Sunday, June 6, 2010

Counting the Omer - Belatedly

There is the mitzvah (commandment) in Judaism to Count the Omer. The period of the Omer starts the second day of Passover and ends 49 days later at Shavuot...the period of deliverance from Egypt until the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. A solemn and reflective period in which we began as slaves and ended as a people of laws and the moral obligation to be the role model for the world. Only on the 33rd day of the Omer (Lag B'Omer) are we allowed to celebrate. Many Jewish couples marry on this date of joy.

There are many reasons given by the Rabbis for the counting of the Omer (which means "sheaves"). And there are many customs that enhance the biblical directions for counting. Kabbalists believe that each day represents a human trait.

The following is a D'var Torah (a word or interpretation of a portion of Torah) of the 8th day of the Omer: Chesed of Gevurah. "Chesed" is defined as "kindness, mercy", but it is an active word.  It means to "create kindness/mercy out of nothing".  Gevurah means "strength", and is also active, as in "support".  This D'var Torah is written by Mark Horn, a Jewish Buddhist Gay Activist, who also dabbles in pottery.

Today is 8 days, making one week and one day of the Omer: Chesed of Gevurah

Consider the potter throwing on the wheel. One hand is on the inside of the form being shaped. The other on the outside. The force on either side must be perfectly balanced. On one side is Gevurah, discipline, giving form and structure to the clay body. On the other side is Chesed, supporting and lifting up the form with a compassionate touch that understands the imperfections and limits of the clay body.

When compassion and love is expressed through structure and form, the results are beautiful. So it is with Chesed of Gevurah. This is not form for the sake of form. It is form infused with meaning. And of course, emptiness.

I remember once hearing one of my meditation teachers, S.N.Goenka, tell of how a potter in India beats the outside of a clay body with flat piece of wood to give it form. And that there is a hand inside to help absorb the shock of the blow so that the beating does not destroy the pot. He laughed and said, when you are supporting it with love, of course you can beat it! Not that he was advocating beating anyone, but he was making the point that expressing discipline without love is destructive. Just as expressing love without discipline is destructive. As my friend Marion once wrote: Do I center the clay, or does the clay center me? For today, this clay body hopes we can all make every day of this counting of the Omer, truly count.


  1. This is such a fantastic post, I love it and sent it to my father, who is not Jewish!

    Being Jewish and a potter~ it never occurred to me to blend the two...looks like I have a whole new avenue for study :)

    Thanks again,

  2. Thank you, Kathy, for responding. Nice to know there are folks out there "listening".