Fourteen Days of the Omer 5779: Indwelling of Strength

Tonight, as we usher in Shabbat, we will welcome the fourteenth day, which is two weeks, of the Omer. שכינה שבגבורה, Shechinah ShebeGevurah, Indwelling of Strength.

Children are the strongest force in the universe

When I was young, before my Shadow grew and my Protective Shells hardened, I was the strongest force in the universe. When you slow down and experience a child, you begin to sense that strength. The inner fortitude, the clarity of their reason, their stranglehold on fairness.

Part of the work of adulthood is making space for the purity of childhood to shine through. Allow yourself to be completely and authentically you. Recognize the power within you that comes directly from God. Know that your strength is meant for you and that you have the opportunity to turn your strength to the service of Goodness and Holiness.

Don’t abandon your toys in the search for truth

People often see me carrying around Tokidoki bags and think I’ve borrowed them from my child. Actually, when I speak I tend to come across as intensely focused on Adult Concerns. I carry pop culture ephemera with me to remind myself that (a) I should never take myself too seriously and (b) having fun / enjoying life is part of the journey. I owe it to myself not to abandon the child within. And that’s why I’m determined not to abandon my toys, my playmates, or my swimming pools in my search for meaning.

My toys: my silly t-shirts, my kawaii bags. My playmates: my sisters from Wellesley, past activism, and past jobs. My swimming pools: social media, TV shows, superhero movies. Swimming was my favorite activity as a kid. I’ve never lived in a house with a pool, but I always love to dive into the deep end of whatever I’m doing. Immersing myself in experiences, and learning to let go of the guilt that my time isn’t solely focused on Worthwhile Activities.

Revel in the Discipline and Power within

Too often, my meditations on Gevurah lean into all that I’m not yet doing. These forty-nine days are about returning towards the path you want to be on, and starting to repair the damage you’ve created in each aspect of the emanations. On the other hand, submerging in guilt over all you haven’t accomplished will never motivate you to make a change and turn toward that vision of yourself.

I find it more useful to revel in the breadth of discipline and power innate within me. Though I may be having trouble fully embracing discipline, I know that I am on the right path to achieve it. And I have faith that all of the tools I need to live a happy and healthy life exist within my control.

May you have the fortitude to revel in your own strength.

Previously on the fourteenth day of the Omer…

Fourteen Days 2018 / 5778: Hold space for others while asserting your own presence.

Fourteen Days 2017 / 5777: Transform your understanding of the past, break free of limiting narratives.

Thirteen Days of the Omer 5779: Foundation of Strength

Today is thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the Omer. יסוד שבגבורה, Yesod of Gevurah, Foundation of Strength.

I have been waffling for over an hour about this meditation and post. I was inspired by a Pixabay image of a father and son. I thought – yes, exactly. The true foundation of a person’s strength is the strength of their bonds with other people. This is such a core value in Judaism. I should use a picture of my family to illustrate this.

And then I thought – should I really do that to my kids? And this conundrum sat in my head for over an hour. An hour that I should be sleeping. Try as I might to meditate on discipline, I have yet to find a way to go to sleep at a reasonable hour.

All accomplishments rely on human connections

Human connections as the foundation of strength. You don’t have to be a parent to feel this. It’s why Facebook and the rest of the social media platforms have such a hold over us. I’ve been listening to The Dream podcast. First, it emphasizes the human need for social interaction and the deep ways that we trust other humans more than we trust institutions.

Yet, it also has me thinking about all the ways that foundational values can be twisted. From prosperity theology to the casual erasure of the Jewish origins of Proverbs 31, it is an interesting podcast to consume while attempting to sink into Jewish wisdom.

As the podcast reminds me, the need for relationships is so fundamental to human existence: to be seen, to be accepted, to be wanted. When relationships are healthy, they are the foundation of strength.

The bedrock of my strength is my family

I am deeply blessed that as flawed as I am, my primary adult desire–to find a partner and build a family–has been fulfilled. While perhaps the least “feminist” aspect of my personality, the desire for belonging is entirely normal. Again, I fully respect that not everyone wants to be a parent — and not everyone who wants to be a parent is able to. I also know that there is nothing greater than watching my kids’ minds grow, learn, and transform.

There are many other things I have wanted to do professionally — build a peace culture, transform the international and national political paradigm, market products people need when they need them, and help people connect with like-minded people to achieve collectively what is nearly impossible to achieve individually. All of those career goals were focused on my individual contribution to the world. At the back of my mind, while working and while surviving thyroid cancer, it was the yearning for a partner on the journey that left the deepest hole in my heart.

And so, perhaps the thing I need to do today is step back from ruminating on discipline. I need to recognize that my strength comes from my family. And relish that reality while I prepare to welcome in the Sabbath Queen.

What is the deepest source of your strength? When everything material is stripped away, how do you stay connected to your vision?

Previously on the thirteenth day of the Omer

13 Days 2018 / 5778: Building a firm foundation of strength that incorporates humans and ideas.

13 Days 2017 / 5777: Reverence as the bedrock of strength.

Twelve Days of the Omer 5779, Splendor of Strength

Today is twelve days, which is one week and five days of the Omer. הוד שבגבורה, Hod ShebeGevurah, Splendor of Power; prophetic judgment.

As I observe the ways in which my Yetzer HaRa foils my plans for discipline, I also daydream about the splendor just beyond my grasp. Last night, I painted a beautiful picture in my mind about the person I want to be. Today, I have the opportunity to bring it a step closer to reality. 

Netzach and Hod: the pillars upholding the Temple

The Pillars of the Temple were full of splendor. The pillars of Judaism give us strength as we face anti-Jewish violence.

Tonight, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day begins. There still aren’t as many Jews alive now as there were on the eve of World War II. May we all light a candle, either physically or virtually, for a particular victim. May their names and their memories never be forgotten.

I cannot choose fear or the path of blending into the dominant culture. Judaism nourishes my soul and is the bedrock of my life. Hod Shebe Gevurah, splendor of strength, reminds me that no matter the danger: the deep wisdom of Judaism is more powerful than all the hatred in the world. 

Am Yisrael Chai

This is what we mean by Am Yisrael Chai, the people Israel live. We are buoyed by the splendor of our tradition. HaShem radiates strength and discipline into this world and we are vessels for that strength.

May we never forget those murdered in World War II. May my particular focus on the Jewish victims not be mistaken for disregarding the horror faced by other groups then and throughout time. May we have the strength to speak truthfully, allowing ourselves to be vessels for Divine light. 

May our light shine forth and transform the darkness.

Previously on the 12th day of the Omer

12 Days of the Omer 5778: Give yourself permission to share your truth.

12 Days of the Omer 5777: When I understood Hod as the sephira of humility.

Eleven Days of the Omer, Enduring Discipline

Tonight begins eleven days, which is one week and four days of the Omer, נצח שבגבורה, Netzach ShebeGevurah, Endurance of Strength.

The synthesis of all that came before it and all that will come after it. Today is a day to imagine your way into a new life. Use all of the creativity you possess to define the person you want to be. Take a simple step towards achieving that vision.

Your soul yearns to move towards your mission

Forget every day that preceded this moment. No matter what narrative you have been telling yourself about your life: it is a lie. Every narrative has aspects of bondage within it. Whatever description you give to yourself binds you to the person you have been. Free yourself to be the person you want to become.

You think you’ll never be an artist. You don’t have to be Picasso to allow your creativity free reign. Dream big. Have a clear eyed vision of your goals. Then, step back and choose one small step to start moving toward that goal.

Meditating three years on Facebook’s stranglehold

I don’t have answers. I used to think I was the embodiment of Gevurah because I am my family’s protective shield and my partner is our loving heart. While it is true that we bring different strengths into our family, none of us can claim to fully embody a Divine emanation.

And the reality is that even when meditating on discipline, it can be hard to embody it. It is true being a full-time student, I spend far too much time deepening my online social media relationships. I thrive on human interaction, particularly discussing big ideas with other adults. I am not trying to quit Facebook or any other platform. Rather, I want to contain my impulses and ensure that each day, I accomplish the small steps I need to complete my longer term goals.

As an ongoing project, I am working on one action to help me achieve enduring discipline: getting to sleep earlier. Because endurance is only possible when you’re awake enough to embody it. And discipline is impossible if you don’t have the mental energy to focus.

Previously on the eleventh day of the Omer

11 Days of the Omer 2018 / 5778: Recognize that your will is powerful.

11 Days of the Omer 2017 / 5777: Choosing clear-eyed focus on the person you want to be. Letting go of negative judgments.

Ten Days of the Omer: Truthful Discipline

Today is ten days, which is one week and three days of the Omer. תפארת שבגבורה , Tiferet ShebeGevurah Beauty in Strength, Truthful Discipline.

Tiferet is the synthesis of Chesed and Gevurah. Another name for this sephira is אמת Emet, Truth.

When we are truthful about our strengths; when we honor the path of discipline, we create beautiful flow. We sink into the soul’s rhythm. Rather than allowing the world around us to determine our emotions, we are guided by deeper truths.

Holy discipline is the hardest path

Holy discipline is the hardest path. Every step of the way, the Yetzer HaRa, the inclination towards destructiveness thwarts our forward momentum. The small voice inside your head that says “just a few more minutes on Facebook” or “just one more episode on Netflix….” that is the twisted logic of the Yetzer HaRa, driving you away from discipline.

There is a deep purpose to relaxation. Sometimes, it is important to turn off the brain. Yet, I think many of us struggle to maintain healthy boundaries and avoid mindless consumption. This is not a time for self flagellation. Rather, it is a time for self reflection. What drives you to continuously do things you want to reduce? What triggers you? What small step can you take to move towards the balance you want? Do you have a vision for what you’d like to do instead of mindless entertainment consumption?

Or perhaps you stress eat and give yourself stomach aches from piles of junk food. Would saying a blessing of gratitude before eating help you become more mindful?

The Jewish way: Halacha

Discipline gets a bad rap. The Jewish way, halacha, is designed to offer people a road map to a disciplined life. It is not the only way — indeed, within and beyond Judaism there are alternatives to halacha that are equally valid. Nevertheless, studying the masters of halacha and mussar (Jewish ethical schools) , can help lay the ground work for spiritual insight and transformation.

Discipline of the Omer

Spiritual insight can occur through counting the Omer. Meditating on aspects of the Divine. Acknowledging the cracks we have made in the Divine emanations. Making a plan to repair our brokenness. Counting the Omer does not require you to completely transform in seven weeks. Rather, it is a combination of small, incremental steps towards the person you want to be and clarifying who that is.

May we each take a step forward towards truthful discipline.

This day in previous years…

10 Days of the Omer 2018 / 5778: Connecting with inner strength and deep will.

10 Days of the Omer 2017 / 5777: Have compassion for where you are today on your journey.

Nine Days of the Omer 5779, Strength of Strength

Today is nine days, which is one week and two days of the Omer. גבורה שבגבורה, Gevurah ShebeGevurah, Strength of Strength, Judgement of Judgement, Discipline of Discipline.

There is a lion within each of us. It fiercely pursues the path of righteousness. With steadfast courage, it prowls and leaps, sure that it is sovereign and will conquer everything it faces.

Gevurah pursues The Good or The Other Side

That strength pursues the good and the holy. It can also be twisted and torn and turned toward the Other Side, the Sitra Achra.

Evil is not The Other. Evil is Gevurah torn away from its place within the emanations of the Divine. A part of Gevurah always yearns to be free of the boundaries set upon it by the other sephirot. While we may never conquer evil, we can do better at containing it.

The battle within

When we are afraid of our own power, we depress. When the world overwhelms us, depression covers us with a warm blanket of nothing. First, we must conquer the battle within against depression, self doubt, and heaven forbid, self-loathing.

When we rise from the inner battle, we must have a clear vision of the world we are trying to create, of the person we want to be. It is from the strength of our vision that we can face the evil that confronts us beyond ourselves. We must be willing to let down our protective stance and let love in. Know every moment contains the option to turn towards the good.

Teshuvah: turning towards the good

Teshuvah waits patiently for us with every breath. Ever vigilant, we know it is possible for humans to change, for them to choose the path of goodness. And so, we do not despair. We stand rooted in our strength and choose to move forward with meaning and hope.

This day happened before

Nine days of the Omer 2018 / 5778: This is the day of the internal / eternal battle.

Nine days of the Omer 2017 / 5777: Finding internal discipline while losing sleep with a child who refuses to sleep.

Chesed of Gevurah, Lovingkindness in Strength, Eight Days of the Omer

Tonight begins eight days of the Omer, which is one week and one day of the Omer. חסד שבגבורה, Chesed ShebeGevurah, Lovingkindness in Strength.

My meditations usually focus on internal work. Tonight, I contemplate the martyrdom of Lori Gilbert Kaye, who jumped in front of Rabbi Yisroel Goldstein at Chabad of Poway, saving his life and losing hers. I think about the deep discipline of Rabbi Goldstein, who tried to speak to the gunman and re-establish the calm in his holy sanctuary.

Rabbi Goldstein is the uncle of a dear friend of mine. I have always admired the depth of intention in the outreach work of Chabad. More people than usual were gathered in his synagogue today. On the last day of our major holidays, we say a special memorial prayer, Yizkor. This practice started during the Crusades — because so many of our people were murdered in Europe by Crusaders as they made their way towards Israel.

Lovingkindness in Strength is personified by Lori Gilbert Kay and Rabbi Mendel Goldstein.

Embody Lovingkindness in Strength

We embody Chesed Shebe Gevurah when we meet violent hostility with lovingkindess. When we recognize that no one ethnicity or religion solely carries the burden of intolerance.

Tonight, we enter the week of Gevurah, of Strength; which is also the week of דין Din, of Judgment. When Judgment is not tempered by Lovingkindness, it spirals off from the Divine, creating the סטרא אחרא Sitra Achra, the Other Side. This is how evil enters the world. It begins from a holy place, an emanation of HaShem, and gets twisted into the terrible opposite of holiness.

People with deadly hate still contain a spark of the Divine, though it is buried and ignored and has absolutely nothing to do with their actions. Each person contains worlds.

We must stand firmly against anti-Jewish hate crimes, white supremacists, and violent extremists from all ethnicities and religions. We must equally remember that it is easy to fall into conspiracy theory rabbit holes, given the nature of the internet. May we firmly protect ourselves, while following Rabbi Goldstein’s example and speak compassionately in the face of hate.

Years before the growing violence in holy places

Eight Days of Omer 2018 / 5778: Discipline in service of something beyond itself.

Eight Days of Omer 2017 / 5777: The pure essence of discipline is love.

Seven Days, One Week of Omer 5779: Sovereignty of Love

When Love is Sovereign, we flow in the river of the universe. When Love is Sovereign, we dance with angels. When Love is Sovereign, the ocean of time moves with us and we are at peace.

Today is seven days of the Omer, which is one week.  מלכות שבחסד, Malchut ShebeChesed, Sovereignty of Love.

It is so easy to deny Love’s sovereignty. It is so easy to get caught up in daily reality, to allow cynicism and pessimism and righteous indignation to rule. That is the path of the Yetzer HaRa, the Inclination towards Evil, the Shaping of Destructiveness. There is logic in evil. There is justification in its petty ruthlessness. It is the shadow behind love, the doubt that lurks behind every strongly held belief.

We cannot ignore doubt. Pretend the Shadow doesn’t exist and it will grow stronger. Instead, we must honor it, support it by listening to it, and maintaining a healthy space for it in our lives. Let it know it is still wanted, still accepted as a part of the whole. But there can be only one Queen. And She is Love.

Completing the Path of Love

Tonight, we enter the final day of the first week of the Omer. We complete the circle of understanding the highest sephira in our count. Three sephirot emanate before Love existed, but they are beyond these days. The Crown, The Wisdom, and The Understanding exist beyond words and before words. Understanding gives birth to Love. Love enters the material realm, bring forth the deep knowledge that came before Her. And She contains everything that will come after her.

As we enter the Holiest Day of the Year, the day that graces us with her presence every week, the Day of Rest, שבת, Shabbat, we reflect on all we have learned about Love and about ourselves.

Love contains discipline, boundaries, balance, beauty, truth, endurance, splendor, prophecy, foundation. It is sovereign and it is immanent. When we allow Love to be Sovereign in our lives, we allow the Grace of God to flow through us.

Our human connections are precious. And we purify them by first taking the time to purify ourselves. By rooting our thoughts, speech, and actions in Love, we make ourselves better partners, colleagues, parents, and friends.

Acknowledging the Sovereignty of Love

Acknowledging love’s sovereignty means recognizing the limits of human bonds. Each human bond is precious and holy. Yet, if we do not take the time to work within ourselves, those bonds will strangle us and our loved ones. May we allow ourselves a momentary break from our obligations, our passions, and our beloveds. May we sink into the Love that flows through the universe

This day brings many ideas

Seven Days of Omer 2018 / 5778: The Presence of Grace is connected to this day.

Seven Days of the Omer 2017 / 5777: The Indwelling of Love.

Six Days of the Omer 5779, Yesod ShebeChesed, Foundation of Love

Today is six days of the Omer. יסוד שבחסד, Yesod ShebeChesed, Foundation of Love.

Internal vs. External Foundation for Love

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that no human relationship is the foundation of love. A person can be your rock. A human can help you navigate the turbulence of life. But, unless you have a foundation within yourself that is sturdy enough to weather any storm — including the loss of that person; you have not built a foundation for love from higher yesod.

In human terms, the nuclear family I chose for myself — my beshert, my soulmate, and my children — are the foundation of my outward expression of love. Yet, if I don’t build a deeper foundation within myself, that human love becomes twisted. I demand too much and give too little. I start to rely on them to produce feelings within me.

No matter what anyone else is doing, making yourself a conduit for love requires a steadfast foundation. When my children are whining to indulge in snacks offered by their gentile friends during Passover, they’re not interested in knowing how long it took me to make chocolate chip cookies with matza meal. At three and five, they’re not quite old enough to understand why I keep saying no. And that’s okay. Because my love for them is rooted in my love for something bigger than any of us: knowledge that engaging with Jewish tradition nourishes our Jewish souls, supports our growth, and leads us towards the meaning we seek.

A Daily Practice: The Transformative Path

Values are illusive and transitory unless we allow them to firmly take shape in our daily lives. This is why ethical mystics recommend Cheshbon HaNefesh, the accounting of the soul. Setting aside time every day to reflect on your actions and whether they aligned with your values. Making a plan to implement better habits, one at a time, step by step. One of the original Mussar texts is The Path of the Just by Moshe Hayimm Luzzatto. An even early text is Tomer Devorah by Moshe Cordovero

Start with Breaking One Habit

Even before creating a daily practice, you can start by looking around at how you’re engaging with the world and sorting out one change that can deepen the foundation of love within you. For me, that means prioritizing sleep. May I sleep deeply and enjoy my dreams. And may you find the strength to deepen the foundation within you for love today.

Six Days of Omer 5778: Build scaffolding to support the love running through you.

Six Days of Omer 5777: Beginning to bond with the Omer

Five Days of Omer 5779, Hod of Chesed, Splendor of Love

Today is five days of the Omer, הוד שבחסד, Hod ShebeChesed, Splendor of Love, Glory of Grace.

Often, people associate the word “grace” with Christianity. The word exists in Hebrew – חן, Chayn, which is a different from חסד, Chesed. The two words flow together in many prayers and poems. Chesed is often understood as God’s kindness and favor. When put into action by humans, it is often translated as lovingkindness; though it’s difficult to discern how that formulation is distinct from kindness.

The name of a sephira is a place-holder. One word can never describe its depths — we try to understand, clarify, and rectify each sephira over a seven day period of time. And yet, we should examine why we associate grace with Christianity. Is it because we think only Christians can experience God’s grace? Or is it because we have a tenuous relationship with God and don’t want to get too personal about an entity we might not believe in?

I fully believe that the sephirot are emanations of the Divine. That through the ten emanations, a person can come to a deeper understanding of the Unknowable. And yet, no human can fully understand the Source of Goodness. Though I cannot claim perfect knowledge, my rabbi and my logical brain agree on a few premises. As I learned from Rabbi Mordecai Finley, HaShem is not all-powerful, nor is HaShem all-knowing. I cannot believe in a God who had the power to stop the Shoah and chose to allow 11 million people to be slaughtered. I cannot believe in a God who chose a people a few millennia ago, only to allow 1/3 of them to perish. So, I don’t. But I do believe that I am not the cause of life. Though I gave birth, I am not the source of birth. The Cause of Being lies elsewhere. And in my pursuit of Goodness, Love, Justice, Truth, and Beauty — I encounter God and God’s grace.

All the words I offer to myself and to whomever reads these meditations are my attempt to understand the sephira in this moment as the person I am today. To be honest, I enter each night slightly terrified. Often, I want to say — read what I wrote last year.

Hod is more than glory or splendor. It is the pillar of prophecy taking root in the world. Hod and Netzach are the pillars of The Temple. When we sanctify our physical structures, when we dedicate our interactions to elevating one another. When we hold space for the holiness that surrounds us, we are using Netzach to increase Chesed in the world.

Is there a small voice inside you, pushing you towards a life of deeper meaning? Is there one habit you could change to make yourself more open to creating space for Goodness and Truth? How will you concretize the splendor of grace today? How will you manifest the glory of love?

Five Days of Omer 5778, concretizing the prophetic vision of love

Five Days of Omer 5777, when I struggled deeply to have a clear vision of Hod.