Category Archives: Omer

Lift up your heads, and know that you count

Take a census, this week’s Torah portion tells us. שְׂא֗וּ אֶת־רֹאשׁ֙ כָּל־עֲדַ֣ת בְּנֵֽי־יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל — literally, “Lift up the heads of the community of the children of Israel.” Don’t just count them: uplift them. Let them feel in their hearts and know in their minds that they count.

Of course, the text goes on to specify who we should count: the men. We didn’t yet have consciousness of how limited — and limiting — that paradigm is for us and for the world. But the core teaching that every one of us counts is some powerful Torah.

Today we encounter these words as we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Before we can receive Torah tonight, we have to lift up our heads. We have to take an accounting of who we are.

We have to make sure we know that we all count: men and women and nonbinary folks, Jews by birth and Jews by choice and seekers of other traditions who walk alongside us. We have to take note of every one of us, in all of our multiplicity and diversity of experience and background and heart.

Tradition says that all of us were there at Sinai — the soul of every one of us, every Jew who ever was or ever will be. And since we know that a mixed multitude left Egypt with us, surely that mixed multitude stood together at Sinai too. Shavuot is our celebration of covenant with God, and every one of us is part of that covenant. If even one soul had been missing, it wouldn’t have been complete. We all count.

Three members of this community formally joined the Jewish people yesterday. [Here’s where I was going to say some things about that, connecting them to the Torah portion – but that part was personal and is not being published online.] As of this weekend they count in a minyan: another form of counting and being counted.

Does the concept of counting ring any other bells for you right now? For seven weeks we’ve been counting days, ever since the second seder. Tonight that count culminates in revelation. Today is the final day of the Omer. According to our mystics, today is the day of Malchut She’b’Malchut — the day of immanent indwelling feminine divine Presence; the day of Shechina.

May we be suffused with awareness of holy Presence as we prepare ourselves to receive. May we prepare ourselves to be sanctuaries — so that Shechina can dwell with us, and among us, and within us, now and always.


This is (more or less) the d’varling I had intended to offer this morning at Shabbat services on our Hudson Valley Shavuot Retreat, had the camp not canceled the retreat. (Cross-posted to my From the Rabbi blog.)

Shavua tov, chag sameach, and looking forward to Shabbat Shemini (1)!

Shavua tov — a good new week to you. And chag sameach, happy festival of Passover to all! I hope that everyone’s sedarim were high and sweet.

Join us on Shabbat morning at 9:30am for Shabbat services. Following Reform custom, as a community we observe seven days of Pesach (see Is Passover Seven or Eight Days? on the URJ website), so the coming Shabbat will be the first day after Pesach for us — therefore we will read from the first part of the Torah portion known as Shemini. (The following week we will read from the second part of Shemini, and then we’ll be in synch with our Conservative and Orthodox cousins who observe 8 days of Pesach.)

If you’d like to read some commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:

And here are commentaries from the URJ:

This is the first week of the Omer, the week of chesed (lovingkindness.) Here are 49 poems for the Omer. There are a bunch of good Omer-counting apps to help us remember to count and to reflect on the qualities we’re invited to cultivate each day; I recommend MyOmerCounter and the Omer app from NeoHasid. The 49 days of the Omer count lead us from second seder to Shavuot. During these seven weeks, we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew. I hope you’ll join us at our Hudson Valley Shavuot Retreat on May 18-20 at the end of the Omer count — read all about it and register now!

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel

Shavua tov! Looking forward to the remainder of Pesach and to a bar mitzvah.

Shavua tov – a  good week to you! And chag sameach, a joyous festival. I hope that everyone’s Pesach has begun with sweetness.

CBI is both part of the ALEPH Network, and affiliated with the Union for Reform Judaism. As a Reform-affiliated community, we observe seven days of Pesach. (All communities in Israel do the same. Outside of Israel, Conservative and Orthodox communities observe eight days of Pesach… but at CBI for the last several years we have followed Reform custom of observing a seven-day festival of Passover.) Therefore, following Reform custom, we’ll divide the Torah portion Acharei Mot into two halves, and will read from the first half this coming Shabbat as we celebrate the bar mitzvah of Jeremy Guy, and from the second half the following week.

Please join us on Shabbat morning as we call Jeremy Guy to the Torah as a bar mitzvah! If you’re looking for commentaries on this week’s Torah portion, here are a few:


May this week of Pesach be meaningful and sweet for all of us!

As we move from Pesach to Shavuot, we enter into the journey of counting the Omer — the days which connect our festival of liberation with our festival of revelation. If you’re looking for Omer-counting resources, there are a few more copies of Rabbi Rachel’s Toward Sinai: Omer Poems available at the synagogue. There are also a variety of places online where one can sign up for daily Omer teachings via email or Facebook — I especially like the Omer teachings at A Way In at Mishkan Shalom.

Don’t forget to register for the Shavuot retreat at Isabella Freedman! As members of an ALEPH Network community we receive a substantial discount; include the registration code VELVETEEN and you’ll get a $150 discount on that retreat.

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

A poem for the first day of the Omer

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Today is the first day of the Omer — the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Jewish tradition offers us these seven weeks as a time for the spiritual work of discernment, refinement, and inner growth.

Our Omer discussion group will meet every Friday at 3pm during this holy corridor of time. (Read all about it.) All are welcome.

I’ll be posting daily Omer poems on my blog Velveteen Rabbi over the next seven weeks. The first one is included here. If you’d like to receive those daily Omer meditations, you can go to Velveteen Rabbi and sign up to receive my posts via email.  (If you scroll down on that page a bit, there’s a box in the right-hand sidebar which says “enter your email address” and a button which says “subscribe.”)

May these weeks of the Omer yield an abundant harvest of wisdom and insight for all of us.


Rabbi Rachel


The Egyptian sky
was a goddess
doing a backbend.

Once we crossed
the watery barrier
she gave way

and the heavens
became sapphire floor
beneath the throne.

And we stood
by the sea
and sang praises

because what else
could we do,
we who survived?

Here we are
again, shaking off
salt water tears

on a shore
we’ve never seen.
There’s no map.

Above us, miles
of air stretching
to kiss vacuum:

all that freedom
impossible to bear
sometimes. Too much

depends on us.
Last night’s maror
stings our eyes.

Ahead: uncharted space,
the holy wilderness
of the heart.

Take one step
into the labyrinth.
Leave Egypt behind.

Today is the first day of the Omer.

“The Egyptian sky / was a goddess / doing a backbend” — one of the deities in the Egyptian pantheon was Nut, sometimes depicted as a star-covered woman arching over the earth.

“[T]he heavens / became sapphire floor / beneath the throne” — see parashat Mishpatim and its description of the floor beneath the divine throne as being like sapphire. The idea of the sky changing as the prevailing beliefs change also owes a debt to Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky books.

Today we take our first step on the journey between Pesach and Shavuot. What are we headed toward? What are we leaving behind?

Online resources to enrich the next seven weeks

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

As I write these words Pesach is almost upon us. I can’t wait!

At our second-night seder we’ll begin a seven-week journey known as the Counting of the Omer. We count the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, linking liberation with revelation. Once these were the weeks during which we grew our spring wheat harvest to bring to the Temple in Jerusalem; today these are weeks during which we nurture and nourish an internal harvest of personal and spiritual growth.

I hope you’ll join us on Fridays at 3pm in my office for our Omer discussion group. All are welcome.

And if you’d like some terrific Omer resources which will come directly to your home computer, here are a few:

  • I’ll be sharing daily Omer poems on my personal blog, Velveteen Rabbi. The poems will draw on kabbalistic (mystical) and Mussar (personal refinement) teachings to deepen and enliven each day’s counting. You can subscribe to the blog by going to Velveteen Rabbi and entering your email address where it says “enter your email address” in the right-hand sidebar of the page. (My collection of Omer poems will see print in late winter of 2016.)
  • Rabbi Dr. Orna Triguboff will be sending out a daily email during the omer, with kabbalistic insights for daily awareness practice; if you want to be on the list, email
  • Rabbi T’mimah Ickovitz has the custom of sharing  a daily teaching or inspiration related to the Omer count at Holistic Jew (Facebook), and is sharing new ones this year during the Omer.
  • Rabbi Goldie Milgram will be offering daily Omer teachings online at
  • Joy Krauthammer adds writing and art to her Omer website each day of the Omer.
  • Brian Yosef Schachter Brooks is offering an online meditation class, with an in-person Omer component, as a fundraiser for ALEPH. Read all about it: Jewish meditation e-course.
  • And Rabbi Jill Zimmerman and Rabbi Cindy Enger of the Jewish Mindfulness Network will once again be offering daily Omer emails this year; to sign up, go here:

May these various offerings enrich these next seven weeks and help all of us journey toward Shavuot with mindfulness, discernment, and joy!

Blessings to all —

Rabbi Rachel


Spiritual discussion group to reconvene during Omer

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Pesach is approaching! And after Pesach comes the seven-week period called the Omer, the 49 days which we count between Pesach and Shavuot. This is a very special time of year, which our tradition sets apart as a season for inner work, discernment, and cultivating the qualities which will help us to be ready to receive Torah at Sinai anew on Shavuot.

Our monthly spiritual discussion group grew out of last year’s weekly Omer discussion group. I’m writing today to let you know that the spiritual discussion group will not be meeting in March — and that in April, once we enter the Omer, we’ll meet weekly during those seven sweet weeks. (Dates and times follow.)

All are welcome. Blessings to all, Rabbi Rachel omergroup

Shabbat (tomorrow), Yizkor (Monday), and the Counting of the Omer

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

Those of you who were here at our second-night community seder heard me wax rhapsodic about the counting of the Omer. “Omer” means “measures;” originally it referred to measures of grain, and the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot were a time to count the days until the spring barley harvest when grain would be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem as an offering to God. In the rabbinic undertanding, the Omer period became a way of connecting Pesach to Shavuot on a spiritual level. These 49 days take us from liberation to revelation. At Pesach we celebrate freedom from constriction; at Shavuot we celebrate the revelation of Torah and entering into covenant with God.

One popular way of thinking about the Omer period connects each week (and each day within each week) with a different divine quality. This first week is the week of chesed, lovingkindness. What would it feel like to cultivate lovingkindness in our lives this week?

Another popular way of thinking about the Omer period connects each day with a different virtue which is associated with the process of “acquiring Torah,” preparing ourselves for revelation and schooling ourselves in practices which allow our best selves to unfold.

We’ll explore both of these in our Omer spiritual study group which will begin this afternoon. We’ll also explore some of this material in tomorrow’s Torah study after Shabbat morning services. Because it’s still Pesach, we’ll hear a special Pesach Torah reading, and we’ll sing an abbreviated Hallel tomorrow as well.

On Monday — Patriot’s Day — join Rabbi Pam Wax at 9am for a special Passover morning service which will feature Yizkor, the memorial prayers we are blessed to recite four times a year (at Yom Kippur, Shemini Atzeret, Pesach, and Shavuot.) Yizkor is a deep and meaningful practice of remembering our loved ones who have left this world. Please join us.

For those who would like to count the Omer each night at home, you can find the blessings here, and here are two places where you can sign up to receive daily Omer messages via e-mail (offering teachings and intentions relating to each day’s practice — and also a good reminder to count, too!) —  Making the Omer Count and Daily Omer Teaching.

Wishing all of y’all a Shabbat shalom — moadim l’simcha (a joyous festival) — and a meaningful Omer count!


Rabbi Rachel