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Making Each Day Count: Getting Ready for Omer

How does this happen? That busyness reigns supreme, that ambition drives the day, that exhaustion connects moment with moment, that, well, we simply forget to pay attention to what is noble and grand and really important. That we ignore what is truly beautiful and possible.

How does this happen? Days pass by and we are mostly oblivious. We simply pay little or no attention to our potential power, to the passage of time, to wonder, to the incredible beauty that emerges when shadow dances with light. We tend to be deeply uninvolved and forget how we have emerged from the days that we were afraid to be ourselves, the days when we were hesitant beings.

product_image-1.aspRemember those days when we blinked and twitched as we tried to find our place in society, to discover our way through family craziness? Do you remember when we desperately searched for a strong sense of self that would withstand the push and pull of life? I remember. And if I were to be completely honest, I don’t have to reach back into memory. I still blink and twitch and I am still discovering my way. Maybe that’s why we choose to be so busy, so distracted by nothing much, because to be aware is, can be, complicated.

But we are invited every so often by the rhythms of the Jewish calendar to transcend our very human tendency towards oblivion. We are invited to gain a sense of footing, to lift our eyes beyond the mundane and think and learn, consider and see, really see what is possible and interesting and fantastic in our lives. Now, with the ever-slow emergence of spring and sun and warmth and the undeniable regrowth of color we have our chance.

Seven weeks, forty-nine days, separate Passover and Shavuot. And for those forty-nine days our tradition gives us a simple command – to count. Count each day, for forty-nine days, one at a time, and pay attention. Take time back from oblivion and to notice.

Though the counting of the omer is an ancient tradition connected with the harvest in the Israel, today it has become a spiritual practice. Like all spiritual practices there are tools, which help us stay focused on the journey. For years, during the counting of the Omer, I have sent daily emails, short passages, some from Jewish tradition, some from the wisdom of great thinkers, some original writing. Every passage ends with the short blessing, which counts the sequence of days from the first to the forty-ninth. These passages are like a bit of sweetness delivered to your mind and heart; a daily invitation to breathe, to pause, to reflect.

Reflection. It is the nectar of a considered life. And our lives are worthy of our consideration. Each day. One day at a time. Making our days count for something grand.

Rabbi Karyn Kedar is the senior rabbi of Congregation BJBE in Deerfield Illinois. She is the author of several books including Omer: A Counting, published by CCAR Press in both paper and as an ebook. This book includes passages for counting the Omer as well as seven spiritual principles to consider each week. You can also sign up for her blog at karynkedar.com.

Categories
Immigration News Rabbis Social Justice

We All Need a Little Netzach: We Stand with Ruth

This blog is the fourth in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer to Immigration Reform.  This Shavuot, we recommit ourselves to working with the modern-day strangers among us. This Shavuot, we stand with Ruth.  Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center. Learn more and join the mailing list

I never intended to become an immigrant to this country.  Like much of life, it just happened.  I took a job, and then another, and then went to graduate school. Before I knew it, I had lived in this country for fifteen years.  America had gradually become my home.  It is where my best friends lived, where I found my calling as a rabbi, where I had my first congregation, where I fell in love with the man who would become my husband, where I gave birth to my first child.  Yet I was no closer to being a permanent resident than the day I had moved here fifteen years ago.  And then my application for permanent residency was denied.   Like Ruth, I was at risk of losing my home, of everything I knew, of losing that sense of rootedness and stability I had taken for granted.

Like Ruth, I was lucky. My story eventually has a good ending.  I reapplied and was accepted, thanks to my American husband, (and no, his name is not Boaz) and am now the proud owner of a green card, looking forward to that day when I will be able to become an American citizen.  The ground on which I stand feels strong.

But for millions of immigrants to this country, the millions of Ruths that exist out there, there is not yet a happy ending.  Millions of immigrants live here, in the shadows, struggling to remain a part of the fabric of our country, fearful of driving down the street, unable to pay for college, without the protection of family or an ID.  Thousands of parents are being deported every day, taken from their children, leaving their kids parentless, entering foster systems, taking on jobs, failing in school.

rabbi-ledermanFor these millions of souls, there is not yet a happy ending. The key word in that sentence is yet.  Their story and fight is not over.  This is the week of Netzach in the counting of the Omer.  Netzach stands for endurance and fortitude, and ultimately, victory.  It defines an energy that will stop at nothing to achieve its goals.  It is the readiness to go all the way, to fight for what you believe.  It stands for the ability to endure in the face of challenges and hardship and believe that things are possible.

Being an immigrant requires Netzach.  Being an ally in the fight for immigration reform requires Netzach.  With legislation stalled in the House, with deportations at an all time high, we all need a little Netzach.

This Shavuot, I encourage you to stand up and say:  I stand with Ruth.  I stand with the millions of Ruths in this country who have the Netzach to see this fight through to the end, because their lives depend on it.

Post this message on your Facebook timeline and share why YOU stand with Ruth.

Next week’s We Stand With Ruth Omer message will include a liturgy and teaching session you can use for Shavuot. Will you show us your support by publically pledging to use one or both of these resources? Pledge to stand with Ruth this Shavuot here!

Rabbi Esther Lederman serves Temple Micah in Washington, DC.
Categories
Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Tiferet: Between Chesed and Gevurah, We Stand With Ruth

This blog is the third in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer to Immigration Reform.  This Shavuot, we recommit ourselves to working with the modern-day strangers among us. This Shavuot, we stand with Ruth.  Rabbis Organizing Rabbis is a joint project of the CCAR’s Peace & Justice Committee, the URJ’s Just Congregations, and the Religious Action Center. Learn more and join the mailing list

In our kabbalistic tradition, Tiferet, this week’s value, is understood as the mediating force between Chesed (‘compassion’ or ‘lovingkindness’) and Gevurah (‘strength’ or ‘judgment’). Most often translated as “adornment”, Tiferet is the sixth sefirah in the Tree of Life. It is often associated with both ‘integration’ and ‘balance’. The opposing forces of Chesed and Gevurah are, respectively, expansive (giving) and restrictive (receiving). Either of them without the other could not manifest the flow of Divine energy; they are held in delicate proportion by the careful balancing power of Tiferet.

Let us consider the debate over immigration reform in our country in light of this (political) juxtaposition and the need for (societal) balance. Those who oppose the growing influx from other countries of people seeking economic and political advancement often employ ‘judgment’ as their main argument, taking the position that too many are breaking or evading the law, and are considered ‘illegal’; they therefore do not deserve the benefits that our country has to offer. Those trying to effectuate reform quite often invoke ‘compassion’ on their side, reasoning that since we are in many ways a nation of immigrants, history compels us to make a way for the outsider, and especially their children, to become participating American citizens.

As we count the Omer and slowly build up to Shavuot, we are mindful of the life of our ancestor Ruth. A Moabite woman by birth, she chose to cast her future fate with her mother-in-law Naomi, and to move with Naomi to a new home, the land of Judah. There Boaz took her in and cared for her, accepting her as one of his own, treating her with the dignity and respect due each person created in God’s image no matter their country of origin. But let us also remember that Ruth worked for Boaz and with Boaz as she strove to join his family permanently. Accepted at first, she also earned her ultimate right to stay.

RabbiJonathanSteinBoaz’s accepting attitude combined with Ruth’s willingness to contribute can model a useful approach to the immigration controversies now stirring up passions on both sides in our own country. Politics is fundamentally about compromise, and in the long run this issue will be no different. We seek Tiferet, the right balance between Chesed and Gevurah. But as we struggle to achieve that political goal, let us remember that, as Jews, we stand with Ruth.

Rabbi Jonathan Stein serves Congregation Shaaray Tefilah in New York City.

Categories
Immigration News Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

We Stand With Ruth: An Omer Series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis

Slavery. The story of the Exodus from Egypt is universal and it is epic and it is an archetype that spans across the centuries. It is a deeply personal story. The Children of Israel stand at the edge of the wilderness and beckon us to become a part of a mixed multitude marching toward freedom. Their march, their courage and their doubt, touch our well-protected self, which tugs and pokes around our soul.

Excerpt from Omer: A Counting by Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

Over and over again we are commanded to love the stranger in our midst. Because of our collective consciousness we know the plight of the stranger and we empathize with the fear and longing for roots and the tragedy of simply not belonging. As we enter into this seven-week counting of the Omer, let those who are invisible among us become visible to our hearts. Let us find a way to make our country compassionate, tolerant and a place where loving-kindness, chesed, is the law of the land. We stand with Ruth. 

Rabbi Karyn Kedar is the Senior Rabbi at B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim in Deerfield, IL.  She is the author of Omer: A Counting, as well as many other publications. 

Each week of the Omer, Rabbis Organizing Rabbis will post a piece in the series, We Stand With Ruth.  

Categories
Immigration Rabbis Reform Judaism Social Justice

Omer: Recalling the Value of Gevurah

This week, we recall the value of Gevurah–strength through judgement. We are taught that true strength must always be tempered by wisdom just as justice is balanced by mercy. We are given the ability, through judgement, to use our strength for good.

We live in a nation that is the most powerful in the world. America has economic, military, and political strength. Being strong, however, must not mean that we use our power with  belligerence or to oppress others.  Rather our strength is to be a positive force in our world. America is a beacon of hope for so many people who live in places where strength and power are misused. This country attracts those who wish to add their talents, loyalties, and creativity to add new energy to our nation.

During this first week of the Omer, we recall the strength of Boaz who protected and sheltered Ruth. He welcomed this stranger from Moab and valued her own kindness shown to Naomi. Ruth labored in the fields as a stranger, a widow, an outcast. But Boaz used his strength to provide for her and for her mother-in-law, Naomi.

We who were strangers in Egypt are taught to treat the stranger as the native. We are commanded to protect the outcast, the widow, the orphan, and the poor. We are no longer slaves in Egypt. We are not the outcasts. We are indeed fortunate to benefit from all the gifts that this strong nation bestows upon its inhabitants. Let us use our own spiritual and political powers to ensure welcome to this land for others, especially  the undocumented adults and children who seek shelter here in this land of freedom. We stand with Boaz. We stand with Ruth.

 Rabbi Samuel Gordon serves Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, IL.

This blog is the first in a series from Rabbis Organizing Rabbis connecting the Omer to Immigration Reform.