Day 5 of the Omer
April 09, 2015
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.