Day 21 Counting the Omer 2013 Malchut/Shechina she b’Tiferet

Indwelling Presence within Harmony

Today, as we are horrified by the events in Boston, grateful for those who rushed in to care and mourning with families and friends of those dead and injured, we pause. It is hard to remember a bigger picture when faced with anguish and fear, yet, when we can, it helps us heal, each of us connected inexorably, to each other. The Indwelling Presence within the Great Harmony appears in selfless acts, in spontaneous assistance, in the rush to aid and to understand. May all who need comfort find at least some small portion of it today, remembering that we are held in the arms of the Holy One, as we end the week of Harmony and Balance.

In English, the word “Presence” can be taken so many ways–as in ‘aware’=present; as in ‘attending’ = not absent; as in ‘gift’= a present; as in ‘an additional, noticeable energy’= a presence. I was thinking, as this day of the Omer count began, of looking at the word differently: as ‘pre’ ’sense’…before sensation. G!d energy surrounds us, pervades us, dwells within us. It existed, as we are reminded in Adon Olam, before there was a before. The Divine precedes sensation…and then infuses it. It’s everywhere–Ein Od Milvado…there is nothing except this Presence. Today we pause, at the conclusion of the third week of counting the Omer, to recognize how Divinity contributes to our balance, simultaneously supporting and enlivening the beauty of our lives.

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Day 20 Counting the Omer Yesod she b’Tiferet

Foundation within Harmony

Looking for stability after days of computer, blog, website glitches. Need the steadiness to be the basis of harmony and balance….sometimes the theme of the Omer counting is so well aligned with life!

Today we focus on the relationship between creative energy/generative energy and the beautiful balance that can be created with it, through it. We become supple, flexibly responsive to whatever comes our way.

The intervening days without Omer postings are now part of our collective past! Here’s hoping that the electronic gremlins behave themselves now!!!

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Day 16 Counting of the Omer Gevurah she b’Tiferet

Discernment within Harmony

Discernment in Gevurah is based on knowing the underlying structures and disciplines upon which to make good judgments. The term ‘halacha’, Jewish law, comes from the Hebrew root “h”"l”"ch” which refers to walking, or ‘the way’. Halacha is the structure which guides decisions and allows people to live together in harmony.

In Navajo tradition, harmony is the natural, balanced state of the world. If a person is ill or if there is trouble in the community, something is assumed to be out of balance. A structured ritual ceremony known as the Blessing Way is performed to restore harmony. Gevurah provides the order that facilitates the return to the natural order of balance, harmony and beauty.

We focus today on the importance of regular practice, of developing structure in our lives which contributes to enjoying a balanced life.

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Day 15 Counting the Omer 2013 Chesed she b’Tiferet

Lovingkindness within Harmony

This third week of Counting the Omer focuses on Tiferet, the energy of harmony, balance and beauty. Tiferet is like a lens that magnifies the beauty inherent in everything, the dynamic balance that sustains everything.

Today Chesed, Lovingkindness serves as fuel for Tiferet. Imagine the flow of love as the source of balance and harmony in the world. We sense contact with God when we are in awe, encountering unexpected beauty, sweet harmony, and sudden tenderness. Just as Miriam the Prophetess gave the water of life to all who came near her, feeding their deepest needs, the flow of Chesed enters our hearts and feeds our needs, perpetuating our own fundamental and unique harmonies.

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Day 14 Counting the Omer 2013 Malchut/Shechina she b’Gevurah

Indwelling Presence within Discernment

This pair of themes conveys the fact that Holy Presence is always close to us in all our decisions, judgments and actions. All we have to do is remember! When we remember that we always have loving protection, deep insight and thoughtful guidance available, our lives can be enriched.

We are reminded today that guidelines and rules are not the same. The wise ruler and respectful leader sets up boundaries within which a number of correct decisions are possible….these are guidelines. Rules, are the other hand, are binary: either you break the rule or follow it. Today we recognize the presence of the Holy One within some religious rules (Do not murder, for example) as well as in religious guidelines (Rejoice on the festival–without specific instructions!, for example).

As we conclude the week of Gevurah, we recall the usefulness of proper discernment in all aspects of our lives.

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Day 13 Counting the Omer 2013 Yesod she b’Gevurah

Foundation within Discernment

The Mishnah states: “Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omed: al haTorah, v’al haAvodah v’al Gmilut Chasadim” The world stands upon three things: Torah, service/devotion/prayer and good deeds. These form the foundation which guides our actions, today and every day. Life goals and our family/community structures rely on foundational principles, principles which guide by letting us know appropriate boundaries. Today we focus on how our spiritual paths rely on a strong foundation in text, tradition, experience, teaching, guidance, and culture.

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Day 12 Counting of the Omer 2013 Hod she b’Gevurah

Splendor within Discernment

Holocaust Remembrance Day

As we remember the splendor that has been lost along with those millions of lives, the knowledge and memories gone with those who perished, we commit ourselves to fighting injustice and prejudice.  Prejudice is built on overgeneralization, the opposite of true discerning.  One way to describe Hod is as splendid diversity — certainly it was a splendid diversity of children, women and men who died in the Holocaust.  As we remember them today, we are grateful for their lives, their legacies and their leadership.

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Day 11 of Counting the Omer 2013 Netzach she b’Gevurah

Endurance within Discernment

Endurance, persistence, perseverance…all ways to describe continuing effort. When we overcome obstacles by applying stamina, whether physical, emotional, intellectual or spiritual, we become more strong (strength being another description of Gevurah!). Think of how the quiet, constant flow of a river wears down stones, or goes around them and still gets downstream. Just as stones are not barriers to water applied over time, the barriers we seem to encounter in life can be gently eroded. Building up strength slowly, as every person in physical therapy, rehabilitation or an exercise program knows, is most effective. As Day 11 coincides with Shabbat this year, we celebrate the spiritual stamina that has kept us, as a people, strong over thousands of years.

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Day 10 Counting the Omer 2013 Tiferet she b’Gevurah

Harmony within Discernment

Without harmonizing influence, even the most well intentioned discernment can become a source of prejudice and intolerance. Harmony and balance provide stability — think of the music of harmony and balance of dance — together they support the kind of spiritual equilibrium that facilitates wise choices, the actions of Gevurah.

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Parsha Shemini Drash April 2013

Parshat Shemini

Torah Reading for Week of March 31-April 6, 2013

“The Temptation of New Beginnings”
By Rabbi Min Kantrowitz

Parasha Shemini, constituting Lev 9:1-11:47, is unusual in many ways. This is the only parasha named after a number–eight! Why is ‘eight” important? And what does the number eight have to do with the two important thematic issues that constitute the majority of this Parsha– the mysterious deaths of Nadav and Avihu and the detailed laws of kashrut (keeping kosher)?

We know that seven is the number of completion in Jewish tradition. There are seven days in the week and the seventh day is Shabbat, the day of rest. In traditional Jewish weddings, the bride circles the groom seven times under the chuppah (wedding canopy). In Jewish funerals, the procession from funeral coach to gravesite stops seven times. The number seven figures prominently in delineations of Jewish time — the seven weeks of Counting the Omer, and the Sabbatical year marking the seventh year when the land rests and is renewed. But what about eight? Just as ‘seven’ refers to completion, ‘eight’ is associated with new beginnings. A brit milah (circumcision) is conducted on the eighth day of a young boy’s life, after completing a week as an ‘unaffiliated’ infant, he is brought into the covenant and his new life as a Jew begins on the eighth day. After the 49 days of counting the seven weeks of the Omer, the 50th day, the beginning of the eighth week is Shavuot, when we celebrate receiving Torah…marking a radically new spiritual beginning!

Leviticus 9:1 tells us that Aaron and his sons have spent seven days being ceremonially prepared by Moses for their new priestly duties. The seven day training period having been completed, on the eighth day they step into their new roles.

New beginnings offer opportunity and freedom. The next section of our Parsha illustrates the potential dangers of freedom, as Nadav and Avihu, two of the four sons of Aaron who has just been invested into priestly service, perform some undefined ritually inappropriate act, and are killed. Be careful with new beginnings, this parsha is telling us. Whether religious zealotry, misguided ritual passion or strong drink were the contributing factors is irrelevant. The fact is that new opportunities have both positive and negative potential. We are being reminded to handle new responsibilities thoughtfully, considering implications and understanding boundaries.

The parsha continues with details about kashrut, the “fitness” of the food we consume. It details which kinds of animals and insects are permitted, describing their physical characteristics with anatomical details that are to help us discern what is and is not appropriate food.

Why do these details about kashrut follow the story of Nadav and Avihu? Their story is a warning about the potential dangers of a spiritual journey; Nadav and Avihu were explorers who overstepped their bounds. It is fitting, then, to follow this narrative with the laws of kashrut which are designed to guide our steps … to set up boundaries within which we can safely explore. Having experienced the tragic consequences of actions based on passion without appropriate limits, the necessity for boundaries becomes clear. The last verse of the Parsha reminds us: “To distinguish between the impure and the pure.”

New beginnings are exciting, but can be dangerous. Recognizing the wisdom of boundaries can help keep us spiritually nourished and safe. May we all step into our new beginnings well trained, spiritually prepared, and honoring appropriate boundaries.

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