Day 12 of the Omer



DAY 12: MEDITATE ON THEM


Run your fingers along red leather spines
embossed in gold. Read their titles like Braille.

Cradle the mantled scroll in your arms
like a sleeping child, more precious

than gold. Weigh the silver breastplate
in your hands, engraved pomegranates rattling.

The cherry-wood reading pointer fits
in your palm like a custom-made wand.

Even the words are beautiful, curve
and slash of calligraphy adorned with crowns.

Now remember all of this treasure pales
beside the real Torah: not the scroll, not

even the rounded runcibles of Rashi script
but the broadcast which flows from the source.

Deliberately tune your dials to God's station.
Delight in that. Taste the parchment's honey.

Read the Torah of the geese overhead.
Waltz with the Torah in every step.

 


 

Today is the 12th day of the Omer, which makes one week and five days of the Omer. Today is the 12th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, between liberation and revelation.

According to one Mussar teaching which maps the days of the Omer to the qualities named in Pirkei Avot, today is the day for focusing on Deliberation, which they name in Hebrew as yishuv hamikra. That webpage links this day with Psalm 1 verse 2, אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְיָ, חֶפְצוֹ;    וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה, יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה -- "That one's delight is in the Torah of Adonai, and that person meditates on it day and night."

"Torah," of course, can mean much more than just the Five Books of Moses. That's the idea which gave rise to this poem.


Day 11 of the Omer

 

DAY 11: TREE POSE


The way to hold tree pose:
focus on a still point
and let your eyes go soft.
Slow your breathing.
Grow roots from heel and toe.

The redwoods endure.
Imagine the cross-section:
here's the fall of the Temple,
the writing of the mishna,
the 20th century's wars.

What's in your rings?
Years of spiritual thirst,
years of plenty...
And how did your roots reach
the living well?

Draw water up from your depths.
Torah percolating
in the xylem and the phloem
just beneath the skin.
What flowers will you bloom?

 


 

Today is the 11th day of the Omer, which makes one week and four days of the Omer.  This is the eleventh day of our 49-day journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from liberation to revelation.

In the kabbalistic paradigm, today is the day of netzach she'b'gevurah, the day of endurance within the week of boundaried strength. Endurance made me think of redwoods; and trees plus boundaries made me think of the xylem and phloem through which water brings nutrients from a tree's roots to its crown.


Day 10 of the Omer

 

DAY 10: JOURNEY


The tenth day:
fortune cookie says, find balance
within constraint. Even bound
to the count, you're free
to stargaze while you wait.
Are we there

yet? Do we even know where there
is? Once a cloud by day,
a fire by night showed us when to wait
and when to leap, the balance
between movement (free)
and stillness (bound).

As we trek toward Sinai, we're bound
to have days when there's
nothing can stop us, we're free
to dance -- and days
when mud sucks our shoes, we lose balance
-- even fall backwards. Wait

and discern the path ahead, the weight
of ancient trauma falling away. Bound
like lambs across the hilltops! Balance
with the patient angels. There
will come, I promise you, a day
when we encamp around the mountain, free

to receive transmission. Free
yourself from expectation. Wait
until you see the voice that day!
You don't have to believe it now, bound
by old scripts. Once you're there
harmony will hang in the balance

of old and new, balance
of rearview mirror and windshield free
from roadsalt's cloud. There's
much to be said for learning how to wait,
how to live within the bounds
of celebrating what God has made today.

Balance urge to run, willingness to wait.
The trip is free. Blessings abound.
Trust you'll be there on the 50th day.

 


 

Today is the tenth day of the Omer, making one week and three days of the Omer. Today is the tenth day on our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

In the kabbalistic paradigm, today is the day of tiferet (balance and harmony) within the week of gevurah (boundaries, strength, judgement.)

Today's poem is a sestina, one of my favorite poetic forms. (If you click on the "sestina" tag in the sidebar you'll see the many others which I've posted here over the years.)

Ten days down, 39 to go. What is the journey like for you so far?


Day 9 of the Omer

 

DAY 9: SONG AT THE SEA

a psalm of transformation.

Can you still hear the song at the sea?
Remember the melody, soaring.
We all walked together, my hand on your shoulder.
You gained a new name in the journey.

Remember the melody, soaring?
You carried your ancestors' bones
and gained a new name in the journey.
Sing now the song of your wholeness.

You carried your ancestors' bones.
Sing peace for the cousins who bicker,
sing them the song of your wholeness.
Reveal your yearning without fear.

Sing peace for the cousins who bicker.
This is the gift: a channel with walls.
Reveal your yearning without fear.
Pour out your love. The container will hold.

This is the gift: a channel with walls.
Don't let the wonder recede.
Pour out your love. The container will hold.
How did you feel when your waters parted?

Don't let the wonder recede.
We all walked together, my hand on your shoulder...
How did you feel when your waters parted?
Can you still hear the song at the sea?


 


 

Today is the ninth day of the Omer, making one week and two days of the Omer. Today is the ninth day of our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, liberation to revelation.

As I wrote this, I was thinking about how it feels to be after the seder, trying to hold on to the spiritual high even as time keeps pulling us away. Also about the Song at the Sea. This went through a few revisions, and around draft 3 I realized that it wanted to be a pantoum and it all came together.

 


Day 8 of the Omer

 

DAY 8: WHAT IT MEANS TO PRAY


The judge sees through you like an X-ray.
Let your heart give up its secrets.
This is what it means to pray:

to discern the subtle workings of
—let's call it soul, although the word
is imprecise, and may evoke

incense and crystals. I gravitate
toward this old-fashioned leather strap
twined ten times around my arm

but use the tools
that help you pry your ribs apart
and offer up what beats inside.

Listen: everyone's reciting
through time and space
Your glory shines, Majestic One.

 


 

Today is the eighth day of the Omer, making one week and one day of the Omer. This is the 8th day of our 49-day journey between Pesach and Shavuot, liberation and revelation.

In working on today's poem, I found myself paying particular attention to rhythm. This is a good one to read aloud.

This second week of the Omer, in the kabbalistic paradigm, is the week of gevurah -- boundaried strength or discipline. That drew me to the image of God as Judge, which in turn reminded me that the Hebrew word which means to pray, להתפלל / l'hitpallel, literally means to judge oneself or to discern oneself.

The final two lines are Reb Zalman z"l's rendering of the Hebrew words which follow the shema, baruch shem k'vod malchuto l'olam va'ed, which we recite aloud only on Yom Kippur. Though we do sing them aloud in the prayer Ana B'Koach, which some have the tradition of reciting after counting the Omer each day.

Re: "I gravitate / toward this old-fashioned leather strap..." -- that's a reference to tefillin, about which I have blogged many times before.


Day 7 of the Omer

 

DAY 7 - BLESSING


When I say that we're blessed --
I mean we're loved the way we are,
but what do those words mean to you?
(How do you feel when I say Adonai?)
Do the prayers actually describe our
relationship with the One we call God,
whether source or force, wellspring or ruler?
The terms are imprecise. None of
them could part the Sea of Reeds. The
only thing I know is, the universe
is expanding and my heart with it. You
know the song that says we're enough? Make
a habit, sing it every day. Each of us
is a reflection of the holy:
not despite our differences but with
them. Love the One with all your
heart, with all you are. All the mitzvot
add up to this: every sinew in the body and
every day of the year, hear the command
to love. The obligation's on us
to ready ourselves for the download, to
make these forty-nine days count.
Can you see Sinai from here? The
mountain awaits. Bring the Omer.

 


 

Today is the seventh day of the Omer, making one week of our journey from Pesach to Shavuot, from liberation to revelation.

Today's poem takes the form called a golden shovel. If you read the last word of every line, you get "Blessed are You, Adonai our God, ruler of the universe; You make us holy with Your mitzvot, and command us to count the Omer" -- the traditional blessing recited alongside the actual counting of each day.

"All the mitzvot / add up to this: every sinew in the body and / every day of the year" -- in Jewish tradition, it is taught that there are 613 mitzvot (connective-commandments) in the Torah. Tradition further says that there are 248 positive mitzvot, one for each of the bones and sinews in the body, and 365 negative ones, one for each day of the year. Whether or not there are actually 248 parts of the human body, I love the idea that the mitzvot can be related to every day of our lives and to all that we are.


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?