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Rabbi Gelber's Weekly Email


May 22, 2020 / 28 Iyar 5780

Dear Friends,

One of the great gifts of this pandemic has been the opportunity to count the omer with my daughter each night. Some days I count two times (even three!) depending on how the count finds its way into my work commitments. Regardless of what is on my schedule, the two of us have counted with the blessing from the second night of Passover until today. While it's not ideal that she stays up extra late when I'm in an extended meeting or class, the chance to sit together in this way has been in itself a blessing. 

Moses Maimonides (the Rambam) describes the counting of the omer as a count-down (much like the ball dropping in Times Square on New Years Eve). Holding up the connection between the start of the count - when we launch forward into freedom (from Egypt) at Passover - until we experience revelation at Shavuot, he describes the process as one of anticipation and excitement. The Festival of Weeks is the day of the giving of the Torah. In order to glorify and exalt that day, the days are counted from the first of the festivals up to it, as is done by one who waits for the coming of the human being he loves best and counts the days and the hours. This is the reason for the counting of the Omer from the day when they first left Egypt till the day of the giving of the Torah, which was the purpose and end of their leaving, “And I brought you to Me" (Exodus 19:4) (Guide to the Perplexed, III:43). As we mark each day in days and weeks, we look towards the gift of Torah (and cheesecake, along with other dairy treats) and what that can mean for our lives. 

While Rambam's outlook is practical (as is his way), my counting this year has had a different ta'am, a novel taste to fit these moments. First of all, every day of counting is a celebration of memory and intention, marking the day with blessing in the face of hours and days that can feel timeless and without boundaries (corona-time!). Secondly, the omer feels like an invitation to reach toward the horizon. Counting each day on its own and as part of a larger journey reminds us of the power of counting even when we don't know precisely what things will look like at the end of the rainbow. Finally, counting calls us to notice each day for its blessings, training our hearts and eyes to see what might have appeared hidden before. The Talmud teaches, A blessing is found only in an object that is hidden from the eye (Taanit 8b).The rabbis meant us to learn from this that public miracles are rare, so we must look closer to home. Even more than this, I believe our blessings appear when we train ourselves to seek and unearth blessing, linking practice and process.

Tomorrow, we'll begin the fourth of the five books of Torah and read from the parasha that bears the same name, B'midbar. It is here in the wilderness, unchartered territory for sure that our ancestors are called to face their fears, continue the next chapter of their journey and find their way towards moments of sacred encounter. It is here in unfamiliar land that the people learn to see things as they are and from there experience blessing. It is in the midbar that the Israeliltes were called to let go of assumptions and focus on the ohel moed/travelling sanctuary, keeping it at the center. As we remain in our homes (in itself a wilderness) let us come to see these spaces as ones of safety rather than stuckness. May the blessings of responsibility and counting move us towards unexpected blessings.

Shabbat Shalom

Sat, May 30 2020 7 Sivan 5780