Day 6 of the Omer


DAY 6 - ROOTS


Plant your feet and burrow rootlets down
through the carpet. Find reservoirs,
water permeating the bed of an ancient sea.

Plant your flag in this moment, claiming here
and now: they are yours to clutch in your fist.
And who planted you? Who shaped the seed, who

guarded its growing? These too are roots:
grandmother who tasted the home she remembered
in sticky apricot kolaches at the county fair,

grandfather who hid his ornate Latin diploma
inside the lining of an overnight bag.
And if your seder bears little resemblance

to the one your father remembers, all Yiddish
and chanted pell-mell, that's okay.
Old rootstock can bear bright new branches

can flower forth in wild profusion
with the etrog fragrance of Eden,
the spicebox scent of Shekhinah.

 


 

Today (Friday, until sundown this evening) is the sixth day of the Omer, the sixth day of our forty-nine day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation.

According to the kabbalistic way of marking the days, this is the day of yesod she'b'chesed, the day of rootedness or foundation within the week of lovingkindness.

Today is also the seventh day of Pesach -- the day, according to tradition, when our ancestors crossed through the sea. For more on that, here's a post from a few years ago.


Day 5 of the Omer

 

DAY 5 - MEASURE


1.  עמר (omer), noun, masc.: ancient Israelite unit of dry measure


A harvested sheaf large enough
to bundle with rope.

The amount of manna
a person could eat in a day.

What an Israelite man owed to God,
gratitude measured in grain...

But how can we measure
things which have no limit?

What we owe our teachers.
Torah, bigger on the inside.

The tumblers clicking open
revealing the path to my heart.

Obligation to the stranger.
The love I feel for you.



2.  מדה (middah), noun, fem.: measure; virtue or quality


We measure the time between
spring barley and summer wheat.

To each day, we map a measure
of man, a quality we share

with God. Now there's chutzpah!
To imagine that the creator

of gamma rays and supernovas
can be called loving or kind--

--but we do. Holiness is here
in the space between you and me.

The measure of who we mean
to be: cultivating Torah

in the furrows of our hearts,
a harvest beyond measure.


Today (Thursday, until sundown tonight) is the fifth day of the Omer, the fifth day on our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation.

The Hebrew word עמר‎ (omer) means measure. A sheaf of grain, bundled, was called an omer. And an omer of barley was the sacrifice offered after the celebration of Pesach (Passover.) This is the origin of the Counting of the Omer; on the night after the seder, an omer of barley was offered to God, and then we counted 49 days until the summer grain could be harvested and brought to the Temple for Shavuot.

Another Hebrew word for measure is מדה (middah). Middah can also mean a quality or virtue, and a number of different systems for adding meaning to the counting of the Omer link each day of the Omer with a different personal middah

(In the world of Mussar, each day of the Omer is linked with a middah listed in Pirkei Avot chapter 6, which lists 48 qualities which are necessary for the cultivation of Torah; see this exploration of the middot outlined in Pirkei Avot. In Hasidic practice, each day of the Omer is linked with a different combination of divine qualities as manifested in the sefirot; see Rabbi Simon Jacobson's A Spiritual Guide to the Counting of the Omer.)

This poem was inspired by one of Luisa A. Igloria's poetry prompts from last April:

Choose a word or bit of language that is dexterous in its grammatical uses, that might be applied as verb, as noun, as adjective, or adverb in its various perambulations; that is rich with a history of usage, emotional inflection, colloquial drama, etc.—and write a series of connected poems or write a long poem sequence that is a meditation on this word.

When I cast about to find a word which might be rich enough to hold up a whole poem, the one which came to mind was "measure." This poem arose out of the conjunction of these two kinds of measures, omer and middah.


Day 4 of the Omer

 

DAY 4 - WHERE AND WHEN



Where are we going now?
    To Sinai: not a place
        but a moment. Yank the lever

and whoop as we take off.
    You'll know we've arrived
        when you see a symphony

splashed across desert sky,
    clarion trumpets blazing.
        You've been there before.

It's okay if you've forgotten.
    It's not easy to tell a true story
        about who we've been together

much less parse a download
    that's so tightly compressed
        into a single silent letter.

All of time and space
    hiding in the white spaces
        of the parchment, the pause

between forever and ever.
    You were there. You saw
        the Voice, heard the invisible

and indivisible, tasted
    the scent of dust after rain.
        Walk through the open door.

The broadcast is still on,
    waiting for you to hear,
        O Israel, and remember.

 


Today (the day ending Wednesday at sundown) is the fourth day of the Omer, the fourth day of our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from liberation to revelation.

The endpoint of the Omer journey is Shavuot, when we stand once again at Sinai. In my favorite understanding, we not only commemorate the revelation of Torah on that day: we re-experience it. Revelation is ongoing. We can still receive that broadcast, if only we attune ourselves to hear.

There's a midrash which holds that all of us were there at Sinai at the moment of revelation -- that every Jewish neshama (soul) which has ever been or will ever be was present together at that moment of connection and covenant.

What might it feel like to reach Shavuot and actually feel as though we had traveled through space and time to re-position ourselves in that holy place at that holy moment among this holy community?

In another 45 days when we make it all the way there, what revelation do you hope you might hear?


Day 3 of the Omer

 

DAY 3 - THIRD GENERATION


I.

Abraham was a softie:
tent open on all sides,
offering kisses on both cheeks.
Always handing out thimbles
of cardamom-scented coffee.

He listened to everyone
including his wife who said
get that woman's son out of here
including that Voice which said
take your son, your only son

whom you love. Anything
worth doing was worth overdoing.
The line between unchanneled love
and zealotry is thinner
than a hair resting on milk.


II.

Isaac didn't overflow
like his father. He withdrew.
Bound to obedience, bound
to the sticks of wood he himself
had carried, bound to become

an entirely different man --
Isaac dug wells with precision,
rigid passages through which
life-giving waters might flow.
Isaac closed his eyes.

When his wife persuaded
their son to dress in sheepskin
and pretend, Isaac knew his role.
He stayed in-character.
He blessed and he wept.


III.

Third generation integrates
old country and new,
Grandpa's ebullience
and Dad's severity.
Jacob balanced with angels

on the head of a pin.
He watched them climb
and descend, climb and descend
like the prayers we loft,
the answers we rarely hear.

He met his brother again
with trepidation.
He didn't expect to say
seeing your face
is like seeing the face of God.


IV.

Let your cup run over,
compassion spilling
like an endless fountain.
Trust the kindness of strangers.
Open the tent of your heart.

Know when to pull back,
how to accept the things
you cannot change.
How to yield with grace.
When to close your eyes.

Rest your head on the stones
and dream. When you wake, sing
God was in this place, and I --
I did not know. Receive the name
of who you will become.

 


Today (the day ending at sundown on Tuesday) is the third day of the Omer, the 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

One way of understanding the Omer journey is through the lens of the kabbalistic teaching that each week of the Omer, and each day within each week, correlates with a different divine quality. The first quality is chesed, lovingkindness. The second is gevurah, boundaried strength. The third is tiferet, harmony or balance. The tradition maps these qualities to the first three Biblical patriarchs, so Abraham manifested chesed; Isaac manifested gevurah; Jacob manifested tiferet.

According to that kabbalistic lens, today is the day of tiferet she'b'chesed, the day of balance within the week of lovingkindness.

What draws you, in these evocations of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Where do you see yourself? What's familiar, and what's foreign to you? On this third day of the Omer, how can you manifest balance within abundant love?


Day 2 of the Omer

 

DAY 2 - IN THE BEGINNING



Let Me be known! God said,
and amino acids bloomed
in the amniotic sea.

A semi-permeable membrane
divided waters outside
from waters inside.

The ribosomes received
their names and tasks
and it was good.

But restive creation
hungered for knowledge
the womb couldn't provide.

Eden pushed us out
through narrow straits.
We can't go back.

Sometimes we wail.
This world's manna
isn't what we remember.

But a crackle of matzah
a drop of seder wine
quiets our cries

reminds us of heaven.
Let this waybread be enough
for our great journey

toward the One Who flows
with milk and honey,
Who yearns to be revealed.




Today is the second day of the Omer, the second day on our journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

(Again, I mean "today" in the Jewish sense; the second day of the Omer began on Sunday evening at sundown, and will end on Monday evening at sundown. I'm posting these poems in the morning, and those of you who receive them via email subscription are probably getting them around East Coast dinnertime, toward the end of this "day" of the counting.)

One of my favorite Hasidic teachings about God is that God created because God yearned to be known. This poem also plays with images from Bereshit (Genesis) -- God's creation of the universe, and also the expulsion of the first humans from Eden -- as well as images from scientific description of life.

Torah describes the ancient Israelites wailing in the desert, missing the certainties of servitude. What do we miss about what we've left behind? Can this heightened time in our religious year bring us comfort?

Shavuot, the end of this 49-day journey, is when we celebrate the revelation of Torah. Torah is likened to milk and honey. It's also considered, in Jewish tradition, the way we come to know God. What will we receive this year when we stand at the foot of Sinai and open ourselves to what comes?


Day 1 of the Omer

 

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 measured period of 49 days which we count between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation. Over the next seven weeks I'll be sharing daily poems which are intended to open new windows into the spiritual journey of counting the Omer.

(I mean "today" in the Jewish sense. A Jewish day begins and ends at sundown. So today, the first day of the Omer, began Saturday evening at sundown, and will end this evening at sundown. Many people count the Omer at sundown, when the "day" is new. But I'll be sharing these daily Omer poems in the morning.)

"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?


For NaPoWriMo 4: a love poem

 

RIVER


All winter            I went on my way
beneath            thick ice.

Then life            upended,
great plates        melting

and now            I overflow my banks.
How did            I forget

how strong            my current?
I want to            sweep you away.

 


 

Today's NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a love poem which never mentions love. 

Mine is inspired by watching the Green River in Williamstown as it does its annual spring thing.


#blogExodus 14: Praise



PRAISE


Can I offer it with all that I am?
Not despite my fears

that those around my seder table
will be checking their watches,

the nagging sense that I presume
simply by being as Jewish as I am

simply by being --
-- but with those shadows

kindle a light
to shine to the ends of the earth?

In the furrows of my cracked heart
I plant seeds of gratitude.

Eternal One, open my lips
that I might sing Your praise.

 


Blogexodus5775The final #blogExodus prompt is "praise." When I began to write this morning, this is what emerged.

To those who are celebrating Pesach tonight and tomorrow night: may your seders be sweet and meaningful.

To those who are celebrating Easter on Sunday: may your day be filled with alleluias.

To everyone: this year may we find the liberation we most deeply need, and may it spark us to do the work of liberating others.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach.


For #blogExodus 13: Welcome (and NaPoWriMo 2: a poem about stars)



CONSTELLATION  


Tonight's moon obscures most stars from view, but
I want to rename the ones that remain: turn
the huntsman into the man who stood up to Pharoah
even when his syllables faltered, the dipper
into a mikveh for washing away what hurts.
The great wheel of the galaxy is an angel,
and the fiery heart of every nebula unfolding...
Friday night angels and seder constellations:
bring us the wholeness of knowing that our bonds
are already broken, that freedom is already here.


 


Blogexodus5775

Today's #blogExodus prompt is "Welcome," which made me think both of welcoming seder guests, and of welcoming the Shabbat angels who -- tradition says -- join us every Friday night as we make Shabbat. (And tomorrow night will be both Shabbat and the first seder.)

Today's #NaPoWriMo prompt is to write a poem inspired by the stars. Last night I stood outside for a little while and noticed the moon and the stars...

Today's poem is a response to both of those prompts.


#blogExodus 12: Find - and #NaPoWriMo 1!


FIND



If I had any pull with God, everything you need
would appear right now in front of you.

A door would open and inside it
a rose-strewn path, the yearned-for embrace.

I'd take the broken pieces of the afikomen
and restore them as if by magic.

But that isn't how it works. God isn't
a diner waitress saying what can I get you, hon?

That's why our sages taught: a clay vessel
is purified when it breaks and is glued.

A human heart, charged with a lifetime's losses
becomes real when lovingly mended.

All I can do: ask God to cradle your heart
in Her own hands and make you whole.

 


Blogexodus5775

For today's #blogExodus prompt, "Find," I decided to write a poem, since today is also the first day of NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month.)

The afikomen is the ceremonial middle matzah, broken during the seder. Half is hidden, and the seder cannot conclude until it is found.

The stanza about our sages and a clay vessel is a reference to classical teachings about how to make a clay vessel which has become tamei (charged-up or "impure") become tahor ("pure") again.

To me that teaching has always held an internal / emotional resonance too.

 

Edited to add: deep thanks to reader Ann, who pointed me toward this gorgeous Japanese pottery, repaired with gold. "Kintsugi ("golden joinery") or kintsukuroi ("golden repair") is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a special lacquer dusted with powdered gold...this repair method celebrates the artifact's unique history by emphasizing the fractures and breaks instead of hiding or disguising them. Kintsugi often makes the repaired piece even more beautiful than the original, revitalizing the artifact with new life."