Most people are surprised to learn that Rosh Hashanah isn’t the actual start of the Jewish calendar year.
Passover, the 15th of Nisan, is called the “First Month” of the year in the Torah – so, technically, Happy New Year!
But if you think about it, it makes sense. Passover takes place in the spring — a natural period of change and renewal for plant and animal life, and for our ancient farming ancestors, it was the start of a new crop. The Barley harvest.
In the biblical narrative during Passover, we read about the Exodus – A group of Individuals brought out of slavery, through parted and purifying waters, and onto a journey to a promised land. They emerge on the other side as new people. The Jewish people.
So if Passover is the New Year, how do we to hit the mental, spiritual, and physical reset button to prepare for our new year and our own new journey?
Forget about social media declarations – #NewYearNewMe, or grandiose goals of weight loss, self-care, or book clubs, because our tradition spells it all out for us. All of the different ways that we can try to be our best self; the new and improved version of who we were during Pesach, and all YOU have to do is count the Omer.
The Omer was an ancient measurement of grain, and refers to the barley offering that was brought to the Ancient Temple starting on the second day of Passover.
As the Torah instructs:
“You shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – 50 days.”
The Jewish mystical tradition added to this counting practice by identifying each of the seven weeks with different divine, but also very human characteristics we should all hope to embody: Loving kindness; Courage; Beauty; Eternity; Splendor; Foundation, and Majesty.
For each of the 49 days leading to Shavuot (our next Festival holiday), there is a specific combination of these qualities that we are to study. This focus on the “sefirot” (attributes) turn this ancient offering of barley into a seven-week spiritual journey of deep self reflection. This soul searching journey gives us insight into our behaviors – the good, the bad and everything in between, so that we are prepared to receive our own version of Torah at Shavuot.
So I invite you to engage and count with me this Shabbat, as we welcome in what the mystics named “Gevurah she’b’Gevurah,” (strength within strength) with a little reflection:
“Gevurah sh’b’Gevurah”: (strength within strength)
The week of Gevurah gives us the opportunity to reveal, embrace, and more deeply understand both our inner and outer strengths.
There are times in our lives when it is a gift to be able to call on our strength to carry us through difficult challenges and roadblocks. But if we are always living in Gevurah we will become hardened in body, soul and heart. If we can wisely tap into our strength when needed, it can help us out in challenging situations. Gevurah gives us an anchor that can safely ground us in the present while providing the opportunity to be aware of and open to possibilities of our future. -Rabbi David J. Cooper
We start with a blessing:
BA-RUCH A-TAH ADO-NAI E-LO-HE-NU ME-LECH HA-OLAM ASHER KID-E-SHA-NU BE-MITZ-VO-TAV VETZI-VA-NU AL SEFI-RAT HA-OMER.
Today is 9 days. 1 week and 2 days of the Omer.
Many of us witnessed this week the immense and painful Gevurah shown by the Dee family in Israel, who tragically lost their matriarch, Lucy, and two young daughters, Maia and Rina, in a terrorist attack in the West Bank, last Shabbat.
In honor of these women, I end with a request from their surviving daughter and sister:
“Our mother would always go around the Shabbat table every week and ask everyone to share something good that they did, something good someone else did for them, and something good that God did.”
In memory of this beautiful mother and her daughters, whose lives were so tragically cut short, please take the time with your loved ones this Shabbat to share some of your own stories of good and kindness in the world .
Cantor Lisa Peicott