We are approaching Passover. A spiritual truth to this story is that if we imagine we are a Child of Israel in that time, we do not know the end of our own story. And yet we took the leap of faith to try something new, not knowing its outcome but yet to hope. There is a ritual directly linked to Passover that holds this experience. It is called Counting the Omer. Omer is the word for a sheaf of barley. In ancient times, as is true today, the anxiety for a good harvest was filled with the hope for a positive outcome, though it was not guaranteed. Traditionally, we count the Omer to arrive to Shavuot, the holiday of covenanting at Sinai. From the night after the first seder, we count 49 days to Shavuot. It is 49 days of acknowledging the truth of anxiety and hope. It is 49 days to hold the journey from slavery to Sinai.
To contain both this hope and anxiety our Rabbis developed the idea of counting to acknowledge the individual and communal range of spiritual reflection. We all count. We count up toward something like a birthday. We count down as in the number of days left to a vacation. Counting is a way we contain the sweep of human experience. Some of us have been counting the days of isolation. Some of us are counting the days toward a good milestone, wondering how we will celebrate it. Some of us are counting the days of Shiva. People count.
At this time, whatever way each of us frames our Passover experience, this can be a time to use the Counting of the Omer to explore new ways to count. What kind of harvest do you hope for? What are some seeds you might plant now to reap a hoped for harvest as we come to Shavuot? Counting is a way to mark how we feel, things we might do, reflect on ourselves in the world, try something good.
Here are some tips for the Omer journey:
The spiritual twin to fear is curiosity. Fear can be both unwieldy and clarifying. Curiosity can anchor fear. Curiosity can convert fear into invention. When fear comes up, temper it with something that will stimulate curiosity. Coax your curiosity by listening to music, take a meditative moment, doodle. Marinate in your curiosity.
Curiosity leads to invention. In unprecedented times we don’t yet know enough to follow best practices. You are your own best practice. Invent. Our ancient wisdom comes out of invention at a time of communal crisis. At the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem came Shabbat as we know it today. Shabbat is our legacy of invention.
Love. Our personal and communal vulnerability is the great equalizer. This is complex. Love means we extend ourselves. Love is giving to even something we do not know in order to support every quarter from which may come an important answer to our crisis. Love is the emotional backbone to communicate differently with a loved one. Love is being honest inside yourself to make an important decision. Love softens us. Love is filled with the complexity of small steps, not grand ones, to say we care. Love is the personal, communal, liturgical, philanthropic, and leap-of-faith complexity to say “yes” to even something you do not know. Love is the empathic stretch that forms a community of care.
Be humorous. Laughing together is one of the most intimate of human activities. Why? Because when you tell a joke or make a humorous comment you let someone into the way you see the world, the way you re-define reality, the way you hope the world will be. Humor is code for how we want the world to be a better place. In a pun, in a wry comment, in an outright joke, in a giggle, we come closer to one another. Take the leap of faith and tell a joke that reveals the ways you want us all to be better.
Making meaning is porous: If you were a Child of Israel in its contemporary time, you did not know the meaning of your “yes” to Moses. Rather hope and imagination for something better were the spiritual guides. If we make meaning too soon, or even at all, we risk cutting off imagination. We risk severing our anchor to spiritual life and we risk an inability to access curiosity, invention, discovery, our very growth and survival. Strive to cultivate your spiritual landscape.
This Passover will not be the same. It is its own grief. We hope it can yet be a time that our spiritual landscape will bring growth and give us resilience.
Rabbi Eric Weiss