The Slonimer Rebbe, Rabbi Sholom Berezovsky, asked us to imagine being transported to the top of a high mountain. Filled with inspiration and gratitude, we marvel at the glorious vista and the blessings of all that lies before us.
And then, we’re brought to the foot of the mountain, at the trailhead to a path. We realize that to return to the summit, we will have to climb that mountain ourselves, following the path that lies before us – step by step.
The Slonimer Rebbe suggests that on the first day of Passover, we are brought to a mystical summit. Our souls join with our ancestors in the ecstasy of liberation.
And then, the next day, we begin.
The Torah teaches us the grain harvest begins by offering a measure of wheat – called an Omer. Then we count seven weeks and on the fiftieth day, we celebrate our bounty with the Festival of Shavuot.
Beginning on the second day of Passover, we count the 49 days of the Omer as a spiritual journey from the darkness of slavery to the brilliance of revelation.
Rabbi Karyn Kedar in her remarkable book Omer: A Counting writes: “So much enslaves us. We are enslaved by our assumptions of what is possible. We are enslaved by the words we use, the constructs of our thought and speech, the way we explain the past and speak about the future. We are enslaved by our presumed limitations. We are enslaved by negativity and cynicism. We are enslaved by our fear.”
This Shabbat is called Shabbat HaGadol – “The Big Shabbat.” The sabbath that immediately precedes the celebration of Passover is a time to think about how we can begin to walk the path to personal liberation.
At our Seder tables, the Haggadah invites us to confront a series of questions.
This year, I propose we ask ourselves a different set of questions:
Who are you? What drives you? What scares you? What is the life God is trying to teach you to live?
If we could learn to answer these questions, imagine how liberated we might feel, how much more fulfilled we might be, how much more magnificent would be our experience of life!
This year, our Temple Beth El community is invited to engage in a deeply intentional spiritual practice in counting the Omer. Each of the seven weeks of the Omer will be devoted to themes Rabbi Kedar lays out in her book.
Week One: Decide
Like our ancestors in Egypt, we can open our eyes to see that another life awaits us if we will decide to leave behind what is familiar and known, if we can summon the courage to accept that it is time to live differently.
Week Two: Discern
The decision to step onto the path requires that we choose which way to go. Discernment is the practice of sorting, of examining, considering, analyzing, scrutinizing, searching, sorting. It is the process of refining our understanding and awareness of where we really need to be.
Week Three: Choose
Choice is empowerment – So often we live our lives on autopilot, propelled forward on a conveyor belt of habit or fear. We can choose, as Henry David Thoreau suggests “live deliberately” and begin to walk a different path.
Week Four: Hope
Hope is the place where you see the world, not simply as it is, but as it could be, as it might be, as it ought to be, as it will be. Hope dispels despair by teaching us to “scan the heavens for the light.”
Week Five: Imagine
Imagination is the spiritual technology to do what only God can do – to create something new. Imagination is hope refined, the belief in things unseen, a vision for a different reality.
Week Six: Courage
Real liberation requires bravery and resolve to venture into the unknown, to put yourself in a vulnerable place, to engage the struggle to live in harmony with our values, principles, and ideals.
Week Seven: Pray
We reach the summit only through discipline, through opening our minds to wonder, through opening our hearts to gratitude. By inviting God to be our partner and our guide, the promised land is ours.
Count the Omer. Take a few minutes each day to reflect on a question related to the weekly theme.
Together we can engage the climb, renewing our individual and collective quests to return to that glorious summit where we can be free to discover our meaning and our purpose, to become our best and truest selves, and to live our best and most fulfilling lives.
Rabbi Dan Levin
Temple Beth El of Boca Raton
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem…”