By Hazzan Jacob Sandler.
Lag BaOmer was Monday night/Tuesday this week. The 33rd day of our 7-week journey to Shavuot. The Torah teaches that while we left Egypt and were free on Passover, our freedom wasn’t fully realized until we received the Torah 7 weeks later. As we count those same 7 weeks, we have an opportunity to refine our souls and become even more ready to take hold of our freedom and be our best selves.
I like to ask a lot of questions during the Omer about the sefira (attribute/trait) of the week, and the sefira of the day – how they relate and inform each other. If you’ve been coming to evening minyan regularly, you’ve heard me do this. If not, come check it out.
During the first week, in focusing on Chesed (lovingkindness), I wondered how can I be sure that my love or kindness is still respectful of others’ boundaries (Day 2: Gevurah in Chesed). You wouldn’t want to go in for the hug without knowing if that person is a hugger, or at least it never hurts to ask. Later that week (Day 6: Yesod in Chesed), I thought about how the bonds and relationships in my life support my kindness. Do I surround myself with people who encourage, value and inspire me to be kinder?
During the second week, the week of Gevurah (strength/discipline/restraint/judgment), I thought about how my judgment should come from a place of love and rooted in kindness. (Day 8: Chesed in Gevurah). Sometimes we need tough love. On Day 12 (Hod in Gevurah), it was Yom HaShoah uGevurah, I thought about how judgment without humility can be incredibly dangerous. We must know that our strength comes from HaShem, and never forget what can happen if we become arrogant and judgmental or worse.
The third week is about Tiferet, which is associated with beauty and balance, but also truth and the integration of extremes. I thought about (Day 18: Netzach in Tiferet), how finding balance is never a done deal. That we need to find enduring balance, which requires constantly balancing. It’s an exercise that is ongoing.
In the fourth week, the theme was Netach (endurance, eternity – netzach netzachim, but also ambition and success – nitzachon). I thought about (Day 23: Gevurah in Netzach) how to make good decisions into lasting good habits. I also meditated on (Day 26: Hod in Netzach), sometimes in order to reach our ambitious goals, we need to let go and be grateful for what we’ve already achieved. It’s also important to be humble in our pursuits and asking for help and receiving feedback in order to continue succeeding in the long term.
And in this fifth week of Hod (humility, gratitude, surrender), I always remind myself (Day 29: Chesed in Hod) that humility is not thinking less of myself, but thinking of myself less. Humility is not self-deprecation, but a loving recognition of the greatness of others. I’ve also been thinking about (Day 34: Netzach in Hod) how important it is to make gratitude a practice. Not only to be thankful, but to make a habit of being thankful.
The days and weeks ahead we will look at Yesod and Malchut. Yesod is our foundation, our connections, and our relationships. We can think of our partners, teams, colleagues, families, friends, communities and how they serve as our foundation, our support and our source of intimacy. We might ask ourselves how can I be more kind in my relationships, more discerning, more honest, more consistent or more grateful?
And the final week of Malchut is the most challenging. Malchut is the great receiver. She is the manifestation of all we learn each week, and how we receive the blessings of those meditations. How do we increase our dignity and our ability to lead with these traits? How can we move from freedom to true autonomy, allowing our soul to guide our bodies to do great things? Have we reflected and received the gifts of kindness, strength, balance, success, gratitude, and connection? And are we ready come day 50 to receive the Torah all over again?