A Meditation for Channeling Blessing

During 5781, a group of Bayit builders, led by R. Cynthia Hoffman, is studying the writings of the Baal Shem Tov. First and foremost we’re studying “lishma,” for the sake of the learning itself. We’re also keeping an eye out for short teachings that might give rise to practices, tools, and spiritual technologies for our time. 

Drawing on the Baal Shem Tov

The blessing that Isaac gives to Jacob in this week’s parsha, Toldot, includes this prayer for abundance: “May God give you of the dew of heaven and the fat of the earth, abundance of new grain and wine.” (Genesis 27:28)

Riffing on the idea of abundance, the Baal Shem Tov quotes Brachot 17b, in which a Bat Kol (a divine voice) proclaims, “The whole world is nourished bishvil / for the sake of My son Chanina, and for My son Chanina, a small measure of carob suffices from one Shabbat to the next.” (Chanina ben Dosa was a first-century sage and miracle worker.) 

The Baal Shem Tov reads bishvil (for the sake of) creatively as b’shvil, “in the path of.” That shift transforms the Gemara reference: now it’s saying that the whole world is nourished by a path or a conduit, e.g. a conduit for drawing down abundance for the world. This is the role of a tzaddik, says the Baal Shem Tov: to be a sh’vil (path) and conduit for drawing down blessing. With their deeds, a tzaddik can draw down the great flow of abundant blessing for the whole world. 

Our job is to seek to be tzaddikim — to act with justice and righteousness — so that we can become conduits for abundance and blessing. The spiritual uplift that we find in this practice can nourish us from one Shabbat to the next, like Chanina ben Dosa finding in his measure of carob enough sweetness to carry him through the week.

 

#BeALight* Meditative practice for after havdalah:

Sit comfortably with your palms facing up on your lap. Plant your feet on the floor. Feel yourself rooted in the earth.

Bring your attention up your body to the crown of your head. Set the conscious intention of opening your crown, like a faucet turning, opening yourself to the flow of blessing, as though it were coming in through your kippah. 

Imagine blessing flowing into you. Feel it filling you up. Feel it now emanating from your feet, sinking into the earth like rain. Feel it now emanating from your hands into the world.

Choose a justice-oriented act you will take in the new week. Resolve to perform that action with this flow of blessing coming through you. Set the intention of finding sweetness in that act, so that in addition to whomever this act helps in the world, it will also enliven you.

When you’re ready, gently close the faucet — not shutting off the flow of blessing, but putting a lid on your own structural integrity so you can return to paying attention to the world. 

 

*more on #BeALight

 

Source: Baal Shem Tov on Toldot, comments 8 and 9.

 

Graceful Beauty / Graceful Masculinity: Chayyei Sarah

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה שָׁנָה וְעֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה וְשֶׁבַע שָׁנִים–שְׁנֵי, חַיֵּי שָׂרָה.

The life of Sarah was one hundred years, and twenty years, and seven years, these were the years of Sarah’s life. (Genesis 23:1)

The parsha opens with the story of Sarah’s death, but it begins with a description of her life. There are two unusual aspects to this verse, both of which have made it a particularly fruitful site for exegesis. First there is the fact that the verse references the life of Sarah twice. Rashi explains that the repetition is coming to praise her, and teach us that the years of her life “were all equal for goodness.” The first word, וַיִּהְיוּ, is a palindrome reflecting this teaching that from beginning to end, and everything in between, Sarah’s life was equally good. This is an unusual assertion as Sarah’s life certainly had its ups and downs. After struggling with infertility for decades, miraculously having a son at 90 must have felt like a life changing experience. The first word of the verse, having a numerical value of 37, also signifies this distinction by highlighting her 37 years of being a mother. 

The Sefas Emes1 writes that Sarah’s days were all equally good because she was able to place G-d in front of her, always. Her clarity and awareness of G-d’s presence was so real and consistent, it was powerful enough to heal from the trauma of the original sin. R’ Gedilah Schorr taught that this is alluded to in the verse “She bestows goodness, never evil, all the days of her life.”2 There was no mixture. Nothing impure.

Second, our verse also notes that Sarah was one hundred years and twenty years and seven years old, instead of saying more efficiently that she was one hundred and twenty-seven years old. Rashi comments that this alludes to the fact that when she was 20 years old she was like a seven year old with regard to beauty. Admittedly it is a very strange compliment. What is the Torah trying to teach us is praising her in this way?

Sarah’s beauty is lauded repeatedly in the Torah, prompting Abraham to fear that he would be killed by men who coveted her. The Talmud3 explains that one of the reasons that Sarah was also called Yischah, in Genesis 11:29, was because everyone wanted to gaze at her beauty.4 Yet despite her reputation for being gorgeous, the Midrash5 claims that Abraham eulogized Sarah with the words from King Solomon’s Woman of Valor6  which include: “Grace (Chein) is false and beauty meaningless, but a woman who is God fearing should be praised.” Why is the Torah focusing on Sarah’s beauty if ultimately, beauty is not of true value?

The Torah is not singing her praises as much as it is praising her song. Whether high or low, she is consistently connecting to G-d. The rabbis observe7 that the word for song שיר / shir  is the same letters as straight ישר / yashar. Songs, like life, consist of changes. Wherever we are, we can respond by connecting straight to G-d. The Talmud8 explains the verse in Psalms9“I will sing of loving-kindness and justice; unto You, O Lord, will I sing praises” to mean: If it is loving-kindness, I will sing, and if it is justice, I will sing.

Sarah was exceptionally beautiful because she presented as the purest form of the divine image, like the natural holiness of a child. Expressing that connection constantly is what made her life good. When the physical is elevated, in service of heaven, then the physical is also praiseworthy, because it is being used as a tool for spirituality.

Rabbi Akiva teaches10 that Esther merited to rule over 127 provinces of the Persian Empire because she was the descendant of Sarah who lived 127 years.  Sarah modeled an embodied revelation of the hidden that continues to give strength, especially in the hard times of exile and G-d’s hiding.

Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov11(1783-1841) explains that Rebecca and Miriam also had this spiritual beauty that inspired people to connect more deeply to G-d. Unlike the superficial beauty, true chein/grace produces a transcendent attraction that draws us closer to G-d, and to a deeper understanding of each other. 

We read this Parsha on the Shabbat that we bless the upcoming month of Kislev. In Hebrew כסלו is understood as כס-לו a covering for the 36 hidden lights of Chanukah which we experience at the end of the month. Each month is connected to a different order of the four letters of G-’s name. Kislev’s is organized ויה-ה 12 the same as the last letter in the first four words of our initial verse, וַיִּהְיוּ חַיֵּי שָׂרָה, מֵאָה and corresponds to the mourning of Jacob,13 who is brought for burial in the cave on Chanukah.14

As we enter into the dark winter months, may the light of our connection to the Divine shine forth and bring true beauty to the world.

 

1.656

2. Proverbs 31:12

3. Bavli Megillah 14a

4.Another reason that is offered is that she saw with Divine Spirit

5. Tanchuma 4

6. Proverbs 31:10

7. Sefas Emes 633 Beshalach

8. Bavli Brachos 60b

9. 101:1

10. Bereishit Rabbah 58:3

11. Igra D’Kallah

12. Beni Yissascher M’1

13. Genesis 50:11 וַיַּרְא יוֹשֵׁב הָאָרֶץ הַכְּנַעֲנִי

14. Emunas Asecha

 

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

Running With Grace / Graceful Masculinity: Vayeira

וַיֹּאמַר:  אֲדֹנָי, אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ–אַל-נָא תַעֲבֹר, מֵעַל עַבְדֶּךָ.

And he said, “my lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass from before your servant.” (Genesis 18:3)

 

Vayeira begins as Avraham, recovering from his recent circumcision, is conversing with G-d in a prophetic state. Suddenly, Avraham lifts up his eyes and sees three angels, presenting as men, approaching. He runs to greet them and then says, “My Lord, if I have found grace in your eyes, please do not pass from before your servant.”

With whom is Avraham speaking? If he is speaking to the three men, why does he address them in the singular?  Rashi offers two understandings of Avraham’s words. First Rashi suggests that Avraham is speaking to the three men, but he is addressing the most important of the three and that is why he says “my lord.” Then Rashi shares an intriguing, alternative approach. Avraham is actually speaking with G-d, asking G-d to wait while he goes to welcome the potential guests.

Based on this understanding of the verse, the Talmud teaches1 that “Welcoming guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence”. But if Avraham is asking G-d not to pass on from him, why does he first run to the three men? Would it not make more sense to take his leave of G-d and then run to greet his guests? Also, how did Avraham know that it was acceptable to keep G-d waiting in order to service guests? 

The Ramchal frames2 all of character development as an attempt to better understand G-d in order to act as G-d would act. “Walking in G-d’s ways – this includes all matters of uprightness and correction of character traits.” He explains that is what the Talmud3 means when it teaches “Just as God is full of grace and compassion, we should similarly be merciful and compassionate.4

The commentators5 observe that Talmud could have simply taught that we should be graceful and compassionate because G-d is, but instead the Talmud links our actions to G-d’s by making them conditional to be G-d like. In other words, the more we study and come to know G-d and the appropriate applications of G-d’s attributes, the more similar we can be to G-d.

Abraham started his quest to understand G-d very early on and now, 96 years later, he had perfected his body to be aligned with the Divine Will. R’ Nosson Gestetner writes that Avraham’s 248 limbs were so attuned to their corresponding 248 positive commandments that his body naturally was performing in G-dly ways. 

As soon as his feet began to run towards the guests, he assumed that was what God wanted him to do. Because G-d is charitable, Avraham knew that he was also meant to be. Perhaps our verse should be understood as a question of approbation, after having left the prophetic state, asking “If I have found grace in Your eyes, if I have understood You correctly, this is what You want me to do – If I have properly found your way of gracefulness, please don’t leave me because I am not leaving you.” Avraham wasn’t just walking in G-d’s ways, but he was running!

Our relationship with G-d, however asymmetrical, is still reciprocal. Whatever Abraham did for his angelic guests himself, G-d performed directly for Abraham’s descendants. But whatever was done through a messenger, G-d also performed indirectly; mida k’neged mida, measure for measure.  This principal can also be understood, homiletically, as reflecting G-d’s Midos, character traits. The more we understand G-d the more we can be like G-d, and then the more G-d shares G-d’s self in relationship with us. 

Perhaps the mitzvah of welcoming strangers is the example given because one of the ways that we come to better understand G-d is by seeing different aspects of G-d in other people. It is now also a way to express to G-d, like Abraham did, that we come closer to  G-d by treating people with kindness.

 


1. Bavli Shavuot 35b

2. Introduction to Path of the Just

3. Talmud Bavli Shabbat 133b

4.Rashi explains this teaching about grace, from Abba Shaul on the verse in Exodus of זה א-לי ואנוהו, through the etymology ואנוהו = אני והוא, me and G-d – that we should make ourselves like G-d by doing as God does, adding to the Braisa’s understanding of אנוהו as the act of beautifying a mitzvah

5. בלבבי משכן אבנה

 

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah by R’ David Markus

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi David Markus. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

 

Hola mis amigos.  Desde mi corazón en Nueva York al vuestro en Cuba, envío mis bendiciones para esta sagrada temporada de “lo que viene después”.

“Lo que viene después” es nuestra eterna pregunta humana y también es nuestra pregunta espiritual para este mes.  Es una pregunta sagrada no porque este mes contenga fiestas sagradas, sino justamente por la razón contraria.

En nuestro calendario laico, es noviembre.  Escasamente puedo creer que ha sido un año entero desde mi visita a Cuba.  Aún un año después siento cuán viva se sentía Cuba en Noviembre comparado con Nueva York.  El poeta británico Thomas Hood escribió que todas las cosas más bellas terminan en noviembre.

Sin calor, ni alegría, ni saludable facilidad,

Sin sensación cómodo en ningún miembro-

Sin sombra, sin brillo, sin mariposas ni abejas,

Sin frutas, sin flores, sin hojas, sin aves,

Noviembre!

Pero no en Cuba.  Y no sólo por el clima.  Especialmente en medio de la dificultad, la comunidad judía de Cuba compartió  su tesón, su pasión, su espíritu de bienvenida y su propio ser.  Nos fuimos cambiados para siempre.  Parte de nuestros corazones todavía está con ustedes, especialmente ahora en medio de la adversidad que azota a gran parte del mundo.

Así que es especialmente significativo que este noviembre comience en el medio del mes judío de Jeshvan.  Jeshván es nuestro único mes sin fiestas-  sin tiempo sagrado dedicado a nuestros rituales, reuniones, devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje.  Después del intenso mes judío de Tishré, lleno de fiestas como Rosh Hashaná, Yom Kippur, Sukkot y más, súbitamente ya no hay más.

A veces la sabiduría más grande del judaísmo es sutil: el judaísmo nos enseña no sólo a través de las grandes fiestas y proclamaciones sino también a través de lo que el profeta Elías experimentó como la “tranquila voz susurrante” de nuestro interior.

Igualmente con Jeshván.  Un mes entero con una súbita ausencia de fiestas judías nos enseña que la vida judía no gravita alrededor de las fiestas.  Más bien, la vida judía tiene que ver con nuestro día a día, la rutina aparente con la que interactuamos los unos con los otros.  El judaísmo gravita alrededor de nuestra devoción, orgullo, alegría, dolor, ansia y aprendizaje a través de todo nuestra vida, y no sólo en ocasiones especiales.

Sí, las ocasiones especiales son jusatmente eso: especiales.  Son oportunidades especiales para reunirnos y celebrar, especialmente cuando el esfuerzo implicado en reunirnos es física y económicamente desafiante.

En contraste, Jeshván centra nuestra atención en el judaísmo y las mitzvot (mandamientos) de la vida judía en el resto del tiempo, ya que no vivimos sólo para las fiestas.  En efecto, vivimos todos los días. Vivimos para nuestras familias y amigos, para tener oportunidades de aprender, para tratarnos bien los unos a los otros, para buscar y encontrar gratitud por nuestras bendiciones así sean pequeñas, para la alegría de celebrar shabbat cada semana.  Buscamos y, a veces, incluso encontramos lo sagrado en nuestras vidas cotidianas.

Tal vez ese sea el secreto judío para sobrevivir y prosperar a través de los siglos.  Nuestro secreto está en nuestras fiestas compartidas, pero más aún en vivir nuestra identidad orgullosamente, nuestra misión y nuestro credo todos los días.  Que este Jeshván, el mes sin fiestas judías, nos recuerde que el amor, la alegría y el sentido de nuestra vida judía nos aguarda en cada día, en cada alma, en cada lugar y en cada momento.

Hello, my friends.  From my heart in New York to yours across Cuba, I send blessings for this sacred season of “what comes next.”

“What comes next,” our eternally human question, also is our spiritual question this month. It’s a sacred question not because this month brings sacred Jewish holidays, but precisely for the opposite reason.

In our secular calendar, it’s November.  I barely can believe that it’s been a whole year since my community and I visited Cuba.  Even a year later, I feel how alive Cuba’s November felt compared to New York.  British poet Thomas Hood wrote that most everything beautiful ends in November:

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member—
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds,
November!

But not in Cuba – and not only because of climate.  Especially amidst hardship, the Jewish communities of Cuba shared with us your resilience, your passion, your welcoming spirit and your very selves.  We left changed forever. Part of our hearts still is with you, especially now amidst continuing adversity for so much of the world.
So it’s especially poignant that this November begins midway into Judaism’s spiritual month of Cheshvan.  Cheshvan is our only month with no holidays – no specially sacred times to focus our rituals, gatherings, devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning or learning.  After Judaism’s intense month of Tishrei full of holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and more, suddenly there are none.
Sometimes our Jewish tradition’s greatest wisdom is subtle: Judaism teaches us not only in the big festivals and proclamations but also in what Elijah the prophet experienced as “the still, small voice” inside.
So too with Cheshvan. A whole month’s sudden absence of Jewish festivals can teach us that Jewish life actually isn’t about festivals at all. Rather, Jewish life is mostly about our day to day, our seemingly routine of how we treat each other. Judaism is about our devotion, pride, joy, grief, yearning and learning together throughout our lives, not just on special occasions.
Yes, special occasions are just that – special.  They’re special opportunities to gather together and celebrate, especially when the effort of gathering can be physically and economically challenging.
But Cheshvan focuses us on our Judaism, and mitzvot (commandments) of Jewish life the rest of the time, because we don’t live only for festivals. After all, we live each day.  We live for our families and friends, for chances to learn, for treating each other well, for seeking and finding gratitude for blessings however small, for joyfully making Shabbat every week.  We seek and sometimes even find the sacred in our daily lives.
Maybe that’s Judaism’s secret of surviving and thriving over the centuries.  Our secret is partly in our shared festivals, but mostly in pridefully living our identity, our calling and our creed every day.  May this Cheshvan, this month with no Jewish holidays, remind us that the love, joy and meaning of Jewish life await us every day, in every soul, in every place and in every moment.
By Rabbi David Markus. Translation by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Covenantal Grace / Graceful Masculinity: Lech Lecha

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

 

 וַיְהִי אַבְרָם, בֶּן-תִּשְׁעִים שָׁנָה וְתֵשַׁע שָׁנִים; וַיֵּרָא יְקוָק אֶל-אַבְרָם, וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אֲנִי-קל שַׁקי–הִתְהַלֵּךְ לְפָנַי, וֶהְיֵה תָמִים.

When Abram was ninety-nine years old, Hashem appeared to Abram and said to him. “I am El Shaddai; walk before me and be perfect.” (Genesis 17:1)

God commands Abraham to be entirely perfect. It is difficult to perfect one’s body and soul as the partnership between them is naturally contentious. The body is formed from the earth and the soul from Heaven, and each yearns towards its source. Without work, they will be in opposition to each other. This lack of harmony, according to the Sefas Emes, is the deficiency that bris mila, circumcision, comes to fix.1 Circumcision takes a site of physical desire, and consecrates it for spiritual purpose. 

The commentators famously ask “If Abraham kept the Torah,2 even though it had not yet been given on Mount Sinai, why did he wait to be commanded to be circumcised?” One simple answer might be that circumcision is more than a physical act. It is the instantiation of covenant. You can’t enter into such an intimate space  — the space of covenant —  without the consent of the other. Circumcision reminds us of the holiness of actions being determined by the will of another. Until G-d said “I want you …,” it couldn’t be fulfilled.

For bodies to whom circumcision applies, circumcision allies the body to the soul, which provides a continuity of our actions. The temporary nature of the physical world gains permanence through a spiritual attachment. The Bris Kehunas Olam observes an allusion to this in the verse (Psalms 144:4) “ימיו כצל עובר / His days are like a passing shadow.” In Hebrew, the phrase has a numerical value of 484; the same as “body-soul” גוף נשמה. With the sixth letter vuv, “ו” the conjunction “and,” it equals תמים, perfect. The Zohar says the letter “vuv” alludes to the site of the bris milah. The soul is connected and partnered with the body.

The early mystical work Sefer Yetzirah3 writes that there are actually two covenants: a covenant of speech, and the covenant of circumcision. “When Abraham our father looked…G-d made a covenant between the ten fingers of his hands – this is the covenant of the tongue, and between the ten toes of his feet – this is the covenant of circumcision, and G-d bound the 22 letters of the Torah…”

A fascinating observation is made by Ohr Tzvi. The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet can map to the body. Starting with the toes of the right foot, those letters represent א-ה. The next letter vuv, “ו”, is the “covenant between the toes” or the place of circumcision between the legs. If we continue to count the next five toes of the left foot, these are then aligned with ז-כ. The count then moves to the five fingers of the right hand ל-ע, and then to the mouth which is between the hands, which correlates with the Hebrew letter פה, which actually means mouth and represents the covenant of the tongue. We conclude with the five fingers of the left hand צ-ת. So all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet are represented on the the body. And this connects the covenant of the tongue with the covenant of circumcision.

The Talmud4 relates that right before Rebbe, the redactor of the Mishna, passed away, “he raised his ten fingers toward Heaven and said: Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that I toiled with my ten fingers in the Torah, and I have not derived any benefit from the world even with my small finger.” Reb Tzodok HaKohen explains this Gemara as a reference to being faithful to the covenant.5

The holiness of circumcision is dependent on speech. The numerical value of פה / mouth is equal to that of מילה / circumcision. King David writes in Psalms “grace/chein is poured on to your lips.” (Psalm 45:3) Perfection of speech requires mastering how to speak, when appropriate, but also mastering when to be silent.6 Noach found grace and was called “perfect” in his generation. He is also praised for his use of sensitive speech.7 However, he was deficient in that he didn’t use language to help those around him to improve themselves and be saved from the flood.

The Magid points out that the measurements that the Torah gives for Noah’s ark: 30, 300, and 50 spell “לשן”, speech/tongue — but the word is missing the “ו”, vuv. Noah wasn’t connecting to others through speech the way he should have, and in the end that manifests in a defilement of his body.8

Correctly using our mouth involves both putting words out into the world through speech, and silence in holding words back. This dynamic of expansion and containment is reflected in the two covenants. Rashi says that G-d’s name E-l Shaddai is the name of G-d used in the passage about circumcision because there is די / dai  (sufficient) divinity for all. Yet the Talmud9 relates that the dai in the name E-l Shaddai is also in the context of G-d saying to the creation of the world: “that is enough.”  How can the same name of G-d refer both to G-d’s relationship with the world as limitless but also contained?

Chein / grace is produced by expanding the holiness of our spiritual connections, elevating the mundane and each other, while minimizing the physical that could be in opposition with the spiritual. Pursuing perfection comes from increasing our awareness of the Divine Presence, knowing that when we attach ourselves to G-d, we are made for each other.

 

1. Rashi here shares an interpretation that this verse is referring to the commandment to be circumcised.
2. Yoma 28a
3. Sefer Yetzirah 6:7
4. Bavli Ketubot 104a
5. Takanas HaShavin
6. Sefas Emes succot
7. Pesachim 3a
8. Genesis 20:9
9. Chagigah 12a

 

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. The text follows the video, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation.

 

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

 

Shalom javerim.  Espero que sus Altas Fiestas hayan sido dulces y significativas.

En este mes, llega la fiesta de Simjat Torá, cuyo nombre significa “la alegría de la Torá.”  Cuando leemos la Torá todos los sábados, leemos todas las porciones de la Torá salvo la última, la cual se llama “Vezot Haberajá”, “ésta es la bendición.”  Esta porción final de la Torá contiene la última bendición que Moisés da a los Hijos de Israel y la muerte de Moisés mismo.  Esta porción no es leída en Shabbat, sino en Simjat Torá.

Y al leerla hacemos algo inesperado: pasamos inmediatamente del final de la Torá al comienzo.  Pasamos de la muerte de Moises a final de Deuteronomio directamente a la creación del Cosmos al comienzo del Génesis.  ¿Tal vez se pregunten por qué?

Una respuesta es que la muerte de Moisés es una historia triste.  La Torá nos dice: “Nunca más se alzó un profeta como Moisés.” Moisés fue nuestro más grande profeta, y ahora se ha ido.  Los sabios de nuestra tradición no querían dejarnos en la tristeza de esa pérdida.  Así que nos instruyeron a seguir inmediatamente con el comienzo del Génesis. Esto nos recuerda que esa pérdida no es el final de la historia– de ninguna historia. Todo final ofrece un nuevo comienzo. 

Otra respuesta es que al conectar el final de nuestra historia con el comienzo de nuestra historia aprendemos algo profundo sobre la tradición judía y sobre la Toŕa misma.

La última letra de la Torá es lamed, la cual termina la palabra Yisrael, nuestro nombre como comunidad y como pueblo.  La primera letra de la Torá es la letra bet, la cual comienza la palabra Bereshit.  “En el comienzo”, o “en un comienzo” o “al comenzar Dios a crear el cielo y la tierra…”

Cuando viajamos del final de la Torá al comienzo de la Torá, la última lamed y la primera bet, forman la palabra “lev”, “corazón”. El corazón de la Torá encontramos el amor.

Esta es una metáfora. ¡Y también es la simple y llana verdad! El verso que aparece en la mitad del libro medio del rollo es “amarás a tu prójimo como a ti mismo.”  Esta es llamada a veces “la mitzvá del Creador”.  Todas las 613 mitzvot vienen de Dios, pero esta ocupa un lugar especial en la tradición porque es, literalmente, el corazón de la Torá.  Esta mitzvá evoca el acto original de creación de DIos – un acto motivado, dicen nuestros místicos, por el amor y el deseo de estar en relación con nosotros.

En Simjat Torá conectamos el final con el comienzo y encontramos “lev”: el corazón amante de la Torá.

Hay amor en nuestros finales y hay amor en nuestros comienzos.  Hay amor que nos conecta con la Torá y amor que nos conecta los unos con los otros.  Hay amor en nuestro ocuparnos los unos de los otros y ocuparnos de nuestras tradiciones.  Como Rebekah Langus nos enseñó cuando visitamos Cienfuegos el otoño pasado, la labor de mantener una comunidad judía es una labor de amor.  Si nos ocupamos de nuestros semejantes y de nuestras tradiciones en soledad, corremos el riesgo de caer en el resentimiento y el cansancio.  Pero cuando nos ocupamos los unos de los otros y de nuestras tradiciones con amor, entonces este cuidado nos eleva colectivamente. 

En Simjat Torá, nos alegramos por el amor por nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos por el amor que llena nuestra historia compartida. Nos alegramos en nuestra habilidad de comenzar nuestra historia de nuevo al comenzar un nuevo año.  Y nos alegramos en la habilidad de superar el dolor para poder comenzar de nuevo, del ir del caos a crear algo nuevo con nuestros corazones y nuestras manos.  Esta es la tarea de la vida espiritual, y es la labor que ustedes conocen muy bien. 

Aun cuando comenzamos con ruptura, pérdida o caos, podemos construir algo mucho mejor con amor.  Tal vez ésta sea la bendición a la cual hace referencia el nombre de la última porción de la Torá: Vezot Haberajá.  No importa cuántas peŕdidas tengamos en nuestra historia, no importa cuáles sean nuestros desafíos, siempre podemos comenzar de nuevo, juntos, con amor. 

Que así sea en este nuevo año, para ustedes y para todos nosotros. 

 

 

Shalom chaverim! I hope your High Holidays were meaningful and sweet.

This month we reach the festival of Simchat Torah, whose name means “Rejoicing in the Torah.” When we read the Torah week by week, we read every Torah portion except for the final one, which is called V’Zot Ha-Brakha, “This Is The Blessing.” That final Torah portion contains the final blessing that Moses gives to the children of Israel, and it contains the death of Moses. We do not read this Torah portion on Shabbat. We only read it at Simchat Torah. 

And we do something strange when we read it: we move immediately from the end of Torah to the beginning. We go from Moses’ death at the end of Deuteronomy directly to the creation of the cosmos at the start of Genesis. Maybe some of you are wondering: why? 

One answer is that the death of Moses is a sad story. Torah tells us “Never again did there arise a prophet like Moses.” Moses was our greatest prophet, and now he is gone. The sages of our tradition didn’t want to leave us in the sadness of that loss. So they instructed us to move directly from there to the start of Genesis. This reminds us that loss is not the end of the story — any story. Every ending can also be a new beginning.

Another answer is that in linking the end of our story with the beginning of our story, we learn something deep about Jewish tradition and about Torah itself. 

The final letter in the Torah is the letter lamed, which ends the word Yisrael, our name as a community and a people. The first letter in the Torah is the letter bet, which begins the word B’reishit, “In the beginning,” or “in a beginning,” or “as God was beginning to create heavens and earth…” 

When we move from Torah’s end to Torah’s beginning, the closing lamed and opening bet form the word lev, “heart.” The heart of Torah is love. 

This is a metaphor. And it is also plain truth! The verse that appears in the very middle of the middle book of the scroll is “Love your neighbor as yourself.” This is sometimes called The Mitzvah Of The Creator. All 613 mitzvot come from God, but this one occupies a special place in the tradition because it is literally at Torah’s heart. This mitzvah evokes God’s initial act of creation — motivated, our mystics say, by love, and by the desire to be in relationship with us.

At Simchat Torah we link ending with beginning and find lev, Torah’s loving heart. 

There is love in our endings and love in our beginnings. There is love in what connects us with Torah, and love in what connects us with each other. There is love in our care for each other and our care for our traditions. As Rebekah Langus taught us when we visited Cienfuegos last autumn, the work of sustaining Jewish community is the work of love. If we tend to each other and our traditions out of duty alone, we may become resentful and depleted. But when we care for each other and for our traditions with love, then that care lifts us up together. 

At Simchat Torah, we rejoice in our love of our shared story. We rejoice in the love that fills our shared story. We rejoice in our ability to begin our story again as we begin a new year. And we rejoice in our ability to move from loss to starting over, from chaos to creating something new with our own hearts and hands. This is the work of spiritual life, and it is work that you know well. 

Even when we begin with brokenness, or loss, or chaos, we can build something better together with love. Maybe this is the blessing referenced in that final Torah portion’s name, V’Zot Ha-Bracha. No matter what losses are in our story, no matter what challenges are in our story, we always get to begin again, together, with love. 

May it be so in this new year, for you and for us all.

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Having Something Graceful to Say / Graceful Masculinity: Devarim

 

אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן:  בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין-פָּארָן וּבֵין-תֹּפֶל, וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת–וְדִי זָהָב.

These are the words that Moses spoke to all of Israel, across the Jordan, in the wilderness, in the Plain, opposite the Sea of Reeds, between Paran and Tophel and Laban, and Hazeroth and Di-zahab. (Deuteronomy 1:1)

 

The book of Deuteronomy consists almost entirely of one exceedingly long speech delivered by Moses at the end of his life. The speech is so long that Midrash Tanchuma reports the Israelites saying, “Yesterday you said ‘I’m not a man of words”, and now you have SO much to say!”1

The people listen to all of Moses’ words. And as we read Deuteronomy between now and Simchat Torah, we listen as well. Moses does have a lot to say, and much of it is a rebuke to the Israelites for their misbehavior during the previous forty years. In our own time of great division and non-communication, we can learn a lot from Moses’ unifying final words.

Moses’ wordiness here appears out of character. In Egypt, Aaron was the talker and Moses described himself as having sealed lips (aral sefatayim). Yet over the course of their journey through the wilderness, Aaron has learned to be silent (Leviticus 10:3) and Moses has learned to speak. Rashi, on the famous verse in Ecclesiastes 3:7 “there is a time to be silent and a time to talk,” references Aaron and Moses, in that order. Each leader was able to expand beyond their natural tendency when the time called for it.

Moses’ speech begins on the first day of the month of Shvat, just 36 days before his death.2 Deuteronomy, the fifth book in the Pentateuch, is called the Mishnah Torah by the Rabbis. It’s name, משנה, can be parsed מ’ שנה – forty years. This marks the fact that 40 years have passed since Moses received the Torah at Sinai, and the children of Israel have been wandering in the wilderness for 40 years. It also alludes to the 40 generations from Moshe to Rebbe Yehudah HaNassi, who redacts the Mishna that becomes the basis of our Talmud.3

The letter מ is also the first and last letter of the Oral Law. The first mishnah in the first tractate begins with the word מאימתי and the last word of the last tractate ends with the word שלום.  (me’amatai and shalom). The two מ’s together have the numerical value of 80 which corresponds to the Hebrew letter פ – peh, the mouth. This book is understood as the Torah Sheba’al Peh, the Oral Torah, in that Moshe is teaching the Divine word differently than in the first four books.4 (Notably, in his retelling, some things are different than the first time around.)

Just as it was necessary for everyone to be united by the revelation at Sinai, here also it is essential for the community to be unified in hearing Moses’ words. Rav Wolfson in his work Emunat Atich explains that all of Israel needed to be present at the same time, not just to hear Moses, but also to teach and learn from each other.5 The letter ל / lamed appears at the end of each word in the phrase אל כל ישראל, (al kol Yisrael, “to all of Israel”) and that letter  ל is the root of the word לימוד / limud, meaning learning.

Today we often place ourselves in siloed, self-selected groups with the goal of having easy conversations with like-minded people. In contrast, Moses gathers all of the people, all together, for a difficult conversation. Rashi, citing the Sifrei, explains why it is crucial that everyone be present at the same time: if some folks were in the marketplace during Moses’ speech they would claim that had they been there, they could have refuted Moses. Moses speaks to everyone, engaging them with an opportunity for each individual to disagree and speak up if they choose.

The Zohar6 attributes Moshe’s success to his chein (grace) and connects him to the verse in Psalms 45:3 “grace is poured upon your lips”. The distinction between lips and speech is significant. The mystics7 observe five distinct body parts integral to speech: the (1) throat, (2) palate, (3) tongue, (4) teeth, and (5) lips. Of the 22 letters of the Hebrew Alphabet, only 4 letter sounds are articulated by the lips.8

The Sefas Emes9notes that lips are unusual in that they serve two speech functions. They both create sound, and prevent sound from leaving the mouth. Moshe uses his lips expertly. He speaks when he has something to say and is silent when he does not. 

The Sefas Emes also understands the two lips as working in counterpoint together. He says the lips allude to Moses and Aaron; and later, Hillel and Shammai. The two lips also represent different attributes. Silence is din (judgement) and talking is rachamim (mercy). The Written Torah represents strictness of the law, while the Oral Torah represents mercy and compassion.10

Compassionate speech doesn’t mean indulging in one’s own desire to talk, but rather creating opportunities for people to truly hear what needs to be said. Moses’ authenticity of being, reliability of presence, and consistency of selflessness allow the words that come from his heart to enter the hearts of others. Like Moses, we must lead with love, and learn from each other.

 

Discussion questions:

 

How can we determine when we should speak and when be silent?

Is it ok to rebuke someone for doing something we ourselves do?

When someone isn’t likely to listen to what we have to say, should we still say it?

Why might the Hebrew word for “thing” דבר – davar, be the same word for speech, debar?

 


1. Tanchuma 2

2. אלה = ל”ו

3. Megaleh Amukos 246

4.Zohar Genesis 28:10

5. This is reflected in talmudic discussion about the proximity of teaching; even though some don’t learn from the juxtaposition of verses, in the first four books, here they do.

6. Parshas Bo

7. Sefer Yetzirah 2:3

8. בומ”פ

9. Succos 654-6

10.עיין ספר הזכות: לא איש דברים אנכי ס”ת שמאי, הוא יהיה לך לפה ר”ת הילל

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

 

Coming Closer Through Protest / Graceful Masculinity – Balak

Part of a periodic Torah series on graceful masculinity and Jewish values.

וַיִּשָּׂ֥א מְשָׁל֖וֹ וַיֹּאמַ֑ר נְאֻ֤ם בִּלְעָם֙ בְּנ֣וֹ בְעֹ֔ר וּנְאֻ֥ם הַגֶּ֖בֶר שְׁתֻ֥ם הָעָֽיִן׃

He declaimed his parable and said: ”The words of Bilaam son of Beor, the words of the man who is shetum ha-ayin .” (Numbers 24:3)

 

Bilaam, the famous Midianite prophet, is described as shetum ha-ayin, understood by some commentaries as sharp-sighted, and by others as half-blind. Indeed, what Bilaam sees and does not see is critical to his appraisal of the people of Israel. 

At first, never having laid eyes on Israel, he agrees to try and curse them. Later, having caught a glimpse of Israel, he is moved to bless them. Then gazing on them fully, he blesses them so powerfully that his words become the start of our daily prayers – mah tovu ohalecha Yaakov, how goodly are your tents, Jacob.

This trajectory is what we always hope for – that when we know each other better, we will be less prejudiced and more loving. The Torah is filled with examples of how it is easier to hate from afar. Joseph’s brothers see him from a distance and it is then that they plot to get rid of him. Esav wants to kill Jacob when he is not with him, but then when he actually confronts him he embraces and kisses him. 

Yet Bilaam is not understood by our tradition as an example of successful bridge-building. His prophecies, though gorgeous, are understood to lead to Israel’s subsequent sin at Shittim. As the midrash in Devarim Rabbah 1:2 explains:

One who protests/reproves a person will afterward find more grace than one who speaks with a smooth tongue (Proverbs 28:23)

One who protests/reproves – this is Moses . . .

Find more graceas it is said, You have found grace in My eyes (Exodus 33:12)

Than one who speaks with a smooth tonguethis is Bilaam who flattered Israel with his prophecies and their hearts filled with hubris and they sinned in Shittim.

Although Bilaam sees Israel and speaks beautifully about them, the Midrash complains that he does not authentically engage with them. His words are seen as superficial flattery that inflates Israel’s sense of self and leads them to a gruesome fall. By contrast, Moses has a trustworthy relationship with Israel, filled with love, expectations, and accountability.

Honest engagement is often uncomfortable. We hear and speak unpleasant truths. Yet the midrash says that one who protests/reproves finds more chen than who elides the discomfort. According to the midrash, these real, if awkward, conversations are the essence of chen. True grace requires an investment in growth.

Bilaam’s name is parsed by the Talmud as B’li Am, free from people. As a quintessential outsider, Bilaam had a unique perspective on the people of Israel. Had he been willing to do the emotional labor of having the difficult conversations with them, he would have helped them be better aware of themselves and advanced a more just coexistence.

Mishnah Avot 5:19 teaches that Bilaam is emblematic of the evil eye. He didn’t view himself as part of the collective, nor did he feel responsible for anyone else. The Torah teaches that the proper perspective is to see people as worthy of effort and investment as part of humanity’s development and evolution to a more perfect society. In doing so, we are partnering with G-d in the ongoing process of naese adom, “Let us make a person”. Humanity is more idyllically formed when we work together to elevate each other towards communal perfection. 

The midrash in Bemidbar Rabbah 2:12 observes the attitudinal difference that Moses and Bilaam have towards people. Biliam compares us to dust (Numbers 23:10), whereas Moses describes us as the stars in the sky (Deuteronomy 1:10). While both dust and stars are too numerous to count, Moses’s blessing reflects the aspirational reality that the closer we get to people, like stars, the greater they appear. 

At a time when many people are becoming mobilized to protest racial violence, police brutality, and LGBTQ inequality, we must be careful not to fall into Bilaam’s trap. We must expand beyond smooth slogans and superficial alliances and instead form deep coalitions based on relationship building and respectful dialogue. We must commit to working together with a deeper understanding of each other; listening tirelessly and consistently while devoutly showing up with a unifying love. Together, we can see one another more completely and stand up for each other more authentically, so that we may all be part of a more just world.

 

Discussion questions:

What are some ways to expand our relationships with communities that are different from our own?

Are there books or other sources of personal stories that have moved you to get more involved?

How would you advise someone who asks you why antisemitism exists and how to best respond to it?

What are some ways of framing rebuke in a loving way?

 

By Rabbis Wendy Amsellem and Mike Moskowitz.

The False Piety of All Lives Matter

“All of the nation is holy and G-d dwells within each of them.” (Numbers 16:3

Korach’s argument sounds compelling. At first glance, it’s not clear what he does wrong. Yet by the middle of the parsha, G-d is so angry with Korach that he and his followers are swallowed up by the earth. 

What did Korach do that was so bad? Korach’s “All Israel Matters” argument is a lie, because he’s not honest about what he’s really trying to achieve.

A close reading of the parsha reveals that Korach is a classic demagogue. His words draw people in, but his ultimate goal is his own aggrandizement. He is not seeking more power for the people, just more for himself. He convinces others to join him by alluding to a promise that G-d made to Israel in Exodus 19:6, “You will be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Korach cleverly clothes his power grab in a shimmer of truth.

Our rabbis teach that unless a lie begins with a little bit of truth, it will not be believed (Rashi, Num. 13:27). Korach crafts his words to appeal to the masses but they are ultimately revealed to be self-serving and soul-less. A similarly cynical message is being broadcast today by some in our society. They proudly proclaim, “All lives matter!” Of course it’s true, but like Korach’s opening cry, it masks the speakers’ actual objectives.

The appealing aspect of “All Lives Matter” is the superficial truth that of course every life is precious. But like Korach’s argument, these words are said not to achieve or advance equality, but rather to abrogate responsibility to protect the lives of people of color who are continually under the threat of racial violence. Saying “All Lives Matter” falsely posits that equality has already been achieved and change is unnecessary, and implies that there is no more work to be done.

Our tradition associates a refusal to participate in collective reckoning with the behavior of a wicked child. In the Haggadah, the wicked son wants to know, “Why should I be a part of this?” He asks his parent, “What is this work for you?” as if to exclude himself from the obligation of learning about systemic racism and systems of oppression. He is not interested in anything unless it directly affects him, denying his actual connections to others.  

The Hebrew words for “wicked” (רשע) and “lie” (שקר) both contain the Hebrew letter shin. In the mystical tradition (Zohar 1:2), the letter shin asks G-d to use her to create the world. G-d responds that since the shin will be misappropriated for lies, she cannot be the foundation of creation. The shin herself is truth, but assists in making the lie believable.

There is an old theological dispute about whether pure evil exists, or if it is simply the absence of good. The Igra D’Kala (Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, 1783-1841) posits that evil does not exist on its own. Rather, Korach took evil and attached himself to it. This is the shift from רע, potential evil, to רשע, a person who chooses to actualize it. The difference between those two words is the letter shin.

The Hebrew word for “truth” (אמת) comprises the Hebrew alphabet’s first, middle and last letters in order, reflecting that only truth can fulfill the entire Torah (Ben Yehoyada on B.T. Shabbat 104a). By contrast, the Hebrew word for “lie” (שקר) features three of the last four letters of the alphabet with the shin out of order. The word “lie” literally models a distortion of reality — like Korach’s distortion of reality when he acted as though the hard work of creating meaningful change were already done.

The Ari z”l sees Korach’s claim that “All of the nation is holy and G-d dwells within each of them” as aspirational, and even achievable in a future time. He observes that the verse in Psalm 92 for Shabbat, צדיק כתמר יפרח (“a righteous person will flourish like a date palm”) spells out Korach’s name with the last letters of these three words, because in the end, Korach’s claim of equal sanctity for all ultimately will be true. 

In the end, when we’ve done the work we need to do and have built a world of complete justice and love, Korach’s claim that the whole community is holy will be true. But we’re not there yet. 

It will only be appropriate to declare “All Lives Matter” when indeed Black, trans, and immigrant lives — when the lives of every marginalized human being — have been completely re-humanized and wholly valued. Until that time, it is a lie as old as Korach.

 

By Rabbi Mike Moskowitz.

 

Mayo 2020 Palabras del Torá / May 2020 Words of Torah from R’ Rachel Barenblat

Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah – R’ Rachel Barenblat from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s video offering features a teaching from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, translated into Spanish by Rabbi Juan Mejia. The text follows, in Spanish and then in English.

Shalom javerim.  Espero que estén tan bien como puedan estarlo en este dolorosos momentos de pandemia.  Ocupan un lugar en mi mente y en mi corazón. 

Este es uno de mis tiempos favoritos del año.  No sólo porque finalmente ha llegado la primera en el lugar en el que vivo, sino porque en esta temporada estamos en un viaje de marcar el tiempo juntos.

En la segunda noche de Pésaj, comenzamos a contar el Omer.  Contamos el Omer durante 49 días.  Hace mucho tiempo, comenzábamos estos 49 días con una ofrenda de cebada, y terminamos estos 49 días con una ofrenda de trigo: los primeros frutos dados a Dios.  Después de la destrucción del Templo, aprendimos a entender estas siete semanas como un tiempo de preparación para recibir la Torá en el Monte Sinaí.  Nuestra cosecha no es dada en grano, sino en el crecimiento interno de nuestros corazones y nuestras almas.

Para nuestros místicos, estas siete semanas se convirtieron en una oportunidad para reflexionar sobre las siete cualidades que compartimos con nuestro Creador.  Jésed- amor abundante. Guevurá – límites y fuerza.  Tiféret – harmonía y balance.  Netzaj – duración y persistencia.  Hod – humildad y esplendor.  Yesod – nuestras raíces y nuestra capacidad de generación.  Maljut – nobleza y presencia.  Cada semana y cada día de cada semana, está dedicada a una de estas cualidades.  Cada día del Omer iluminamos una faceta diferente de este trabajo interno que estamos llamados a acometer. 

Cada noche, la cuenta del Omer nos invita a hacer una pausa y notar dónde estamos en el flujo del tiempo.  Bendecimos a Dios quien nos hace santos al conectarnos-ordenarnos y quien no manda a contar el Omer.  Y decimos, en voz alta, el número que corresponde al nuevo día que comienza.   Amo esta tradición porque me invita a notar el paso del tiempo.  Me llama a estar presente en el momento. Y me invita a pensar sobre estas siete cualidades- amor, límites, balance, duración, humildad, arraigo, presencia —- y cómo debo incorporarlos en mi vida.

En estos tiempos de pandemia, creo que necesitamos estas siete cualidades aún más.  Necesitamos amor para motivarnos a seguir.  Necesitamos límites saludables para mantenernos seguros.  Necesitamos balance entre nuestros anhelos y nuestros miedos.  Necesitamos perseverar.  Necesitamos ser humildes.  Necesitamos ahondar nuestras raíces. Y necesitamos estar presentes con los demás y con Dios, aún cuando estar presentes es doloroso.

Al final de este viaje de trabajo interno llega Shavuot: el aniversario del día en el que recibimos la Torá en el Monte Sinaí.  Contar el Omer conecta la liberación con la revelación.  Fuimos liberados del lugar estrecho para un propósito:  recibir la Torá y estar en un pacto con Dios.

Todos estábamos juntos en el Monte Sinaí: cada alma judía que ha existido o existirá.  Contar el Omer es como contar los días que faltan para una reunión familiar.  En Shavuot, nos levantamos para recibir la Torá nuevamente: dondequiera que estamos, quienquiera que seamos.  Aunque no podemos encontrarnos en persona, por la pandemia y por las muchas millas de distancia que nos separan, nos encontraremos en el Monte Sinaí con el espíritu y el corazón.  Que tu viaje del Omer sea significativo y dulce.


Hello friends. I hope you are doing as well as any of us can be in these difficult times of pandemic. You have been much on my mind and in my heart. 

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Not only because it is finally spring where I live — but because at this season, we’re on a journey of marking time together.

On the second night of Pesach, we began counting the Omer. We count the Omer for 49 days. Long ago we used to begin those 49 days with an offering of barley, and we’d end the 49 days with an offering of wheat — a first-fruits offering given to God. After the Temple was destroyed, we came to understand these seven weeks as a time of preparing ourselves to receive Torah at Sinai. Our harvest now is not grain, but the inner growth of our hearts and souls. 

For our mystics, these seven weeks became an opportunity to reflect on seven qualities that we share with our Creator. Chesed – abundant lovingkindness. Gevurah – boundaries and strength. Tiferet – harmony and balance. Netzach – endurance and persistence. Hod – humility and splendor. Yesod – our roots and our generativity. Malchut – noility and presence. Each week, and each day within each week, is dedicated to one of these qualities. Every day of the Omer we illuminate a different facet of the inner work we’re called to do.

Each evening, the Omer count invites us to pause and notice where we are in the flow of time. We bless God Who makes us holy in connecting-command and Who commands us to count the Omer. And we say, aloud, what number the new day will be. I love this tradition because it calls me to notice the passage of time. It calls me to be present in the moment. And it invites me to think about those seven qualities — love, boundaries, balance, endurance, humility, rootedness, presence — and how I want to embody them.

In this time of pandemic, I think we need those seven qualities even more. We need love to keep us going. We need healthy separations to keep us safe. We need balance between our hopes and our fears. We need to persevere. We need to be humble. We need to grow deep roots. And we need to be present to each other and to God, even when being present is hard. 

At the end of this journey of inner work comes Shavuot: the anniversary of the day when we received Torah at Sinai. Counting the Omer links liberation with revelation. We are freed from the Narrow Place for a purpose: to receive Torah, and to be in covenant with God. 

We were all there at Sinai: every Jewish soul that has ever been or ever will be. Counting the Omer is like counting the days until a family reunion. On Shavuot, we will all stand together to receive Torah anew: whoever we are, wherever we are. Even though we can’t convene in person — because of the pandemic, and because of the miles between me and you — I’ll see you at Sinai in my spirit and in my heart. May your Omer journey be meaningful and sweet.

 

By Rabbi Rachel Barenblat. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.