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counting the Omer

Over the course of the seven weeks between the Passover and Shavuot, we are invited to retrace the steps of our ancestors. Beginning with the second night of Passover (this Saturday night), we begin literally counting each day of our journey from the shores of the Sea of Reeds, newly freed from the constraints of enslavement under Pharaoh’s reign, to the revelatory peaks of Mount Sinai. We number the days and weeks in order to remember a path that took us from a narrow and harrowing escape to a knowing and holy expansion of awareness and mission. From Egypt we were forced out by plagues and decrees. At Sinai, we stood and freely choose a collective destiny.

“It is easier to take the people out of slavery than to take the slavery out of the people,” it has been said. Mussar is a discipline devoted to shedding this slavery mentality, increasing the human capacity to freely choose not only how we act, but how we think and feel. In order to fully receive the gifts of Torah and her pathways of peace and pleasure, we practice mussar, strengthening our best attributes of character with intentional action.

As others before me have done, let us turn to the chapters of the Mishnah known as Pirkei Avot. There, in the 6th mishnah of chapter 6, the early rabbinic sages offer a list of forty-eight moral attributes with which Torah is acquired, embodied and nurtured. If we align each of these measurable practices with the days of the Omer, it gets us almost the entire way there. The practice for the 49th day is left for us to define. Traditionally the counting of the Omer (and naming a measurable attribute to practice) happens as soon as possible after the stars appear in the night sky, and is preceded by the following blessing:

Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu melech ha’olam

asher kid’shanu be’mitzvotav ve’tzivanu

al sephirot ha’omer.

Come. Let us begin, starting with days one and two, of week one.

WEEK 1: LOVING KINDNESS / HESED

Day 1. Talmud is study, active and appreciative inquiry. It begins with curiosity, and often includes a partner. Seek out a teacher and learn something new…as an expression of loving kindness.

Day 2. Attentive Listening requires focusing all of your awareness on just one matter at a time. Start the day by practicing on yourself. Sit quietly, turn off your phone and all media devises, close your eyes, and direct the entirety of your attention on what you are feeling at this moment. Pretend there is nothing else in the world but you and your physical and emotional sensations. Then, as you go through the day, extend that same all-absorbing attention to everyone you meet…listen with all your heart, mind, soul and strength…as an act of loving kindness.

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