Category Archives: Omer

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:

return-to-shabbat

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.

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

DAY 1: ONE STEP

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 orna@neshamalife.org
  • 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 ReclaimingJudaism.org.
  • 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: http://eepurl.com/bir5sX

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

omergroup

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!

Blessings,

Rabbi Rachel

Shabbat Ha-Gadol, A Ritual Before Pesach, and our Omer Spiritual Study Group

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

I wish you an early Shabbat shalom! The Shabbat which begins tonight is called Shabbat Ha-Gadol, “The Great Shabbat,” because it’s the Shabbat which comes immediately before Pesach. I hope you’ll join us tomorrow morning for services led by Rabbi Pam Wax.

Bedikat Chametz – Removing Leaven

On Sunday morning, the Hand in Hand families will be participating in the ritual of bedikat chametz, ritually removing leaven from the household. Heather and I will “hide” crusts of bread around the synagogue; the kids will find them, and using a feather and wooden spoon will brush them into a paper bag, which we will (safely!) burn in the barbecue grill outside after making a special blessing.

This is actually a home-based ritual, not usually done at the synagogue. If you’d like to do this at home on Sunday or early on Monday, here is a short-and-sweet ritual (one poem, plus the blessings) which you can download: Bedikat Chametz [pdf].

Also, if you’re looking for some different ways of thinking about the mitzvot of eating matzah and avoiding chametz, you might enjoy this blog post from last year: Chametz.

Counting the Omer – Spiritual Study Group

On the second night of Pesach, we begin Counting the Omer, a journey of counting the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation. In Jewish tradition this is a time for deep soul-searching and meaningful internal work, so that we can be wholly ready to receive Torah at Sinai once again.

I’ll be leading a spiritual study group during the Omer, which will meet in my office on Fridays at 3pm during the seven weeks of the Omer — starting next Friday, the Friday during the week of Pesach. All are welcome, though I’d appreciate it if you could let me know if you might join us, so I can print enough copies of the handouts.

No books are required for the Omer group, though if you are interested in picking up one or more good Omer resources, I recommend Rabbi Yael Levy’s Journey Through the Wilderness: A Mindfulness Approach to the Ancient Jewish Practice of Counting the Omer and Rabbi Min Kantrowitz’s Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide. And if visual art speaks to you more than does text, try D’vorah Horn’s Omer Series of paintings, available on beautiful printed cards for $36.

I wish you a sweet Shabbat ha-Gadol and a meaningful journey into Pesach, the season of our liberation!

Blessings to all,

Rabbi Rachel

A message from Reb Rachel: untie our tangles

Dear Congregation Beth Israel members and friends,

As I write these words, we’re well into the fifth week of the Omer, the 49 days we count between Pesach and Shavuot, between freedom and revelation. (Today is day 31, the day of harmony and balance within the week of splendor and humility.)

There’s a prayer which is traditionally recited after counting the Omer which I wanted to share with you today. Even if you haven’t been counting the Omer every day, I hope this prayer may still be meaningful.

The prayer is called Ana b’Koach, and I wrote about it last year: A melody to sing after counting the Omer. That post contains the words of the whole prayer (in Hebrew and in sing-able English) as well as some material about the prayer (and a recording of the prayer as well). What I want to focus on today is just the first line, which Reb Zalman translates as “Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles.”

Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie our tangles.

What are we saying when we read, or sing, or meditate upon, these words? First, that there is a source of mercy in the universe, an everflowing stream from which divine mercy and compassion and kindness arise (and so do our own qualities of mercy and compassion and kindness). One name for this source of mercy is “God.”

Second, that that source of mercy is both loving and strong. Jewish tradition teaches that God’s lovingkindness and God’s strength are always intertwined. Strength (and judgement and justice and discernment) in perfect balance with mercy (and compassion and lovingkindness) — that’s one of our quintessential ways of understanding God.

And we’re saying that our tangled places, the places where we’re tied up in knots, can be lovingly untangled.

You know how knots can become so tight that it can start to seem impossible that they will ever come apart? That’s true not only in the case of yarn or fine necklace chains; it’s true also on an emotional and spiritual level. Our hearts and our souls and our minds can become tied-up in knots too, and when they do, it can be easy to despair of ever untangling them. But this prayer tells us otherwise. It tells us that our knots can be unbound, that our tight places can be released.

If there are places (ideas, relationships, emotions) where you’re feeling bound-up, wound-up, tied in knots: may the Source of Mercy, with loving strength, untie those tangles in your heart and in your life.

May this Shabbat be a source of comfort and rejuvenation for all of us. (And join us tomorrow morning for services led by Rabbi Pam Wax, featuring the Ana B’Koach prayer as well as a Pirkei Avot-focused Torah study!)

Blessings to all,

Reb Rachel