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A Different Way of Counting the Omer

The sefirot can be regarded a progressive stepping down of the power of God until it can come into our physical world.

The traditional method of counting the Omer, in order to walk the path of self-purification leading up to Shavuot, the Revelation, and the receiving of the Ten Commandments, uses the seven attributes associated with the seven lower sefirot from Kabbalah. Another possibility is a process of progressive addition, rather than division, using all ten sefirot in our count.

One way to think of the sefirot is as a series of step-down stations where the great power of the Eternal, similar to the power generated at a large power plant, is sent to a step-down station, and then another, until finally, the electrical voltage has been diminished enough to be safe for use at the outlet in a wall of a house, and an appliance can safely be plugged into it. The sefirot can be regarded as this progressive stepping down of the power of God until it can come into our physical world.

We begin at Pesakh just as we are leaving Egypt, with the awesome power of the Eternal, the One, making the Divine Self felt in the Exodus and parting of the sea. The power is God’s, not ours. It has been thrust from the upper world, the Spiritual Universe, into ours, but it is not yet physical. It is spiritual only, symbolized by Keter or Crown, the first sefirah, mapped on the human form, at or just above the head. For the first five days of counting the Omer we are in Keter, in Unity: the unity of us within this power. We feel the power of God which is pure and has no attributes or aspects. We do not understand it. We only feel it, sense it, and let it carry us.

In the next five days (days 6–10) we add Hokhmah, Wisdom: the wisdom of trusting God to save us from disaster at the Sea of Reeds, to save our lives, care for us, feed us manna, and give us water. Hence hokhmah is not only about wisdom but also faith, trust, and inner knowing that there is goodness in God and the world. We experience gratitude, relief, and joy. We deepen this wisdom in ourselves during these five days, adding it to the power of Keter.

In the next five days (days 11–15) we add Binah, Understanding. What new understanding have we gained? In these five days we have the first Shabbat: the understanding that there is a larger plan of which we are a part. We begin to see a larger picture emerge and see that we truly were taken out of Egypt for something—something important and momentous. We do not yet know what it is, but we have the faith and trust of Hokhmah and the power of Keter with us.

In the subsequent five days (days 16–20) we experience Hesed, Lovingkindness. We add Hesed to Keter, Hokhmah, and Binah. We feel that we have a Divine Parent showering us with aliveness, with breath, with sunshine, with vitality, with forgiveness, and with instruction, teaching us the Way of God, the Way of Being. We add this attribute to ourselves, deepening our ability to receive Lovingkindness from God and the Universe, allowing us to give it to and share it with others.

In the following five days (days 21–25) we add Gevurah, Strength. We strengthen ourselves in many ways: with integrity, with fairness, with a sense of justice, with respect for others, and with the knowledge that we can do the right thing, as God does the right thing by us. We now add the moral strength of Gevurah to the attributes of the upper sefirot.

The next five days (days 26–30) bring the attribute of Tiferet, Harmony. This is also Love by another name and is traditionally located at the center of the human form, at the level of the heart. It is a place of exquisite balance where passions do not overwhelm. All emotions are tempered with calmness, peace, and contentment. We add these attributes to ourselves and to the attributes of the first five sefirot. The vastness of the wilderness, of the natural world, calls to us and we develop the quality of inwardness. We now learn how to pause, reflect, cultivate stillness, and from that quiet place, taste the ineffable.

The following five days (days 31–35) bring Netzakh, Victory or Endurance. This is the most difficult attribute to add correctly. It is ego, will, energy, self-confidence, endurance, belief in ourselves. It cannot be overdone or it can become a negative and not a positive attribute. And yet, we need it. It is about the ability to set goals, plan, imagine. It helps us to be inspired. We feel we are capable of everything and anything. We expand into our wholeness and we add these attributes to the other attributes in ourselves over these five days.

And then the next five days (days 36–40) bring Hod, Glory. During Hod, Yitro (Jethro) counseled Moses to set up a judicial system, bringing these attributes to our society in the wilderness. Hod seems simillar to Netzakh in its English translation, but it is the balancing opposite. It is Humility. It is making space in the world for others and their truths, their desires, their opinions, their rights and privileges. It is not trampling on others. It is courtesy, politeness, social graces, and not being too forward with others, assuming we know it all, or know what’s best. It is the attribute of being able to learn from others. It is having a true sense of ourselves in the world, without inflation and also without a lack of confidence. We are balanced now with Netzakh and add Hod to the other attributes we are developing in ourselves.

We now add Yesod, Foundation, during the next five days (days 41–45), traditionally mapped onto the area of the human reproductive organs. Yesod is creativity. It is passion. It is procreation and also artistic achievement and enjoyment. It is a zest for living expressed through ecstatic love, spiritual seeking, artistic creation, and the appreciation of beauty, wonder, perfection, and awe. We add these qualities to the others and develop these in ourselves.

We now come to the last five days (days 46–50). This is Malkhut, Kingdom or Kingship. It is the spiritual energy of God coming fully into the physical world. It is no less than all humanity bringing the attributes of all ten sefirot into physical life, solid objects, and the events of our lives. We are the eyes, ears, hands, feet, nose, and mouth of God. We are hearing, seeing, doing, walking, smelling, tasting, and speaking for God here on earth. This is the level of the senses; the full joy of the marvelous physical life we have been given as a great gift. Now we have all the attributes we need to bring the Divine fully into our world, and we are ready to draw near to the Great Soul of God and receive the teachings of Sinai: the Ten Declarations, while also being fully human. We are ready to live fully and well in the physical world; to appreciate the sweetness of being alive and all its opportunities. We are ready to fly on our own. The mother eagle has set us down, free to explore, to become, and to create our own heaven on earth.

Jill Hausman is the Rabbi and Cantor of the historic Actors’ Temple, Congregation Ezrath Israel, in Manhattan, and the Assistant Dean of the Rabbinical Seminary International (RSI) where she was ordained. She previously served as Cantor/Assistant Rabbi in Borough Park, Brooklyn, and has been an aquatic biologist, a singer, and actor. Her commentaries on the weekly Torah portion have been published by The Jewish Week in New York City, her poems can be found at Ritualwell and she has composed several liturgical works for worship services.

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