Announcing Toward Sinai: Omer Poems

About a year ago, I had an audacious thought. I frequently aim to write daily poems during April, National Poetry Month in the United States. Over the last few years I've written daily poems during Elul (some of which are now collected as See Me: Elul Poems.) What if I could combine daily writing discipline with spiritual practice again and share 49 daily poems during the counting of the Omer?

As regular readers of this blog know (at least, those of you who were reading regularly last spring!), I came home from last year's OHALAH conference fired-up and inspired, and my level of poetic output surged. I did post 49 Omer poems here during the days between Pesach and Shavuot. I am delighted now to be able to share my collection of 49 Omer poems -- revised and improved for print -- with you.

TowardSinai-frontThe Omer is the period of 49 days between Pesach (Passover) and Shavuot. Through counting the Omer, we link liberation with revelation. Once we counted the days between the Pesach barley offering and the Shavuot wheat offering at the Temple in Jerusalem. Now as we count the days we prepare an internal harvest of reflection, discernment, and readiness. Kabbalistic (mystical) and Mussar (personal refinement) traditions offer lenses through which we can examine ourselves as we prepare ourselves to receive Torah anew at Shavuot. Here are 49 poems, one for each day of the Omer, accompanied by helpful Omer-counting materials. Use these poems to deepen your own practice as we move together through this seven-week corridor of holy time.

Praise for Toward Sinai: Omer Poems

Rachel Barenblat has gifted her readers with a set of insightful poems to accompany our journey through the wilderness during the Counting of the Omer. Deft of image and reference, engaging and provocative, meditative and surprising, this collection is like a small purse of jewels. Each sparkling gem can support and enlighten readers on their paths toward psycho-spiritual Truth.

--Rabbi Min Kantrowitz, author of Counting the Omer: A Kabbalistic Meditation Guide


Rachel Barenblat comes bearing a rich harvest. In Toward Sinai, her series of poems to be read daily during the counting of the Omer, a poem chronicles every step between Exodus and Sinai. The poems exist in the voices of the ancient Hebrews measuring grain each day between Passover and Shavuot, and also in a contemporary voice that explores the meaning of the Omer in our own day. Together, the poems constitute a layered journey that integrates mysticism, nature, and personal growth. As Barenblat writes: “Gratitude, quantified.”

--Rabbi Jill Hammer, author of The Omer Calendar of Biblical Women


Your Torah is transcendent and hits home every time.

-- Rabbi Michael Bernstein, Rabbi Without Borders Fellow

Toward Sinai: Omer poems $12 on Amazon

Those who will be attending the OHALAH conference next week will have an opportunity to pick up copies of this new collection at the shuk -- and I'll gladly inscribe them for you or for the recipient of your choice! Deep thanks to all of my readers, especially to Rabbi Michael Bernstein, Rabbi Jill Hammer, and Rabbi Min Kantrowitz who graciously offered reflections on the book before print.

Day 49 of the Omer


The first seder, he said, is like
an airlift to the top of the mountain.
The matzah, the singing, the egg
dipped in salt water—all mnemonics
for the journey you haven't yet taken.

When you wake the next morning
you're miles away, cloud-shrouded peak
barely visible in the distance.
Remember the psalms of praise we sang
like angelic choirs? It's enough

to get you moving. First week's travel
is fueled by the hardtack of slavery
which doubles as waybread of freedom.
As the feast recedes in memory—was
that oasis a mirage?—the song

that we prayed at the sea spurs you forward.
One morning shards of robin's eggshell
dot the stones outside your door
and you remember the sign of new life
dipped in salt tears. The path

grows steeper but now you're in shape
for the discernment work.
This is our last night camping
beneath the splash of Milky Way.
Tomorrow: the summit. Will you hear

the fire, the thunder, the still small voice?
Will you decode the Name
emblazoned on every human face?
This is the end of the journey.
Make every minute count.



Today is the 49th day of the Omer, making seven weeks of the Omer. This is the final day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation!

Today's poem was inspired by one of my favorite Hasidic teachings, from the Slonimer rebbe. The Slonimer taught that at the first seder we are lifted up to great spiritual heights, and then the next morning we wake and we're at the bottom of the valley again, and we spend the 49 days of the Omer climbing back up to get back to the high spiritual place where we were on the first night of Pesach.

I share this poem in honor of my friend and teacher Rabbi Elliot Ginsburg, who first introduced me to that teaching when I was in rabbinic school (as part of his fantastic class Moadim l'Simcha, in which we spent two semesters translating and studying Hasidic texts relating to the round of the festival year.)

I wish you blessings as we approach Shavuot. I hope that this Omer journey has brought some meaning to these recent weeks.

Day 48 of the Omer



The wedding's in two days
and all the guests are arriving. Look,
there's your best friend
and your great-aunt
and the grandparent you haven't seen
in half of your lifetime.
If you squint
you might catch a glimpse
of your descendants.
Everyone is here.
Whatever work you meant to do
before now, let it go.
Do you know your Partner
one hundred percent? Probably not;
but if you wait until you feel fully ready
you might never act at all.
There's a time for waiting
and a time for leaping
and the salt sea is warm
and the waters will part for you.
There's no telling
where this honeymoon will take you.
If you didn't pack
everything you intended, don't fret:
the hotel gift shop has necessities.
What do you really need, anyway?
Your Intended brought
the ketubah, all six hundred
and thirteen detailed instructions, and
the chuppah is ready
to be lifted over your heads
like a canopy of flowers
or an inverted barrel
or a hovering mountain.
Your Beloved
is in the next room
so close you can almost touch.
Whisper sweet nothings
through the air vent.
Send giddy texts: can you believe
we're really doing this?
But it feels right.
Do, and understanding will come.
Say I do, and trust
that the One Who loves you
won't do you wrong.



Today is the 48th day of the Omer, making six weeks and six days of the Omer. Today is the 48th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

Shavuot can be understood as the wedding anniversary of God and Israel. In that metaphor, the Torah is our ketubah (wedding contract); God is the "groom" and we are the "bride" (at least in the most traditional gendered understanding); and Mount Sinai itself -- which one midrash says was lifted into the sky and held over our heads -- becomes our wedding canopy.

There's also a midrash which says that every Jewish soul -- past, present, and future -- was there when Torah was given at Sinai.

Day 47 of the Omer

On the third new moon after leaving Egypt
    we entered the wilderness at Sinai and camped
        by the mountain. God called us a holy nation

and claimed us for Her own. Enraptured
    we promised we'd do anything, as lovers do.
        And God said: stay pure. Wash your clothes.

Get ready: something big is coming.
    And Moshe said: don't go near a woman—and zzzt!
        skips the record with an awful scratch, the song

marred now for all generations. I beg
    your pardon? Was Moshe so afraid of our bodies?
        Is that why he shunned his own wife, to keep himself

at the ready for God? Stay off the mountain,
    God said, and we understood that: the very air
        crackled with electricity, scaring the goats.

When the shofar sounds, then approach,
    God said, and we understood that: we knew
        the triumphant song of the ram's horn.

But when Moshe said avoid women, we cried out
    to his sister Miriam, and her voice reached us
        saying he can't help his limitations, but

between you and me, the only way Torah comes
    is to everyone together. To all of us,
        all in one place, all hearing the Voice

which contains all voices.
    Don't hold yourself apart from anyone.
        The only way to get it together is together.

Wash away your jealousies
    and garb yourself in righteousness.
        Get ready to listen up. Torah is coming.



Today is the 47th day of the Omer. Today is the 47th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

Today's poem arises out of the Torah reading for the first day of Shavuot. I couldn't resist responding to Moshe's instruction.

The lines about Moshe shunning his wife come out of midrash which says that even after the giving of the Torah, he stayed away from his wife in order to be more available to God.

"The only way to get it together is together" is a quote from Reb Zalman (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) z"l.

Day 46 of the Omer


Imagine a four-day calendar.
Four empty rectangles waiting.
Now add an overlay blazoned
with the four letters of the Name

we never pronounce, or maybe
we whisper it with every breath.
Make the letters bold, great
calligraphc slashes of ink.

Today is the י, the seed
from which the rest of the Name
grows, the still point
before breath, the pregnant pause.

Tomorrow the first ה, inbreath
filling the lungs with spirit
which hovered once over the face
of the waters at the beginning

of time. Then the ו, lungs full,
divine flow down the straight chute
into creation. Finally another ה,
breathing out, returning spirit

to the One from Whom it came.
The head, the two arms, the spine,
the two legs: that Name fits
on the human body as though

we were made for it -- or from it.
Four letters hinting at the whole
of space and time, Was-Is-Will-Be.
Four days to embody those letters

before the download
before the fire and the thunder
before the still small voice
before we're opened up to receive.



Today is the 46th day of the Omer, making six weeks and four days of the Omer. Today is the 46th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

When I thought about the fact that there are four more days of the Omer, I immediately thought of one of Judaism's most prominent fours, the Four-Letter Name (sometimes called in English the Tetragrammaton; called in Hebrew the Shem Meforash.) That's what sparked today's poem.

The idea that we speak this Name with every breath comes from Rabbi Arthur Waskow. (See his Why YAH/YHWH.)

Day 45 of the Omer


Today's a good day to intercede with God.
Don't let sheepishness hold you back.
When the Holy One grew furious
that we'd dallied with idols, Rachel
put her hands on her hips, pointed out
that when Jacob married Leah
(whose veil hid her true face from view)
Rachel hid beneath their marriage bed
and responded to his every caress
in her own voice, so that Leah
would not be discovered and shamed
on her first wedded night. If Rachel
could overcome her jealousy, shouldn't
God do the same as well? And God relented,
and forgave our imperfections. Rachel
represents Shekhinah, the divine feminine
exiled in creation and yearning upward.
Put on your Shekhinah face and say:
God, I'm part of You and I'm asking
for compassion. I can balance mercy
with judgement. Let me be an instrument
of Your kindness. Amen, amen, selah.



Today is the 45th day of the Omer, making six weeks and three days of the Omer. Today is the 45th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

Today's poem was inspired by Rabbi Jill Hammer's Omer Calendar of Biblical Women. In her book, today is the day for thinking about the foremother Rachel. Many of the details in this poem come from that book (and from classical midrash.)

The name "Rachel" means "ewe," so the line about sheepishness is a bit of a Hebrew pun.

Day 44 of the Omer


Don't bend down like the willow
trailing her fingertips in the pool.

Cup your hands, gather the waters
that flow around the reeds.

Rejoice in the sedge and bulrush,
the pussywillows and red-winged blackbirds:

small precious things in God's sight.
You don't have to live in exile.

It's all right if you tremble.
You can be both mighty and afraid.

The weeks of waiting are almost done.
Wear patience like a garment, measured.

Carve letters of gratitude
on the clay tablet of your heart.



Today is the 44th day of the Omer, making six weeks and two days of the Omer. Today is the 44th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

I looked up the gematria of the number 44. (Remember that in Hebrew, letters double as numbers, so every word has a numerical value -- and every number can be correlated with the words whose letters add up to that value.) This poem arose out of this list of the words with a gematria of 44.

Day 43 of the Omer


Thank God for the gift of another day.
Check the mile marker: what's the number?
We're almost there. One more week
of sifting days like grains to measure
how they fall, and then -- Torah
pouring in like raindrops, too many to count.

The challenge is making each moment count --
sussing out subtle differences in each day.
Through forty-eight qualities we acquire Torah
(according to the sages, who liked to number
everything) -- that's wisdom beyond measure.
Time to manifest Shechina this final week.

What we were withholding made us weak
until we found it was ourselves that count:
not salary or 401K, nothing you can measure
but who we are in the world every day.
Focusing on accomplishments just made us numb(er),
and you need an open heart to receive Torah.

It wasn't just once upon a time that Torah
streamed into creation. It's coming this week.
God broadcasts constantly at every number
on the radio dial, in too many languages to count.
We accept the covenant anew each day
in how we act, how we speak, how we take the measure

of who we want to be. Can you measure
up to the version of yourself who merits Torah?
What would it look like to live each day
with nobility? Everything you do this week
can wake the part of you that's out for the count.
If I ask "how is your soul," could you number

on a scale of one to ten? Number
the qualities you share with God. You measure
up. You matter. Stand up for the count --
you were there at Sinai when we received Torah.
And you'll be there again in one short week.
Torah comes to us on the fiftieth day.

Treasure the numbers that make up Torah.
Take the measure of your heart this final week.
Count reasons for gratitude, every day.



Today is the forty-third day of the Omer, making six weeks and one day of the Omer. Today is the 43rd day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

In the kabbalistic framework, today we begin the week of malchut, sovereignty / nobility / Shechina. Shechina is the Jewish mystics' term for the immanent, indwelling, feminine presence of the Divine.

The lines "What we were withholding made us weak / until we found it was ourselves that count" are a nod to Robert Frost's The Gift Outright.

We're entering the final week of our journey. What is that like for you?

Day 42 of the Omer


Torah quenches thirst on a hot day.
In space there's no oxygen, but there is Torah.
Remember hearing lightning, seeing thunder?
God invited Moshe ben Amram to climb Horeb
to taste and see that Torah is good, sweet
as honey smeared on parchment. Wait, I misspoke:
at Sinai we heard nothing. All God spoke
was the silent aleph at the very beginning.
Because every soul was at Sinai, we all know
the secrets of creation. There's no before
or after in Torah: it's a Name of God
no matter how the letters are arranged.
Moshe ascended to heaven, watched
as the Holy One handwrote a Torah scroll
painstakingly adorning the letters with crowns.
Adoring the letters is our job—isn't that
what the rabbi would say? Torah is Her name
and if we can't touch the thing itself,
we can sing to the signifier as we waltz.
Yisrael v'oraita v'kudsha brich hu chad hu
we and Torah and the Holy One of Blessing
are one. God's own letters, building blocks
of creation, are encoded in our DNA.
Take Torah in—spicy as horseradish, crumbly
as a meal offering drenched in fine oil—
and exhale the Name on every breath.



Today is the 42nd day of the Omer, making six weeks of the Omer. Today is the 42nd day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

Today's poem was inspired by one of last year's NaPoWriMo prompts, which invites the use of twenty little poetry projects.

Horeb is another name for Sinai.

The idea that the only thing God spoke at Sinai was a silent aleph comes from a beautiful teaching of the Ropcyzer rebbe.

Yisrael v'oraita v'kudsha brich hu chad hu is from the Zohar, and is the assertion that we, and the Torah, and God, are all one.

Day 41 of the Omer


Whether slab or basement
or crawlspace's neither/nor

in-between, fit intention
to where you'll be rooted.

Know how deep
you need to sink your pilings

how broad a base will hold
what you yearn for.

Imagine the gilded spans,
the dazzling skyscrapers,

the homey octagon
constructed from driftwood...

From this footprint
where will you go?



Today is the 41st day of the Omer, making five weeks and six days of the Omer. This is the 41st day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

In the kabbalistic paradigm, today is the day of yesod she'b'yesod, the day of foundation within the week of foundation. That's what sparked today's poem.

Day 40 of the Omer


after the Degel Machaneh Efraim

When Torah says
tell the Israelites to bring Me
gifts for cobbling together
My patchwork residence

(gold, silver, and copper
crimson and cerulean yarns
acacia wood, bolts of linen
tanned leather and dolphin skins)

read instead
tell the Israelites to bring Me wisdom
which takes as long to gestate
as Moshe spent atop the mountain

I want you to bring Me
your wholeness, your completion
the quality of ripeness which accrues
after forty days of growth

each of you is a Torah,
a transcription of My holy name
other names merely reference,
sign pointing to signifier

but I and My Name are One
which means you are too:
you're part of Me
always cherished

even when you wander
in the wilderness
even when Sinai feels
impossible to reach



Today is the 40th day of the Omer, making five weeks and five days of the Omer. It is the 40th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

Today's poem is inspired by a teaching from the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov, the Degel Machaneh Efraim, about the Torah portion Terumah. (See Terumah: The Torah of 40.) I am grateful to my hevruta partners Rabbi Cynthia Hoffman and Rabbi David Markus for studying the Degel with me. They keep me learning, and that is a gift beyond words.

Day 39 of the Omer



The well won't run dry.
You might have to scoop chalky dust
with your hands, remove
the rock that's wedged in the channel

but the water is there.
The water wants to flow.
Can you feel it beating
against your breastbone, urging

you to let it surge free?
Dig the channel again
and drop the plumb line
as far as the string will go.

These are things which have no limit:
the reservoir of blessing
the ocean of Torah
the depths of your human heart.



Today is the 39th day of the Omer, making five days and four weeks of the Omer. Today is the 39th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

According to one Mussar paradigm, today's middah or quality to cultivate is "leading others to truth." That made me think of leading others to water, and to the connections between water and Torah. That's what sparked today's poem.

Day 38 of the Omer


a psalm of comfort

Set down your pack.
Wrap your arms around your chest.
Let your shoulderblades unfurl like wings.

Let me rub the knots from your palms,
smooth the shadows from under your eyes.
Lean back: my hands are here.

Your fragile glass heart is safe.
The light which shines through you --
I don't want you to hide it away.

The stones you're lugging, both whole
and broken: they're mine too.
You're mine too. Let me carry you.



Today is the 38th day of the Omer, which makes five weeks and three days of the Omer. Today is the 38th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation.

Today's poem was inspired by one of the qualities Pirkei Avot says is required for acquiring Torah -- carrying the burden of one's fellow. (It's actually mapped to the 37th day, not the 38th, but yesterday's poem took me in a different direction, so I wrote about it today.)

Can you think of a time when you took on, or wanted, to take on a loved one's burden? What gifts did you find in that act?

Day 37 of the Omer


Driving west from Massachusetts
to Seattle, I noticed
a shift midway through Minnesota.
The beginning of prairie. The skies opened up
like my memories of Texas, sunset
a great splash of watercolors
across the most immense canvas.

There's a tipping point.
The gravitational pull of destination
becomes stronger than the origin story.
Where we're from is old news.
But where we're going -- !
The Goldene Medina, the Wild West
the promised land.

Wheels hum on asphalt like a sruti box.
Roll down your window: can you hear
faraway music at the encampment?
It's your wedding band, and mine. Not
a Moonie mass marriage, the real deal:
God in tuxedo and tails (or white Irish lace)
and you with your heart on your sleeve...

Afterwards we'll each remember
standing face to face with the Holy One
beneath the chuppah of the inverted mountain --
or were those just streaks of painted cloud?
Ketubah handwritten on parchment.
The skies opened up and Torah unfurled
like gentle longed-for rain.



Today is the 37th day of the Omer, making five weeks and two days of the Omer. This is the 37th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

Midrash depicts the revelation of Torah at Sinai as a wedding with God as the groom and Israel as the bride. One midrash says that Mount Sinai was held above us -- perhaps as a threat, or perhaps as our wedding canopy.

This poem borrows its title from one of my favorite Mark Knopfler songs of recent years.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow has suggested that one way to understand the name Torah is to relate it to yoreh, the first longed-for rains of the fall season after the long, hot, dry Middle Eastern summer.

Day 36 of the Omer


Six days of         creation before pausing.
Work-day, week        -day, ordinary time.
Incomplete without the         capstone, the adornment:

silver candlesticks and         braided egg bread,
six sweet psalms        representing the week
then the hymn            welcoming what's holy.

Penultimate. Bridesmaid, never         the Shabbat bride.
Six isn't special        doesn't have meaning
of its own        without what follows.

Here we are        beginning week six
clock not yet        striking midnight's chime
there's still time        to open up

let go and        let God in.
The sixth week        begins right now        
what new gifts            might it bring?



Today is the 36th day of the Omer, making five weeks and one day of the Omer. Today is the 36th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.


Day 35 of the Omer


Sand in the air.
A battered white Ambassador
drove through scrub
past gabbling cranes.

The driver pulled over.
With a steady stream of pilgrims.
we took flight
after flight of exterior stairs

passing ornate archways
festooned with marigolds.
Beneath each carved gate
families posed for snapshots.

At the top: smoke curling
toward a ceiling fragmented
with mirrors, a smudge of saffron
on every forehead...

What will we find
at the top of this ascent
after we pass through
the Omer's 49 gates?



Today is the 35th day of the Omer, making five weeks of the Omer.

When I thought about going through the "gates" of these 49 days, I remembered an impromptu visit to the temple of Sachia Mata in the town of Osian many years ago. I wrote about that visit for Zeek -- There and Back Again: A JuBu's Passage to India.

Day 34 of the Omer


At the edge of the sound
wind flaps our coats like sails.

Sand shifts beneath
our inappropriate shoes.

Your shoulder touches mine
there and then gone.

We don't have to try
to match our strides.

Our hearts beat in tune
leaping like lambs.

God is in the words
we don't need to say.



Today is the 34th day of the Omer, making four weeks and six days of the Omer. This is the 34th day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

In the kabbalistic paradigm today is the day of yesod she'b'hod, the day of foundations or rootedness or connections within the week of humble splendor. This poem arose out of a sense of yesod as the connections between people who are dear to one another.


Day 33 of the Omer

33: GOOD

The thirty-third word in the Torah
is "good." After each act
of speaking the universe into being

God paused and saw the good.
Light is good. Darkness: good.
Also the balance between the two.

Every geological feature.
Every seed and spore and fern.
The dinosaurs were good, until

they weren't. The Great Auk,
the Atlas Bear...God must spend
eternity reciting I love

what comes and I love what goes.
That every story has an ending
must also be good, at least

from God's vantage where each drop
rejoining the river at the base
of the waterfall is coming home.



Today is the 33rd day of the Omer, making four weeks and five days of the Omer. Today is the 33rd day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

Today is Lag B'Omer, a minor festival within the Omer count. The syllable lag, in Hebrew, is spelled לג –– the number 33. (So Lag B'Omer just means "The 33rd Day of the Omer.") You can read more about this festival in my Lag B'Omer category.

I learned the teaching about the 33rd word of the Torah from a Hasidic text by the Bnei Yissaschar, and it inspired today's poem.

Day 32 of the Omer


Let the gurgle of the coffee pot
as it approaches completion sing praise.
Let the percussive pop of the toaster
revealing the rough and craggy surfaces
of English muffins sing praise.
The jangle of silverware in the sink.
The glide and click of the dishwasher drawer
pulled out to be laden with glasses.
Let the key in the ignition sing praise.
Let the hum of the motor sing praise.
The gavel on the sounding block.
The orchestra of hospital machinery
monitoring blood pressure and O2 sats.
Let the rattle of pills in the jar sing praise.
Let your fingers on the keyboard sing praise.
The paper in the printer, the ring
of the cellphone, the two-part beat,
beloved, of your heart.



Today is the 32nd day of the Omer, making four weeks and four days of the Omer. This is the 32nd day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

This poem was sparked by one of last year's NaPoWriMo prompts, the one which invited us to write a poem using the poetic device of anaphora.

Day 31 of the Omer


The Zohar says
after death
each soul is judged
seven times.

Pallbearers make
seven stops
on the way
to the grave

which means
our progress
shambles, pauses
begins again

as though
we were reluctant
to reach
that destination.

Seven: the days
of the week,
the colors
of the rainbow

seven weeks
of the Omer
between Pesach planting
and Shavuot harvest.

For what
will you be judged
when your journey
has ended?



Today is the 31st day of the Omer, which makes four weeks and three days of the Omer. This is the 31st day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

I learned the teaching that the Zohar says the soul is judged or tested seven times after death from Simcha Raphael's Jewish Views of the Afterlife.