We have now entered May and have recently finished celebrating Passover. May is often the month which holds the modern holidays: Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day; Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day; Yom HaAtzmaut, Israeli Independence Day; Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day. We will commemorate as a community Yom HaShoah on Wednesday, May 4 (see separate article for more information).
And there is another, often relatively unknown celebration which happens during this time—Sefirat Omer, Counting the Omer. It is the time from the second night of Passover until Shavuot where we count each day. It is seven of seven: seven days for seven weeks of counting. It is the time we remember from when we left as slaves in Egypt until the time we received the Torah. This counting of weeks originates in the Book of Leviticus [23:15-16] “From the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering the day after the Sabbath you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete. You must count until the day after the seventh week fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to Adonai.”
I dare say that few of us have fields from which we can harvest a sheaf of grain. Nor do we connect with God by offering sacrifices at the Temple. So how can we understand these days which bridge Passover and Shavuot? Kabbalists in the 16th century identified seven character traits to correspond to the seven weeks. These seven are:
1. Chesed: Overflowing Loving kindness 2. G’vurah: Judgment, Justice, Rigor 3. Tiferet: Compassion, Beauty, Balance 4. Netzakh: Victory, Efficiency, Prevailing 5. Hod: Glory, Splendor 6. Y’sod: Foundation, Intimacy, Generativity 7. Malkhut: Majesty, God’s Earthly Realm
So, for example, this first week of May we focus on g’vurah, justice. Where can we improve justice in our personal lives, and where in greater society? The second week of May we would focus on tiferet, compassion. How can we be more compassionate towards ourselves and towards others? And on throughout the seven weeks.
Once we have completed the counting, and once we have completed our intentional focus of these particular traits, we are ready to receive the Torah.
I hope that each of us is able to find meaning during this time between holidays. That we are able to greet one another this month with kindness and compassion and see the splendor in all of us.
I look forward to seeing everyone this month!
Warmly and with blessings,
Rabbi Rachael Jackson
Since 2006, following the proclamation by President George W. Bush, May has been designated as Jewish American Heritage Month. The purpose of the designation is to recognize the more than a 350–year history of Jewish contributions to American culture. The Jewish experience in America began in 1654 with the arrival of 23 Brazilian refugees who were escaping religious persecution. Now we have more Jews in the United States than any other country.
U.S. Rep Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was the driving force behind the recognition. Rep. Schultz hoped for activity and recognition similar to Black history month. She envisioned classroom instruction, public ceremonies and broadcast announcements promoting the achievements of those who contrib-uted to our American Jewish Heritage. In an interview she said “There’s a generation of children growing up with a fading memory of what happened during World War II, or even an understanding of anyone who is Jewish, or their culture and traditions…”Through education comes tolerance” (Miami Herald, 12/17/2005).
Now 10 years old, I am not sure that Jewish American History Month has achieved all that Rep. Schultz had hoped. Nonetheless it is important that we do what we can to get the message out. The many ways that we reach out to the community, making our presence known are certainly a help. Educational programs like those on Yom Hashoah and the Mountain Jewish Festival do much to increase understanding and tolerance. With all the violence and intolerance evident throughout the world, it feels more imperative than ever that we continue these activities with even greater passion.
Dr. Linda Perkel, President
Read the our Newsletter "Chai Lites" for May by clicking Chai Lites May 2016