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Week 3: Letting Go | Counting the Omer with Rabbi Debra Robbins

The 49 days between Passover and Shavuot are called the Omer, and represent our journey from redemption to revelation, where we receive the gift of Torah. These days are seen as a time of spiritual preparation, reflection, and anticipation, symbolizing the journey from physical freedom to spiritual enlightenment.

Each week of the Omer, you will receive an email with a theme, using excerpts from the psalms and from Rabbi Debra Robbins’ book, New Each Day. We invite you to choose any of the exercises to help you on your personal journey from Sea to Sinai, from redemption to revelation. 

This week’s theme is LETTING GO.

We invite you to begin with the blessing for counting the Omer, sung by our cantors.

Then, read the excerpts and poems below. 

We hope you enjoy this video of our cantorial team singing about counting the Omer.

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵֽינוּ מֶֽלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָֽׁנוּ בְּמִצְוֹתָיו, וְצִוָּֽנוּ עַל סְפִירַת הָעֹֽמֶר

Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’Olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tizivanu al sefirat ha’omer.

Blessed are you, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with your commandments and commanded us to count the omer.

Genesis 32

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר שַׁלְּחֵ֔נִי כִּ֥י עָלָ֖ה הַשָּׁ֑חַר וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ לֹ֣א אֲשַֽׁלֵּחֲךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־בֵּרַכְתָּֽנִי׃ וַיֹּ֥אמֶר אֵלָ֖יו מַה־שְּׁמֶ֑ךָ וַיֹּ֖אמֶר יַעֲקֹֽב׃וַיֹּ֗אמֶר לֹ֤א יַעֲקֹב֙ יֵאָמֵ֥ר עוֹד֙ שִׁמְךָ֔ כִּ֖י אִם־יִשְׂרָאֵ֑ל כִּֽי־שָׂרִ֧יתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִ֛ים וְעִם־אֲנָשִׁ֖ים וַתּוּכָֽל׃

Then he said, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” But he answered, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” Said the other, “What is your name?” He replied, “Jacob.” Said he, “Your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with beings divine and human, and have prevailed.”

– Genesis 32:27-29

To an observer, Jacob likely looked the same after he spent the night wrestling with God’s angel. However, Jacob was different afterward. In becoming Israel, Jacob developed into his role as our patriarch. He became our namesake despite his fears and flaws, as we are the People of Israel. It is easier to see physical growth than psychological growth. To watch a child grow up, a field bloom, or a caterpillar turn into a butterfly. However, the growth we cannot see, like Jacob’s name change, is most often the most transformative.

Sometimes, we feel growing pains as one way of recognizing that we are in a period of growth. In other moments, we feel apprehension, lost, or driven– knowing there is a better place. The Omer is our journey wandering in our personal wilderness. Finding direction through the wide expanse of our personal desert is about changing our focus and letting go of the past. There will always be weight to our past, but we can choose what we carry and how we hold it. When we let go of what was not good enough, we allow our focus to be on reaching our Promised Land.

Braving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

There is this wonderful and strange story in Genesis 32 about Jacob physically wrestling with God all night in the literal wilderness, and upon realizing that Jacob was positively not giving up and in fact hollered, “I will not let you go unless you bless me!,” he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of socket, a permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God; an absurd and ballsy move, as outrageous as it was impressive. My friend texted me: “You are like Jacob. You refused to let go of God until He blessed you in this space. And He will. You will indeed find new land. But you’ll always walk with a limp.” So I’ve chosen the wilderness because it is where I can tell the truth and lead with the most courage and gather with my fellow outsiders, but this limp will remind me of the cost, what lies behind me, what will always feel a little sad and a little bruised. Was it worth it? Unquestionably.

Psalm 81:4-8

Blow the horn on the new moon,
on the full moon for our feast day.
For it is a law for Israel,
a ruling of the God of Jacob;
He imposed it as a decree upon Joseph
when he went forth from the land of Egypt;
I heard a language that I knew not.
I relieved his shoulder of the burden,
his hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called and I rescued you;
I answered you from the secret place of thunder

Weight Off My Shoulders
Rabbi Debra Robbins

We focus on the weight we carry on our shoulders.
But not the Psalmist,
and not God.
The Psalmist writes that God says,
“I removed his shoulder from the burden”
not,
I removed the burden from the shoulder.
the focus is different –
the person has changed
And the weight remains.

Week 3: May 7 – 13

This week of the Omer, we encourage you to reflect on what you will let go of, and how that will enable you to continue on your journey with more freedom. 

Day 15 – May 7

Read the excerpt from Rabbi Robbins and reflect on the weight that you pray God will lift from your shoulders. 

Day 16 – May 8

Read passages from Genesis and Brene Brown and reflect on what your Promised Land will look like. What physical and emotional changes do you anticipate? 

Day 17 – May 9

Read the excerpt from Psalm 81. Journal about a time when you called for help out of distress. How was that moment transformative?

Day 18 – May 10

Choose a passage to re-read. Throughout this period of transformation, what does support feel like? How does carrying a burden change when you have help from friends, family, or the Holy One?

Day 19 – May 11

Read the excerpt from Rabbi Robbins and envision the weight on your shoulders now sitting next to you. How does it feel to let go of the weight?

Day 20 – May 12

Read the excerpt from Psalm 81. How can the cycle of the year and the passage of time help you move forward?

Day 21 – May 13

Read the excerpt from Brene Brown. She describes Jacob’s dislocated hip as a “permanent reminder of the struggle of a determined, stubborn, dogged man with God.” As you let go of the past, reflect on your own permanent reminders of struggle and imagine how they will bring you forward in your journey.

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