Judaism

Counting the Omer. Why do we Count?

Photo by  Melissa Askew  on  Unsplash

We are in the season of counting the Omer. Every Spring we begin counting the Omer on the second night of Passover. What is an Omer? The Omer is a sheaf or a measure of barley or wheat. The Omer is also the name for the 7 week period of time between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. On Passover, we celebrate our freedom from slavery and bondage and on Shavuot, we celebrate receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai as free people. In ancient times, the Omer period was significant agriculturally as it marked the period of time between planting and the spring and summer harvests. Over time, Jewish mystical tradition connected the Omer period with spiritual practices, about refining the soul, so we are ready to receive the Torah at Sinai

So, why do we count?
In order to move from a place of liberation to revelation, we are invited to use the act of counting to check in with ourselves. Our counting reminds us to take notice of each day and that no two days are the same. One of my teachers Rabbi Yael Janice Levy says that for 49 days we are mindful of the passage of time. We are encouraged to make each day count. In addition, our counting of the Omer encourages us to see this seven-week period as a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage that starts at Passover where we celebrate leaving Mitzriam, Egypt. The word Mitzriam also means a narrow place, a place of constriction and limitation of choice. Then we journey out into the open space, which is liberating and scary at the same time because it is also uncharted territory. In this open space of freedom, we may encounter doubt, uncertainty, and fear. And we journey on.

Asher Yatzar — Thank You for Creating Me

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In Judaism we have a prayer called Asher Yatzar. The prayer begins with

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים, חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים.

“Blessed are You, God, Who formed me with wisdom and fashioned the human body.”

It’s typically called the “bathroom blessing,” and Jews traditionally say it every morning after one does their business in the bathroom.

I’m a Reconstructionist rabbi and part of my role in Jewish is life is to find ways “Reconstruct” our tradition, and our text to make them more relevant today.

The entire prayer in english is:

Blessed are You, God, Who formed me with wisdom and fashioned the human body. Creating many openings arteries, glands and organs marvelous in structure… It is revealed and known before You that if any one of these passageways be open when it should be closed, or blocked up when it should be free I could not to stay alive or exist for even just an hour.Blessed are You, God, the healer of all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways.

While I was studying to become a rabbi this prayer meant everything to me and it became my favorite prayer.

I did not see this prayer as just a bathroom blessing thanking God for allowing me to relieve myself in the morning. I saw it as a prayer thanking God for creating me exactly who I am. A black, queer, Jewish woman and a rabbi. I’ve been reflecting on the rise of anti-semitism, racism, and violence in our country. I am someone who is targeted my racism, sexism, anti-semitism and homophobia. I am well aware that I live in a world that sees my blackness before they see me or get to know me, and my Jewishness often represents a threat.

I am well aware that I live in a world that sees my blackness before they see me or get to know me. I also live in a Jewish world that sees my blackness and often refuses to recognize my Jewishness.

I am black, I am queer and I am a rabbi, for many, especially the people who follow me that spells excitement and for others my mere presence not only as a Jew but as a rabbi makes them uncomfortable and sadly makes some angry. For those who find it uncomfortable I invite you to stay in that place of uncomfortableness for a little while. I assure you it will get better. For those who are angry, I feel sad for you because people like me represent the future of Judaism. And if you stay angry you are missing out on how awesome it is to be Jewish in America today.

Was Noah a Righteous Dude?

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This week we enter into the story of Noah. The story of Noah comes right after the story of creation. We learned in last weeks Torah portion that God created the world and declared it was very good. Then by the end of the portion, it seems as if God has what a friend of mine called a bit of buyers remorse. God says that people are evil and God wants to wipe out not only people but all living things on the planet. But... the Torah says "Noah found favor in the eyes of God" Then the portion ends with a bit of a cliffhanger.

This week we learn “Noah was in his generations a righteous and a wholehearted dude and Noah walked with God.” But what does it mean to be a righteous dude in Noah’s time? Noah was around during a time when the world was crap and people were just not nice and treated each other like ...well... you can insert the rest.

Noah was righteous for his generation but how would he stand up next to people from other generations?

I would argue that Noah is righteous but not a leader. Noah doesn’t even speak in this weeks Torah portion. In an age, when all is corrupt when the world is filled with violence when even God has “regretted that God made people on earth, and it pained God at God's heart.” Noah, in God’s eyes, justifies God’s faith in humanity, the faith that led God to create people. Noah is, after all, the man through whom God makes a covenant with all humanity, and as a queer person, I can thank Noah for the rainbow.

Noah is to humanity what Abraham is to the Jewish people. Noah was a good man in a bad time. Some would argue there are two types of righteous people. Some who do what they are supposed to do and nothing else and those who look around and try to do more. Noah was the type of guy who did what God told him to do, he built an ark and did not tell anyone or try and save anyone.

But I don't want to sound like I'm putting most of the fault on Noah. Our great sage Rashi explains that the men of Noah's generation would see Noah building this Ark, which by the way took 120 years. If those men saw Noah working on this Ark, at some point they might ask, "Dude what are you doing?" And Noah could answer the question and tell them that "God has instructed me to build this Ark because God is bringing a huge flood that will destroy the world" According to Rashi this might give the people of Noah's generation time to repent. But as we know they never asked.

Another Introduction and My Thoughts this Morning

I love connecting with people

I love connecting with people

I'm a writer, a public speaker, future rabbi, fitness and nutrition coach and a Social Media Consultant and host a Podcast on Torah, Prayer and Jewish music I am also a proud U.S. Army Veteran and of course, like most of us there is more to my identity so let's just say I want to move through the world in a way that makes the world a better place for all. 

In June 2018 I will be ordained as a rabbi. The role of the rabbi is rooted in Torah (teaching and learning), service of the heart, and acts of love and kindness, and it is our job to adapt as the times change. And the times have changed.

Today, many Jews do not belong to synagogues, many live outside the reach of a synagogue, still others have been turned off by synagogues for a variety of reasons, ranging from dues structure, to not feeling welcomed or simply not wanting to go.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my time as a rabbinical student thinking about these kinds of issues and how my role as a rabbi can help foster Jewish community in the 21st century. The ever-evolving Jewish community challenges rabbis to meet people where they are in their lives, help people make discoveries about themselves and their place in society, and maybe even find their connection to God. What we also need to do, however, is think more creatively about how to reach out to and connect with Jews.

As an emerging rabbi, I’ve learned that people still need access to clergy, even when they don’t belong to a religious community

Here’s the Question I Ask Myself? If we create sacred spaces outside the walls of our synagogues, will Jews Participate?

I believe that Jews want to engage in Jewish life and want to be part of a Jewish community. For many, the current model of the synagogue does not work and it is time to create innovative ways to connect with those people. And to create different models of what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century.

Since the day I entered the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College my vision has always been to find ways to connect with Jews who do not feel welcomed in Jewish institutions, find ways to connect with those who do not want to belong to a synagogue, and to build an inclusive Jewish community, one that is welcoming to all who want to come. BTW it is not enough to just say “We are welcoming.”

I want to meet Jews where they are in their lives and create sacred spaces outside the boundaries of synagogues. I want to talk and listen to Jews about Jewish life and to help them be with the God of their understanding. I think this is important because, as many of you already know, just because we built a synagogue does not mean Jews are going to come. I’ve been to some amazing synagogues and one of the reasons I’m studying to be a rabbi today is because I am a product of an amazing synagogue, and I had an amazing rabbi who mentored me and provided the best example of how I want to be in the world.