Briallen Hopper's sermon for Passion Week
Six poems of praise (Hallel)

Delving into lovingkindness: week one of the Omer

On the second night of Pesach, we begin Counting the Omer.

"Omer" means measures; the term "counting the omer" originally referred to counting the days between the barley harvest at Pesach and the wheat harvest which would be given to God as a first-fruits offering at the pilgrimage festival of Shavuot. Now it means the practice of counting the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot, between the festival when we celebrate our liberation from slavery and the festival when we celebrate the revelation of the Torah at Sinai and our communal embrace of covenant with God. Counting the Omer links the two festivals: we're not only freed from, we're also freed toward. These 49 days are our opportunity to mindfully walk a spiritual journey from leaving slavery to holy relationship with the Source of All.

There's a kabbalistic practice of connecting each week with one of seven divine qualities (sefirot): chesed (lovingkindness), gevurah (boundaried strength), tiferet (harmony / compassion / beauty), netzach (endurance / eternity), hod (majesty), yesod (foundation), and malkhut (kingdom / sovereignty / Shekhinah / indwelling presence of God.) And since each week contains seven days, each week is a microcosm of the whole journey: there's a day within each week for chesed, a day for gevurah, a day for tiferet, and so on.

This first week of the Omer is the week of chesed, the week of lovingkindness. This is the week for reflecting on how love manifests in our lives -- divine love, and also human love which is (in my understanding) a reflection and refraction of the love God feels for us. Chesed is limitless love, limitless kindness.

This week I find myself asking: how can I be kinder and more loving? To those I meet -- to the people I know, and the people I don't know -- to those who agree with me, and even those who angrily disagree with me? How can I be kinder to myself -- how can I do the work of discerning what my heart and soul most need, and then kindly and graciously filling that need for myself? Can I feel, deep in my bones, that the universe is a kind and loving place for me to be? Can I extend lovingkindness to myself, and then once I am feeling whole and healed, extend it to those I meet?

After counting the Omer, it's traditional to sing Ana B'Koach -- a prayer asking God to untie our tangles. (I posted about that prayer last autumn.) This week I ask God to untie the places where I am tangled-up around love and kindness. Unbind the places where I am constricted. Undo the knots which hold me back. Help me to be kind.

If you want to learn more about Counting the Omer, or if you're looking for resources for your own count, here's a page on How to Count the Omer from (they also offer an iphone app), and here's a site where you can Count the Omer with Homer (d'oh! also on twitter.) Another of my favorite online Omer resources is this Omer Counter based on plants mentioned in the Tanakh by artist Pauline Frankenberg. And the Omer category on this blog features all of my previous years' posts on this theme.

Edited to add: after this post went live, Rabbi Shai Gluskin pointed here: Omer Teaching, Mishkan Shalom - each day, that page will reflect a new teaching meant for that day of the Omer, and you can also sign up to receive them via email. Mishkan Shalom also has a beautiful page featuring the Omer Counting Blessing and Instructions.

Wishing you a fruitful journey through these 49 days.