Kolot: The Center for Jewish Women’s and Gender Studies participates in the Jewish tradition of “being at According to the Torah, God, in the presence of the Jewish people, gave Moses the Torah on Mount Sinai (Har Sinai).” through the creation of this From 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. counter and through our ongoing commitment to developing an inclusive Judaism. In modern Hebrew, “kolot” means “voices.” Beginners on this path to Sinai, we listen for wisdom in the voices of our biblical foremothers.
The Kolot Omer Counter – Our Foremothers’ Lives, and Our Lives, as Sacred Texts
In this Omer calendar, each of the first six weeks is devoted to insights that we have derived from the life of one of our foremothers: The first matriarch, wife of Abraham, and mother of Isaac, whom she birthed at the age of 90. Sarah, in Rabbinic tradition, is considered holy, beautiful, and hospitable. Many prayers, particularly the Amidah (the central silent prayer), refer to God as Magen Avraham – protector of Abraham. Many Jews now add: pokehd or ezrat Sarah – guardian or helper of Sarah., The second Jewish matriarch, Isaac's wife, and mother to Jacob and Esau. Rebecca is an active parent, talking to God when she is pregnant and learning the fate of her children, then ultimately manipulating Isaac and the children to ensure Jacob's ascendancy. Her Hebrew name is Rivka., Deborah (the Deborah who is nursemaid to the matriarch, Rebecca), The third of the Jewish matriarchs, Lead is the eldest of Lavan's daughters and one of the wives of Jacob. She is the daughter whom Lavan tricks Jacob into marrying instead of his younger daughter Rachel, whom Jacob has requested to marry. Leah is mother to six of the the twelve tribes and to one daughter, Dinah., Lavan's younger daughter and Jacob's beloved wife second wife (after he is initially tricked into marrying her older sister, Leah). Rachel grieves throughout her life that she is barren while Leah is so fertile. Ultimately, Rachel gives birth to Joseph and dies in childbirth with Benjamin. Rachel is remembered as compassionate (she is said to still weep for her children), and infertile women often invoke Rachel as a kind of intercessor and visit her tomb on the road to Bethlehem., and Miriam is the sister of Moses and Aaron. As Moses' and Aaron's sister she, according to midrash, prophesies Moses' role and helps secure it by watching over the young baby, seeing to it that Pharaoh's daughter takes him and that the baby is returned to his mother for nursing. During the Israelites' trek through the desert, a magical well given on her behalf travels with the Israelites, providing water, healing, and sustenance.. Whether as matriarchs or political and spiritual leaders, these foremothers foster and nurture growth, creativity, and vitality. We recognize core Jewish values that these ancestors expressed in their lives: patience, autonomy, a sense of self, compassion, love, strength of vision, and a capacity for joy. We also remember that our foremothers were whole people, with limitations as well as virtues. Understanding the totality of their lives, we seek to accept our own shortcomings as well as our own aspirations.
Each week begins with a brief introduction to the ancestor with whom we will journey, and each day is devoted to a specific incident, quality, or insight from her life. As we read the selection for the day, we remind ourselves that The 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. is written not only in the scrolls of the Five Books of The quintessential Jewish leader who spoke face to face with God, unlike any other prophet, and who freed the people from Egypt, led them through the desert for forty years, and received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. His Hebrew name is Moshe. but also in the lives of each one of us. Our lives, too, are sacred text. As we learn from these stories to further our own journey to liberation, revelation, and wholeness, we add our story to the Torah narrative, hoping it will facilitate the journeys of those who come after us.
Week One: Sarah
Together with her husband, the patriarch Abraham is the first patriarch and the father of the Jewish people. He is the husband of Sarah and the father of Isaac and Ishmael. God's covenant - that we will be a great people and inherit the land of Israel - begins with Abraham and is marked by his circumcision, the first in Jewish history. His Hebrew name is Avraham., Sarah responded bravely to God’s call to “go forth” as she left her home and all that it represented to be the founding mother of a new monotheistic faith. Sometimes regarded as a tribal priestess, Sarah is represented in her roles as wife, home manager, and devoted mother. She is notable for her beauty and desirability, for her “chutzpah” in eavesdropping on angels and laughing when she heard God’s promise that she would have a baby in old age, for her importance as the prophet of whom God says to Abraham, “listen to Sarah!” and for being the character to whom miracles come late in life.
1.1. God called Abraham to go forth from his native land. With faith in God and trust in her relationship with Abraham, Sarah went forth too; she left her familiar world behind because she recognized her call and destiny no less than he recognized his. Abraham heard the voice of God directly; Sarah’s responsiveness reminds us that God’s voice sometimes comes to us indirectly and that we should trust the call to action.
“Today is the first day of the Omer.”
1.2. There is a tradition that teaches that Abraham and Sarah recruited converts to the new, ethical monotheism and that while Abraham exhorted men to convert, Sarah attended to the women. We may therefore regard Sarah as Judaism’s first spiritual leader of women. Her relationship with God is thought of as being such a close one that the classical A rabbinic method of interpreting text, often through the telling of stories. Tanhuma credits Sarah with prophetic powers that exceed those of Abraham. We may think of Sarah as the kind of prophet who discovers deep meanings. Like Sarah, in all the incidents of our lives, we seek to be honest, lacking in self-deception, and able to look at even difficult truths with clarity.
“Today is the second day of the Omer.”
1.3. When they journeyed to Egypt because of a famine in the land of Canaan, Abraham feared that the Egyptians would kill him because of Sarah’s beauty. Sarah pretended to be Abraham’s sister. This strange deception testifies to Sarah’s political savvy as well as to her loyalty and faith. She shows a willingness to perform in various roles to accommodate life’s challenges. We, like Sarah, play our life roles, sometimes making difficult choices for those whom we love.
“Today is the third day of the Omer.”
1.4. Like many of our foremothers, Sarah suffered barrenness. She bore no children until late in life. The long years of barrenness taught Sarah a lesson from which we can all learn: that we can find within ourselves the connection to the future that provides a source of meaning, a renewal of strength, and a font of joy. While we remain open to the possibility of realizing our dreams, we do what we can to make the best of our lives.
“Today is the fourth day of the Omer.”
1.5. Sarah rejoiced in her son, whom she named Abraham and Sarah's much-longed-for son and the second Jewish patriarch. Isaac is nearly sacrificed by his father at God's command (Genesis 22). He is married to Rebecca and is the father of Esau and Jacob. His Hebrew name is Yitzchak. (he will laugh), because “God has brought me laughter; everyone who hears will laugh with me.” Sarah thus bequeathed laughter to future generations. Then she added:
Who would have said to Abraham
That Sarah would suckle children!
Yet I have borne a son in his old age.
May we, like Sarah, retain the capacity to laugh, rejoice, find renewal, and find life continuously and happily surprising.
“Today is the fifth day of the Omer.”
1.6. Sarah sees Ishmael, son of her handmaid Abraham's concubine and the mother of Ishmael, the patriarch of Islam. In the book of Genesis, when Sarah cannot conceive, she suggests that Abraham takeher servant Hagar as a concubine in order to conceive a child, which she promptly does. Feeling threatened by Hagar and her child, Sarah convinces Abraham to banish them from their home. God saves Hagar and Ishmael from dying in the desert. and her own husband Abraham, “playing with Isaac,” and she is moved to banish the older boy and his mother. Abraham is reluctant, but God insists that he “listen to Sarah!” For generations, commentators have tried to interpret what this “playing” might have been that would justify so painful a decision. From our perspective today, we might interpret that the playing was innocent and that the descendents of Sarah and Hagar were destined after all to someday become brothers who love each other, recalling the memory of closeness in childhood play. In their own moment, Sarah and Hagar may have been too ambitious for their own sons, too frightened or insecure to nurture a positive relationship between themselves and between their children. Later, during the terrible days when Abraham set out to sacrifice Isaac on Mount Moriah, and when she herself faced death, Sarah may have reflected on Hagar and Ishmael, thinking that she should heal that relationship. If we can avoid acting out of fear, we may be spared the pain of hurting others.
“Today is the sixth day of the Omer.”
1.7. ”And the life of Sarah was a hundred years and seven years and twenty years; these were the years of the life of Sarah.” According to Midrash, Sarah’s years were truly filled with life, and that is why the Hebrew text expresses her life span of 127 years in such an unusually extended fashion. If. like Sarah, we allow our own life to contain love, risk, tragedy, mistakes, remorse, joy, laughter, and faith-filled patience, we too will live out the fullness of our lives.
We end the first week of counting the Omer with an awareness that Sarah, the first of our mothers, has taught us the primary lesson of the spiritual way—patience. Underlying her capacity to hear God’s call, to live in truth, to be courageous and loyal, to rejoice, and to experience wholeness, is the unswerving characteristic of patient faith.
“Today is the seventh day of the Omer.”
Week Two: Rebecca
Rebecca, the second of the traditional matriarchs, was found by Abraham’s trusted servant as he searched for a wife for Isaac. She graciously drew water from a well for his camels. Rebecca left her home to travel to marry Isaac, a man she had never met. She brought Isaac comfort after the death of his mother. When she suffered a difficult pregnancy, she asked God directly for the meaning of her pain. Two nations were at war in her womb, she was told. She took the initiative of promoting Lit. heel Jacob is the third patriarch, son of Isaac and Rebecca, and father to the twelve tribes of Israel. More than any of the other patriarchs, Jacob wrestles with God and evolves from a deceitful, deal-making young man to a mature, faithful partner to God. His Hebrew name is Yaakov. over Esau so that the milder, though younger twin, would inherit the patriarchy. From the time she chose to leave home and accompany Abraham’s servant, she trusted her own deepest insights and took responsibility for her decisions.
2.1. We can imagine Rebecca as having been courted with gifts and stories to become the wife of a distant tribal prince from her own clan. A person of independent agency, Rebecca is asked by her family if she is willing to go with this servant of Isaac, and the young, bold, beautiful—and characteristically compassionate—Rebecca embraces the adventure. She makes this independent journey to become the beloved wife of Isaac, having heard her call to destiny. Rebecca may be a model for us of compassion and self-assurance. We learn from Rebecca to avoid timidity when we are needed and to accept the rewards of love.
“Today is the eighth day, one week and one day of the Omer.”
2.2. The Bible reports that Rebecca comforted Isaac after the death of his mother, Sarah. While the patriarchy is an inheritance that passes from father to son, the matriarchy passes from mother-in-law to daughter-in-law, revitalizing the principle family with adult women from somewhere else. We may imagine that Isaac had been traumatized by his near sacrifice and grieved for the recent loss of his mother. With Rebecca, Isaac recovered wholeness and peace. Rebecca, who assumes Sarah’s position of matriarchal authority even as she assumes and relieves the pains of her partner, teaches us the ideal combination of compassion and power.
“Today is the ninth day, one week and two days of the Omer.”
2.3. Rebecca is one of the few women in the Torah who directly addresses God and is answered. Isaac had pleaded with God on behalf of his wife because she was barren. God responded to his plea, and Rebecca conceived. But the children struggled in her womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist?” She went to inquire of God and God answered her:
Two nations are in your womb,
Two separate people shall issue from your body;
One people shall be mightier than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.
From Rebecca we learn that we can have an unmediated relationship with God.
“Today is the tenth day, one week and three days of the Omer.”
2.4. We may hope that Rebecca recognized her children’s separate strengths. Perhaps she appreciated Esau’s ease in the natural world. The Jewish tradition credits Rebecca with knowing that it was Jacob who had the qualities necessary in a patriarch. In a painful episode, she dresses Jacob as Esau to help him acquire the best blessing, and some commentators understand this to mean that Jacob, masquerading as Esau, symbolically assimilates Esau’s best qualities. Rebecca, with divine sanction, takes active control over the nation’s future. Like Rebecca, we can learn to make difficult choices by making judgments according to our appreciation of difference.
“Today is the eleventh day, one week and four days of the Omer.”
2.5. Rebecca was not afraid to take initiatives. When Jacob feared Esau’s retribution, she encouraged her beloved son to leave home, as she herself had once done, and return to the home of her brother. This mother has the ability to let go; she encourages the independence of her tent-dwelling child, and having been the one to encourage Jacob to act in a way that provoked Esau’s fury, she accepts the consequences of her choices. Here, Rebecca models mature emotional responses.
“Today is the twelfth day, one week and five days of the Omer.”
2.6. From another perspective, Rebecca turned brother against brother and son against father in arranging to have Jacob steal Esau’s blessing. Could she not find a better way to lead her sons to their rightful places in the world? The cost in personal happiness for Rebecca and the subsequent animosity between the brothers was perhaps too high a price. We must learn from the mistakes of our mothers just as we learn from their merits.
“Today is the thirteenth day, one week and six days of the Omer.”
2.7. Rebecca’s twins went their own ways: Jacob to Laban’s house and Esau to his wife’s tent. The day does come when Jacob and Esau, each rich in family and material comfort, meet up again, reconcile, and embrace one another. We are never taught how to let go of loved ones, especially those whom we brought into the world, but we can teach ourselves. We can also hope that by loving our children (indeed, all children), they will become forces for peace by growing to love each other.
We end the second week of counting the Omer having learned from Rebecca, the second of our mothers, the necessity of taking initiatives, having a sense of autonomy, and accepting the consequences of our actions. From the time Rebecca responded to God’s call, she also was able to speak directly to God, to apply what she had heard to discern the correct roles for her sons, and to release them to their own independent lives. We are learning to take responsibility.
“Today is the fourteenth day, two weeks of the Omer.”
Week Three: Deborah
This Deborah is mentioned only twice in the Torah: once as Rebecca’s unnamed nurse in the passage, “So they sent off their sister Rebecca and her nurse along with Abraham’s servant and his man,” and once when she died: “Deborah, Rebecca’s nurse, died and was buried under the oak below Bethel; so it was named Allon-bauth—‘the oak of weeping.’” In other words, as the nearly anonymous nurse, she is loved and respected enough to have her burial place renamed in her memory. Principally valued as a nurturer and companion, Deborah’s legacy was significant enough that she is remembered and esteemed. Can we learn from the “invisible” ways that Deborah changed the world and, like her, leave our gifts in the lives of those for whom we care?
3.1. Inferring the details of her life, we may consider Deborah a model of faithfulness. Unlike the painful relationship between Sarah and her handmaid Hagar, the relationship between Rebecca and Deborah seems to have been one of closeness and mutual love and respect. When Rebecca chooses to leave her childhood home for a faraway life, Deborah accompanies her. Like our sisters and childhood friends, Deborah may symbolize the witnesses to our lives, the women who are our reality checks, and who—on the strength of long connection—support us unconditionally.
“Today is the fifteenth day, two weeks and one day of the Omer.”
3.2. By the fact that the Bible troubles to record her name and her death, we may suppose that Deborah’s status as a servant did not compromise her capacity to be influential and make a difference in the world. We too may trust that it is not our titles but what we do in our life roles that will determine how we are ultimately appreciated.
“Today is the sixteenth day, two weeks and two days of the Omer.”
3.3. Extrapolating further on Deborah’s life, we might assume that she played a role in raising Jacob and Esau, the twins of her mistress. Many are the women caretakers who have loved and unselfishly raised the children of other women. We learn from their example that no one really belongs to us alone, that we must be grateful for all who act as surrogates for parents, and that it is right for us to care for all children whom we are lucky enough to know.
“Today is the seventeenth day, two weeks and three days of the Omer.”
3.4. Deborah’s small but privileged position in the Bible suggests that she had a special relationship with God. Linked in our minds with our own tribal ancestors, it is possible that Deborah had a rich life, though unrecorded in the Book of our people. From the tribute to her life, we learn humility. It is not for us to judge whose piety is most welcome in the heavens or whose life has been most worthily spent. We must assume that anyone may find exceptional divine favor.
“Today is the eighteenth day, two weeks and four days of the Omer.”
3.5. We may wonder whether Deborah ever had a family of her own, but we may suppose that, living out her years with Rebecca, the two women shared wisdom about how to best manage complex family relationships. Thinking of Deborah’s lifelong support of Rebecca, we appreciate the importance of those of our friends who respect our covenants and help us honor our commitments.
“Today is the nineteenth day, two weeks and five days of the Omer.”
3.6. As Rebecca’s childhood nursemaid and later the servant of her adult life, we must assume that the relationship between these women developed over the years. Once Rebecca’s surrogate mother, the only person in her adult life who knew her as a child, Deborah aged into Rebecca’s life companion. We might hope that with time and in old age, these women transcended the social roles into which they were born, and were, in the end, simply cherished friends. Deborah’s life teaches us that friendship prepares us for covenant with God.
“Today is the twentieth day, two weeks and six days of the Omer.”
3.7. Deborah comes to life for us from the smallest of hints. The lesson of our interest in recovering her unique value is that essential work goes on everywhere around us, sometimes heralded with banners and trumpets, more often quietly unnoticed. We learn to look for the small details that may point to uncelebrated heroines. These are the signs of the lamed vavniks, the thirty-six secret saints of Jewish lore who live in each generation and who sustain the world by their unheralded but essential work on earth. In our hearts we treasure those of our own quiet acts that have made an essential difference even if only we remember what they were.
We end the third week of counting the Omer having learned from Deborah, our third mother, that the way we take is ours to choose and that self-definition is central to the spiritual way. In her constricted social role, Deborah found independent definition and literally made a name for herself, was both loving and beloved, made good choices, and gave of herself without giving up her self.
“Today is the twenty-first day, three weeks of the Omer.”
Week Four: Leah
Leah, another of the traditional matriarchs and the biological mother of six sons and a daughter, must have assumed the care for her motherless nephews when Rachel died. She endured the rape of her only daughter Dina is Jacob's only daughter and the sister of the twelve tribes. and is remembered in the portions of the tradition as a loving sister and model of fecundity and maternal virtues.
4.1. Leah could love Jacob even though he apparently loved her less than her sister. The midrashic tradition teaches that Leah had “weak eyes” because she cried so hard about being betrothed to the “wild man,” Esau, and for her piety Leah was rewarded with Jacob. Legend teaches us that Leah and Rachel were close in spite of being wives to the same man and that Rachel conspired with Leah to trick Jacob on their wedding night. Tradition also teaches that Jacob had a special love for Leah, different from the romantic love he had for Rachel. While we may not envy the situation of these biblical sisters, from Leah’s example, we learn that love is complex, and that jealousy is best avoided. Ideally, there is enough love to go around.
“Today is the twenty-second day, three weeks and one day of the Omer.”
4.2. Leah brought up healthy sons who would later lead six of the twelve tribes of Lit. ''the one who struggles with God.'' Israel means many things. It is first used with reference to Jacob, whose name is changed to Israel (Genesis 32:29), the one who struggles with God. Jacob's children, the Jewish people, become B'nai Israel, the children of Israel. The name also refers to the land of Israel and the State of Israel.. Raising children to maturity was no easier then than it is now. Given the seeming rarity of true leadership ability, we marvel at Leah’s accomplishment as we try to put ourselves in her place.
“Today is the twenty-third day, three weeks and two days of the Omer.”
4.3. Over her lifetime, Leah grew into wisdom, but she also made mistakes, and we can learn from them. Initially, Leah believed that bearing sons would be a way of binding her husband, Jacob, to her. So she named her first-born Reuben (see a son), and declared “now my husband will love me.” The second she named Simeon (hear), because “the Lord has heard that I was unloved and has given me this one also.” She named her third son Levi (attach), so that “this time my husband will become attached to me.” But we already know what Leah had yet to learn: that children should be brought into the world for their own sake, not for any other purpose.
“Today is the twenty-fourth day, three weeks and three days of the Omer.”
4.4. Leah has the important role of naming her children. After giving names to her first three sons that might A writ of divorce. Traditionally, only a man can grant his wife a get. Liberal Jews have amended this tradition, making divorce more egalitarian. her husband to love her, she named her fourth son Judah (praise), saying, “This time, I will praise the Lord.” She had come to recognize God in and through her children and her own life. We must appreciate the care with which we were named, and we, too, must learn to identify the divine presence in the gifts we are granted without dwelling too much on that which we are lacking.
“Today is the twenty-fifth day, three weeks and four days of the Omer.”
4.5. Leah’s compassion for her sister was forcefully revealed when Rachel, desperate to have a son with Jacob, asked Leah for her mandrakes, which were said to promote fertility. Leah bargained with her sister and ultimately gave her the mandrakes. In helping to promote her sister’s fertility, and thereby possibly compromise her own sons’ status and inheritance, we may suppose that Leah acted with rare compassion in making this gift. Abraham stands ready to sacrifice his child at God’s command. How much more admirable is Leah’s less well-celebrated sacrifice made to promote life. Leah’s model of compassion can serve as a beacon for us on the spiritual way.
“Today is the twenty-sixth day, three weeks and five days of the Omer.”
4.6. After Rachel’s death in childbirth, we may suppose that Leah cared for her sister’s sons. We picture Jacob handing the screaming Benjamin to Leah, who had last nursed many years earlier and who now held the infant close. As the child suckles and grows quiet, his brother Jacob's eldest son by his beloved wife, Rachel. Joseph, the dreamer, was his father's favorite and nearly murdered by his brothers. Sold into slavery, he became viceroy of Egypt where he ultimately saves the Egyptians and also his own family from starvation. His Hebrew name is Yosef/ comes over to his aunt. We learn from Leah that purposeful activity can transform tragedy to bearable sorrow.
“Today is the twenty-seventh day, three weeks and six days of the Omer.”
4.7. Dinah, the only daughter identified in the Bible as having been born to the matriarchs and patriarchs, is raped. The Bible treats the rape as a political matter, recording how Jacob and Dinah’s brothers reacted, but the text tells us nothing about the reaction of Leah, her mother, to her child’s rape. Let us hear the pain of this silence. We can also take from this textual silence the message that it is sometimes most valuable to bear witness and be quietly present while a loved one, even one’s child, develops her independent response to her own circumstances. Leah models and teaches us trust.
We end the fourth week of counting the Omer having learned from Leah, the fourth of our mothers, strength of character and purpose and the ability to be compassionate even when she had every reason to be resentful. Leah showed compassion to her own sons, to her barren sister, her motherless nephews, her defiled daughter, and her bereft husband. In expressing compassion, she found a source of joy.
“Today is the twenty-eighth day, four weeks of the Omer.”
Week Five: Rachel
Rachel was the fourth of the traditional matriarchs. She was younger and more beautiful than her sister Leah, and she had won Jacob’s love, but her deepest longing was for children. We see Rachel in her roles of: sister, wife/lover, daughter, and mother, and in her relationship to God and to the future. Like Sarah, she knew the importance of a network of commitment and concern. But she also knew that there was a self that was more than the sum of her relationships. Rachel has come to exemplify some of the many forms of love. She loved her spouse, her children, and even her sister, who bore sons while she was still barren, and the Bible tells us that she weeps from her grave for our sorrows as well.
5.1. Rachel was warm, sunny, and beautiful. She attracted Jacob’s love and waited patiently with him as he earned her hand in marriage. Rachel’s beauty invites us to appreciate our charms without making them more important than our desires and ambitions.
“Today is the twenty-ninth day, four weeks and one day of the Omer.”
5.2. Rachel longed for a deeper love than she had with her husband. She cried out in despair over her barrenness, because she felt that having children would allow her to realize her commitment to the future. The inability of any one love to answer our deepest longings suggests that we are created for an eternal love, which we discover in and through all our commitments in this world.
“Today is the thirtieth day, four weeks and two days of the Omer.”
5.3. Rachel risked all to bear sons, first of all when she asked her sister, her rival for Jacob’s love, for the mandrakes that might make her fertile. Let us imagine that Rachel expressed amazement when Leah gave her the mandrakes, and Leah quipped that in return for the mandrakes, Rachel would have to give up Jacob for that night. Rachel’s shame disappeared in the sunlight of Leah’s humor. Seeing the humorous can be a gift that eases our discomfort in awkward situations.
“Today is the thirty-first day, four weeks and three days of the Omer.”
5.4. Rachel healed the breach with Leah by saying that she wanted a son, admitting her weakness, and asking for help. Through this show of vulnerability, she allowed Leah to be her older sister once again, comforting her, guiding her, and supporting her during her pregnancy. Admitting our weaknesses can heal old wounds, bring us support, and reassure us that we need not face adversity alone.
“Today is the thirty-second day, four weeks and four days of the Omer.”
5.5. Rachel stole her father’s idols, an act of defiance against Laban that established her as a mature member of the new generation. But while her anger against Laban for underpaying Jacob may have been justified, her failure to honor her parents warns us that parenting is difficult and that even imperfect love can help us grow.
“Today is the thirty-third day, four weeks and five days of the Omer.”
5.6. Rachel’s longing for deep beauty goes back to Judaism’s emphasis on sound over sight—she wanted the reality of meaningful relationships beyond the superficial charms of physical beauty and romantic love. She also knew of Jacob’s capacity to deceive and to be deceived. He could steal Esau’s blessing through deception, but he could also be deceived, as he was when Laban substituted Leah for Rachel on his wedding night. We should seek beauty in the truth of who we are, not in who we appear to be to others.
“Today is the thirty-fourth day, four weeks and six days of the Omer.”
5.7. Rachel risked all to bear a son, and her longing came at great sacrifice: she died delivering a child she named “Ben-oni,” which can mean either “son of my suffering” or “son of my strength.” Rachel had named her son in triumph. But Jacob misunderstood, thinking that the name would only perpetuate the tragic circumstances of his son’s birth, and so re-named him “Benjamin” (son of my right hand). Rachel’s determination teaches us that new life can emerge out of shared pain and sorrow.
We end the fifth week of counting the Omer having learned from Rachel, our fifth mother, that love is the major guide on the spiritual way. It had been easy to love Jacob, more difficult to heal the wound to her love for Leah, and painful to love her much longed for sons, Joseph and Benjamin. Through her trials, Rachel exemplified love and the importance of developing an authentic self and authentic relationships.
“Today is the thirty-fifth day, five weeks of the Omer.”
Week Six: Miriam
Like her brothers Moses and Brother of Moses, chosen as Moses' interlocutor. His Hebrew name is Aharon., Miriam was a child of Amram and Jochebed of the Tribe of Levi. The Bible preserves five references to Miriam, yet her importance to the Israelites’ story transcends this lean biographical sketch. First she is called a prophet (although her teachings are not recorded). Second, she sings to Adonai following her people’s safe passage across the Red Sea. Third, she and Aaron argue with Moses about the latter’s wife. Fourth, she is banished from the camp when she falls ill with leprosy and, tellingly, the Children of Israel refuse to move on until she returns. Finally, she dies and is buried in Kadesh. But the women remember Miriam’s song, Miriam’s dance, and her continuous teaching of joy.
6.1. Miriam watched over her baby brother Moses when he was placed in an ark on the Nile, waiting to see who would rescue the child. The image of Miriam waiting faithfully by the river evokes the spirit of God hovering over the waters of the deep on the first day of Creation. Miriam is the only biblical heroine who has a story associated with her childhood. It is a miracle story associated with water. From Miriam we learn the spiritual disciplines of courage and faith.
“Today is the thirty-sixth day, five weeks and one day of the Omer.”
6.2. Miriam negotiated with the Pharaoh’s daughter to have Moses’ mother act as the baby’s nursemaid. In this way, she participated in a conspiracy among women that crossed boundaries of nationality, age, and class to save the life of her baby brother. And this baby would lead the liberation. Miriam’s relationship with other women teaches us the power of behind-the-scenes work to alter the course of history.
“Today is the thirty-seventh day, five weeks and two days of the Omer.”
6.3. After crossing the Red Sea to safety, Miriam picked up her timbrel and led the Israelites in a dance of freedom. The rhythm of her drumming would remind the Israelites of the rhythm of their labors in Egypt and the surging waves of the Sea. Following Miriam’s example, we see the need to celebrate our triumphs and rejoice.
“Today is the thirty-eighth day, five weeks and three days of the Omer.”
6.4. It is said that Miriam undertook the education of the Israelite women in the camp, while the men concerned themselves with establishing legal codes that all but excluded women. In choosing successors for himself and for Aaron, Moses sought to provide leadership for life in the Promised Land and for the priestly service. No successor was chosen for Miriam, but the teachings of Miriam and those who continued her work allowed future generations to remain true to their faith. Leadership sometimes has no title and no structured role, but it is judged by its fruits in the lives it touches.
“Today is the thirty-ninth day, five weeks and four days of the Omer.”
6.5. Midrash has identified Miriam as the source of a well of water that accompanied the Israelites in their wandering in the desert. This magical well, which had been created during the first six days of Creation, could be summoned by Miriam’s voice. As soon as Miriam died, the well dried up and the Israelites grumbled about their lack of water. God restored the well to the people and it attends us to this very day. Like Miriam, we all have the capacity to refresh others who are thirsting.
“Today is the fortieth day, five weeks and five days of the Omer.”
6.6. Miriam was sent outside the camp when she was stricken with leprosy, but her brothers uttered an urgent desperate plea for the restoration of her health. While she was quarantined, the people would not continue in their journey. We learn that Miriam was valued by the men with whom she shared leadership and by their constituency; for despite God’s expression of anger towards her, the people stayed loyal to Miriam. We must have faith that we will not be abandoned even when things are not going well for us.
“Today is the forty-first day, five weeks and six days of the Omer.”
6.7. Miriam’s teachings were a prophetic voice in the wilderness. We feel the force of that prophetic voice as we learn from those who precede us and seek to aid those who follow. We unify past present and future by accepting and fulfilling our own role in the chain of tradition. When Miriam died, water left the camp. Nature itself mourned the loss of this great leader. We can find in nature a mirror for our feelings, and we can learn to appreciate diverse models of female leadership.
We end the sixth week of counting the Omer having learned from Miriam, our sixth mother, the wisdom in joy and the sacredness of our own unique visions. From the time Miriam patiently waited to see who would rescue Moses to her triumphant song at the Sea, to her generous instruction of all the women in the camp, Miriam has taught us to value and celebrate our own experiences and to add them to the story of our people.
“Today is the forty-second day, six weeks of the Omer.”
Week Seven: We Add Our Name to the List of Mothers
Now we are ready to add our own name. In looking once again at the mothers with whom we have journeyed, we take from their lives those details that resonate with our own experiences. We examine our gifts and strengths, and with courage we face our own mistakes. We claim the virtues on the spiritual way that are illustrated by the lives of the mothers: patience, autonomy, a sense of self, compassion, love, and a capacity for joy.
7.1. Sarah has helped us recognize the virtue of patience and of open, trusting, receptivity. No matter how difficult it may be to wait and not to jump in with quick solutions, Sarah has shown us that patience is active and transformative. Let us remember a situation when patience saw us through a time of trial or how patience can help us now.
“Today is the forty-third day, six weeks and one day of the Omer.”
7.2. Rebecca has demonstrated the importance of autonomy. We must dare to trust our own intuitions, take responsibility for our decisions, accept that our actions may not win universal approval, and stay true to ourselves. Rebecca has modeled for us a life of initiative, courage, and autonomy. Let us bring to mind an occasion when we chose a courageous path that reflected our values or how we might need to summon our courage now.
“Today is the forty-fourth day, six weeks and two days of the Omer.”
7.3. Deborah proved that we can give of ourselves while remaining true to ourselves. Even though she was cast in the role of servant, she found a place of meaningful choice and achieved such independence and stature that people held her in revered memory long after her death. Let us think about how we turn confining situations into opportunities for growth.
“Today is the forty-fifth day, six weeks and three days of the Omer.”
7.4. Leah showed compassion not only to her sister, her motherless nephews, and her violated daughter, but even to her rejecting husband, Jacob. Anger, resentment, and rivalry can shrivel us up. As our compassion grows, our soul expands to take in more and more of the world. Let us think back to an incident when compassion brought us joy.
“Today is the forty-sixth day, six weeks and four days of the Omer.”
7.5. Rachel loved not only her husband, sister, and sons, but also the truth that could distinguish real from apparent values. We learn from her example that love is the deepest form of truth and that our love for others will support us on our spiritual path. Let us evoke the memory of those we have loved and discover the special gifts they have contributed to our life.
“Today is the forty-seventh day, six weeks and five days of the Omer.”
7.6. Miriam’s prophetic voice teaches us the value of joyful gratitude and helps us recognize women’s unique contribution in forming the new faith. Through song and dance she has helped us claim the joy of being Jewish. Let us be reminded of celebratory moments that have led us to praise God.
“Today is the forty-eighth day, six weeks and six days of the Omer.”
7.7. We search within for the unique gift we can add to the journey. Our foremothers have taught us to find God’s presence in and through all the events of our lives. Let us recover the sacredness of our own story as we approach the time of revelation.
We end the counting of the Omer as we add our personal gift to the gift of Torah we received at Sinai. We have seen that while Torah helps us make sense of our life experiences, our life is also a tool for understanding Torah. We are ready now to stand at Sinai and to say with the psalmist, “I seek your countenance; Adonai, your countenance I seek.”
“Today is the forty-ninth day, seven weeks of the Omer.”