I've got what chesed, kindness is--and even gevura (discipline, restraint). But when I get to the netzach of hod (translated as humility), this stuff gets too touchy-feely for me. And I'm a shrink!
A friend of mine did a doctoral dissertation on the application of the traits associated with s'firat ha Omer. She then gave a shiur on it for our community, last week. I wasn't here to hear it (busy watching the famed Off-Broadway production of "Made Up" with its luminous star) but I've been listening to the tape. Am I cynical or ignorant or crazy when I hear her talking about too-abstract differences between "tiferet of tiferet" (compassion of compassion--!!!) and "yesod of yesod," "bonding in bonding"?? I just start to laugh when such terms call up the notion of....forgive me; it's something I know next-to-nothing about...S & M???
OK, just focus on moving up. On getting closer to God. On each of the characteristics possible. One way is to look at it is through the idea of moving from barley to wheat--ie the most animal of grains to the most refined, the one from which we make bread, the symbol of human cooperation (as my children have heard repeated to guests at our Shabbat table innumerable times). We move from the flat, non-egotistical bread of affliction for Pesach to the risen loaves with their delicate texture.
HELP. This doesn't enlighten me. Humility is a basic Jewish aspiration. Why is it better to be "puffed up" at Shavuot when it's so derided at Pesach?
Then there's the kabbalistic association of the Omer with body parts--that first we work from the top of the body down to actualize the midot, (characteristics) so that in the end we have completion. NOOOOO, we don't actually get complete, because just a few weeks later we go into mourning, followed shortly by a month, Ellul, when we repent for our massive quantities of sins...maybe by then they're completed sins.

I hope this is not heresy. It is with the greatest respect, but sometimes with giggles at its silliness, that I approach this character refinement during the Omer. I know the readers of this blog will be able to enlighten me with their stories of being able to elevate themselves each day, conquering a new area of perfection...say, malchut of Tiferet.
After all, it's that wonderful time, that rebirthing time when we gather our families together and repeat the age-old tale of our release by God from the slavery of body and spirit in Egypt.
For me, the joy is in the daffodils, the trees that two weeks ago were sticks now woolly with white blossoms. The tulips opening with brilliant color, and the spring green of tiny leaves straining forth in new life. A time to refresh, a time to rejuvenate. A time to take LOTS of photos because these days are precious, these moments never to be repeated.
Pesach kasher v'sameach, and maybe you can help me as I struggle to apply all the learning I've done on s'firat ha Omer over countless hours--with far less satisfaction and progress than I'd like to attain.


  1. Hello! I have only completed the entire sefirah counting once, and that was in my year in Israel. I made this whole art-project chart thing and hung it by my bed and I made a slip of paper for each day with the bracha written at the top of the whole thing and then the words for each specific day on each slip of paper and then when I said it, I'd rip the slip of paper off. It really worked because even if I totally wasn't thinking about it, I'd see the chart and be like, "Oh," and just read the bracha off the chart.
    It sounds a bit juvenile, I guess, but it really worked, which was the awesome thing.
    I totally hear you about not liking the whole touchy-feely-ness of ideas behind each day of sefirah. I don't really focus on that so much, I try to focus more on just remembering to count every day. I guess everyone relates differently to it. Personally, I think it's an amazing accomplishment to do the whole thing with a bracha, even without concentrating on what each day is supposed to me. It sort of reigns my thoughts in and focuses them on Hashem and the Torah more often than they might be otherwise.
    Good luck counting this year!

  2. Thank you erachet--your comments are brilliant--and helpful. I subscribed to the OU email reminder to count, but I am still grappling with applying all the underlying meanings. For now, I'm going to lay it aside and focus on the daily tasks at hand.
    G-d willing, we'll have next year to improve our understanding!