This period of time is a coming out of sorts … peeling off our layers to allow the unvarnished essence of true self to emerge
On the first night of PassoverPassover is a major Jewish holiday that commemorates the Jewish people's liberation from slavery and Exodus from Egypt. Its Hebrew name is Pesakh. Its name derives from the tenth plague, in which God "passed over" the homes of the Jewish firstborn, slaying only the Egyptian firstborn. Passover is celebrated for a week, and many diaspora Jews celebrate for eight days. The holiday begins at home at a seder meal and ritual the first (and sometimes second) night. Jews tell the story of the Exodus using a text called the haggadah, and eat specific food (matzah, maror, haroset, etc)., we began counting up for the next 49 days toward the summit of Mount SinaiAccording to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai (Har Sinai).. On the 50th day, we celebrated a profound moment in our people’s narrative—he giving and receiving of wisdom, insight and revelation for how to live together in right relationship. It takes seven weeks to move from a posture of fear and uncertainty into an embrace of relational vulnerability and intimacy. Even then, we question again and again whether we’re fully ready and able to show up for this kind of sacred relationship.
So much has been said and written about the path of counting the OmerFrom the second day of Passover until Shavuot, Jews count seven weeks – seven times seven days – to commemorate the period between the Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai. When the Temple stood, a certain measure (omer) of barley was offered on the altar each day; today, we merely count out the days. as a journey from Passover to ShavuotShavuot is the holiday fifty days after Passover and commemorates when the Israelite liberation from Egypt culminates with the giving of the Torah. Traditionally, Jews study in an all-night study session, eat dairy products (one interpretation is that the Torah is like milk to us), and read both the Ten Commandments and the Book of Ruth., from physical liberation to spiritual liberation. This passage of time, in the midst of spring unfolding, reminds us that leaving behind oppression and slavery is no guarantee of our liberation from habits of thought, feeling and behavior that constrain us. That process of letting go and becoming open requires time, attention and discernment for how to live with ourselves, with one another and with the Source of the Sacred.
From a larger perspective, we envision a framing and claiming of the long period between Pesakh and Rosh HashanahThe Jewish New Year, also considered the Day of Judgment. The period of the High Holidays is a time of introspection and atonement. The holiday is celebrated with the sounding of the shofar, lengthy prayers in synagogue, the eating of apples and honey, and round challah for a sweet and whole year. Tashlikh, casting bread on the water to symbolize the washing away of sins, also takes place on Rosh Hashana. as a three-part sonata of time. The first movement is the 49 days of the Omer between Pesakh and Shavuot, followed by 62 days from Shavuot to Tisha B’AvThe holiday on which the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem is commemorated through fasting and prayers., ultimately bracketed by the 49 days from Tisha b’Av to Rosh Hashanah.
The shared communal joy of Shavuot connects us to each other with the spirit of revelation and TorahThe Five Books of Moses, and the foundation of all of Jewish life and lore. The Torah is considered the heart and soul of the Jewish people, and study of the Torah is a high mitzvah. The Torah itself a scroll that is hand lettered on parchment, elaborately dressed and decorated, and stored in a decorative ark. It is chanted aloud on Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat, according to a yearly cycle. Sometimes "Torah" is used as a colloquial term for Jewish learning and narrative in general.. There are approximately nine weeks (62 days) of pilgrimage downward into mourning, from the peak experience of Shavuot to the grief of Tisha b’Av.
Tisha B’Av is a moment in Jewish sacred time where we remember our collective grief and loss, initially tied to the destruction of the first and second Temples. Tisha B’av has come to signify successive losses in Jewish cultural memory. It’s also an opportunity, when we are spent from our grief, to pick ourselves up off the floor, take off our dusty metaphorical sackcloths, and move on with resilience toward the next chapter in our lives.
However, it’s not easy to move from the ecstasy and thrill of collective simultaneous insight into the raw depths of mourning and grief. That’s a significant shift in our spiritual energy and mood, and requires some preparation. So how might we getA writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian. there? How might we feast on and celebrate the joy of revelation, to nourish and prepare ourselves to turn the corner toward communal mourning that comes with Tisha B’Av?
Psychologist Danaan Parry (z’’l) wrote about this liminal space in his much-quoted article, “The Parable of the Trapeze.” Parry described the potency of the parable of the trapeze as a metaphor for life, particularly the brief moment when one has let go of one trapeze bar but not yet grabbed the new bar.
“Each time it happens to me I hope (no, I pray) that I won’t have to let go of my old bar completely before I grab the new one. But in my knowing place, I know that I must totally release my grasp on my old bar and, for some moment in time, I must hurtle across space before I can grab onto the new bar.”
This moment of hurtling through space is a moment of deep emunah/faith. While navigating the trapeze is a horizontal practice (hopefully), the vertical spiral of our sacred trapeze experience can be imbued with mindful holiness when we bring our attention, intention and, yes, our emunah, to the places of brokenness in ourselves and in our world. In doing so we are better equipped to actually embody a kavannahLit. Intention Refers both to one’s intention when performing a mitzvah or when focusing for prayer. Kavanah also refers to specific readings to help focus one's attention prior to performing an act. of healing and wholeness.
At this moment in our history as a planet and as a people, we are aware of a palpable tenderness in our hearts that invites us to turn toward our collective grief and lament on Tisha b’Av. This vertical spiral reflects the process of descending from the peak experience of Shavuot and journeying down into the depths of our vulnerability and grief on Tisha b’Av.
This period of time is a coming out of sorts as well. We shed the shiny garments and kelippot/husks that obscure the light of our souls, peeling off our layers to allow the unvarnished essence of true self to emerge. Grief is like that, too; it cuts through to the bone and yields immense vulnerability. Together we are better able to bear this with greater savlanut/capacity and patience.
May we mourn the shards of ourselves that are broken. May we see the potential for renewed healing in the jagged edges of those painful shards. May we remember that we are not alone in our grief or our revelation.
May we honor our losses and grief as reminders of our aliveness. Our capacity to grow, to learn, is a buoy – the lightness of ascent and the weight of descent.
Blessed is the Source of our Aliveness, who reminds us what it means to feel and to live in this broken world.
Read the full ritual for Sefirat ha’Aveilut here.
Karen Erlichman provides psychotherapy, spiritual direction, supervision and So(U)L coaching in San Francisco. Most recently she has been exploring embodied leadership and transformation. Karen has been especially inspired by the learning she’s experienced at the Strozzi Institute, the Jewish Studio Project and the Center for Courage and Renewal.
Caryn Aviv is on the rabbinic team at Judaism Your Way in Denver, where she leads the Open Tent Be MitzvahLit. Commandment. It is traditionally held that there are 613 mitzvot (plural) in Judaism, both postive commandments (mandating actions) and negative commandments (prohibiting actions). Mitzvah has also become colloquially assumed to mean the idea of a “good deed." program, High Holy Days at the Denver Botanic Gardens, and designs inclusive, joyous life events. Caryn will receive rabbinic ordination from ALEPH: The Alliance for Jewish Renewal in January 2020, after an academic career in Jewish Studies.