For those of us counting (it’s a ritual, try it), it’s been a month since Pesach.
A month since we sat in our homes, many of us on our own, and drank and ate and sang songs of freedom, hoping we could bring it into being by acting as if it’s already here.
For some of us, this week has brought some openings of freedom. Where I am in Jerusalem, we are now slowly gathering in small groups; in the open air, and the feeling is strange.
It’s only been seven weeks, but who have I become in this time of isolation? Who am I, now, that I was not before?
Am I more fearful, cautious or anxious? Am I more present, appreciative or conscious?
Or am I following a wave, the ups and downs of life giving me all kinds of Feels from bliss to panic.
The Second Pesach
One month after Pesach, today is the day known as “Pesach Sheni”, the second Pesach. Originally established as an extended deadline to the Israelites of the desert generation, who articulated their frustrations that unlike the rest of Israel, they’d been unable to participate in the Passover ritual sacrifice due to their impure state (from contact with dead bodies). Now, they wanted a chance to be engaged with community life just as anybody else.
“Why should we miss out?” was their rallying cry, and Moshe responded with the Divine decision that yup, these people could indeed have a second chance.
It’s come to mean far more than a consolation prize. Spiritually, Pesach Sheni is a chance for us to remember that no matter how far we’ve fallen, how far away we feel we are from our truest selves; it’s never too late.
There is always a chance to come back to who we are.
The Process of Omer Counting
We are in the midst of a process of counting the days, the 49 days that stretch between Pesach, the exodus from Egypt and its implications of liberation, freedom and pulling ourselves out of the muck – and Shavuot, the festival of the first harvest, the festival of revelation, of Divine connection on Mount Sinai; and actualizing the experience of freedom by coming into our fullest selves.
Our Sages say that the exodus from Egypt was liberation, but did not transform the people all at once. They were steeped in “tumah”, the trauma of being in a land that did not recognize their culture, traditions, religion and very own sense of being for generations. As our own recent history has shown us, taking Jews out of situations of exile don’t always result in an immediate shift in mindset. The effects of the trauma of the Holocaust and other persecutions has been imprinted in our DNA. And so the Israelites needed a safe space; a liminal place where they could process it all and slowly rise up from these 49 levels towards people with their own identity, their own connection to the Divine, and the personal tools to greet God face to face.
Sefirat Haomer, the counting of the Omer, is a 49 day process to bring us into that awareness.
It is the moment that comes after we are taken out of Egypt, to working day by day to take Egypt out of ourselves.
The Kabbalists established intentions for each day of the Omer based on the 7 emotional “Sefirot”, or attributes, which map onto one another in 49 full permutations. Each week, we work from opening the heart with Chesed (flow); to defining our boundaries with Gevurah (restriction); to fusing them together with Tiferet (harmony and compassion). We move towards our personal growth with independent wins through Netzach (stamina) and build a team for ourselves by acknowledging our humble gratitude for others with Hod (gratitude). We synthesize them with Yesod, a strong foundation that allows us to create intimate bonds with others outside ourselves; and manifest it into full creative expression with Malchut, the power of speech, birth and creativity.
The process is deep, difficult and incredibly powerful. It is a process that goes beyond our heady, intellectual methods of reflection and sinks below the layers, deep into the body. It incorporates the entire physical spirit and asks of us to use that strength; that power of our desires towards what isn’t always in our highest good, and channel it towards what will bring us into deeper connection with the Divine.
It is about sifting through our traumas, looking at them in the eye, and harnessing them to work towards our highest good, rather than hindering us. It is work of the physical body and the earthly spirit.
And it is a process that is precisely that:
Process is ongoing
Process is a liminal state. It is not about being mired in the muck of Egypt; nor is it about standing at the foot of a mountain, receiving a technicolor display of Divine radiance. It’s about being in the middle, uncomfortable as it is, and sitting in the mess to learn from it, refine it, digest it, and use it as compost to grow us into our future selves.
We count from “after the Shabbat”
This week’s Torah portion, “Emor” (literally: speak) includes a list of the traditional festivals celebrated in ancient Israel for agricultural reasons, now our holiday calendar as Jews. We learn about Pesach, the festival of freedom; about Sukkot, the festival of booths and harvest; and Shavuot, when we bring the first fruits to the Temple as an offering to God in gratitude for our abundance. And we are told to count the Omer, “You shall count for yourselves from after the Shabbat, from the day you bring the Omer wave-offering, for seven complete weeks (Shabbats).”
The literal interpreters of the Torah used to say that this counting must take place after Shabbat itself, the seventh day of the week; but Rabbinic interpretation states that this is actually the day after the first day of Pesach.
In order that it would be possible for us to sift through our traumas and bring them to work for us instead of against us, we need to bring in the big guns. We’re looking for the Divine power, God to show up in God’s fullness; not via an angel or messenger who might be swept up in the same traumas that held us captive in the Egyptian mindset. And that’s why we have the power of “The day after Shabbat”. Shabbat itself is potent a power that is above and beyond time; yet still within time, the seven day framework. But the moment of “after the Shabbat” is next level. It goes back to the primordial Divine light that is existent in its source, the light of no limitations, definitions of time-structured mandates. It is the power of going deep, going beyond, and seeing what kind of magic we can glean from our process.
It is being in our process, and being okay with that.
It is doing the work day by day, and knowing that we have the huge potent Divine energy of each day on our side.
It is knowing that while we are operating within a framework, we are going above and beyond what is the order of nature, because we’re transforming and transmuting our trauma, instead of living in fear of our triggers.
We hold so much power
But do we know it?
Do we notice how getting the second chance of Pesach gives us a chance to always have a re-do in our lives?
Do we feel the Divine power that propels us through our healing process, giving us the breath and space to take it day by day, and the mystical natural method that results in letting go, transforming our trauma into strengths that equip us into our future?
Do we recognize how working through this process gives us energy we wouldn’t have otherwise; healing that we wouldn’t otherwise access; and personal strength that propels us into living our absolute best lives?
I bless us that this Shabbat; in the midst of the Sefirat Haomer practice; on the day that we read about its origins, we are able to feel, remember, perceive and notice the power we hold in our hands.
This is a time when we are building a new world; praying in a new future; and watching the old world crumble away. It is filled with trauma and pain; and our prayers are towards easing that for all those vulnerable. And yet despite that, through that, can we allow our personal traumas to transform, transmute and become our strengths that help us build this new world?
May it be soon, Amen.
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