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Entering Week Four of the Omer

Aharon-Varady-Sefirot-HaOmer-ChartI haven't been blogging the counting of the Omer this year. I wish I had been able to commit to a practice of writing something inspired by the themes and teachings of each of the 49 days, but there was just no way -- it was either daily poems during April, or daily posts during the Omer, but I couldn't see how to do both! (Maybe some year I'll try writing a cycle of 49 poems during the Omer count, but this was not the year for it.) But I've been thinking a lot about the Omer journey this year.

Today is the 21st day of the Omer -- in the kabbalistic system, the day of Malchut she'b'Tiferet. Malchut means sovereignty, nobility; it evokes the presence of Shekhinah, the immanent divine Presence dwelling within creation. Tiferet means harmony, balance, compassion. In his Omer guide, Rabbi Rami Shapiro describes today's quality as "the capacity to help others without demeaning them." The ability to respond with harmony and compassion from a place of gentle presence and connection with God.

Tonight at sundown we'll enter into the fourth week of the Omer. This is the middle week of the seven: three weeks before, three weeks after. This week is the hinge between the first half and the second half.

In the kabbalistic system, this is the week of Netzach, endurance. (Here's the post I wrote about this week a few years ago: Seeking endurance.) About this quality, Rabbi Min Kantrowitz writes:

Netzach is like spiritual fuel... Helping us get through difficult times with grace, Netzach is available during the bumpy events of ordinary times and the dramatic and unavoidable traumas of life.

Also in that kabbalistic system, the first day of each week of the Omer is the week of Chesed, lovingkindness -- so the day which will begin tonight at sundown will be the day of Chesed she'b'Netzach, Lovingkindness Within Endurance. Rabbi Min writes:

Chesed she'b'Netzach is the fuel that keeps a parent awake for hours in the middle of the night soothing a colicky infant, sustains the exhausted caregiver helping his dying lover, and supports the underpaid teacher of distracted and energetic adolescents.

Perhaps these descriptions will resonate with some of you, as they resonate with me.

Any substantive journey of transformation -- be it counting the Omer, preparing for the Days of Awe, studying for years toward rabbinic ordination, or parenthood -- requires endurance. There comes a time when one has traveled such a distance that the old shores of one's former life have receded in the distance, but the new shores of who one is becoming are not yet visible on the far side of the sea.

The 22nd day of the Omer, which begins tonight, invites us to cultivate lovingkindness as we seek to draw on our own endurance. This is not about gritting our teeth and getting through it. This is a process of responding to whatever arises, as we seek to continue doing the work, with kindness and with love.

How can you be kind to yourself as you try to sustain the big work of your life? How can you hold yourself with love even as you struggle to keep putting one foot in front of the other, despite obstacles and difficulties which inevitably arise? Can you respond even to those difficulties from a place of unending love?