Friday, May 31, 2013

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Shelakh L’kha 5773–They Really Might Be Giants (Redux 5764)

While I’m away at the annual Hava Nashira Jewish Songleaders conference at the beautiful Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute camp in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin I hope you’ll forgive this retread musing from 2004.

Random Musing Before Shabbat

Shelakh L’kha 5764–They Really Might Be Giants

Many of you reading this musing know me, some of you I have never met in person. For those who don't know, I am at the extreme end of the male height curve for someone who otherwise has no abnormal pathology affecting his height, i.e., I am "normal short." No hormonal deficiencies, no glandular problems, no bone-related issues, no dwarfism, etc. I am four foot ten inches in stature.

So, at any given time, my view of the world is always at an upward angle. Fortunately, for myself, I have also been able to turn this into an (if you'll excuse the pun) "uplifting" view of the world.

I don't really know what the scouts encountered in their reconnoiter of Canaan. (And they were, indeed, scouts or explorers. Later, as described in the haftarah, Joshua sent spies. Moses sent scouts. And there is a difference.) The Torah doesn't really tell us what they saw and encountered. I've always found that a rather interesting omission. It leaves us dependent on the reports of the scouts. And, as we know, reasonable people can certainly disagree on what they saw and encountered in the same situation. And their own life experiences will certainly contribute to their view of those encounters.

Over the years of my life, I have become somewhat desensitized (or perhaps simply accepting) of the barriers that my height causes me to encounter in everyday life. I instinctively look up when in a crowd. I know that I will often have to do something to make sure the counterperson at the deli or bakery will notice me waiting. I move aside products on the bottom shelf at the grocery store so I can use the step to help me reach something on the top shelf without complaining, and I don't feel any shame at simply asking a fellow shopper to help me out with an item that's beyond my reach. I keep stepstools nearby at home and at work. And, somewhat metaphorically, I don't see the rest of the people around me as giants (except for those who truly are of unusually tall stature. My brain seems to have learned to judge the height of others while compensating for the upward perspective!) Yet I've had almost 50 years to work this all out.

The Israelite scouts had only experienced freedom from oppression for a very short time. It's not at all surprising that they would view those dwelling in Canaan as giants (whether meant metaphorically or literally.) So, as a test of faith, perhaps we do have to question its fairness.

I find it odd that I would even postulate such an idea. I have generally been supportive of the idea that the Israelites were stubborn, weak-willed and lacking in faith, despite the great miracles they had lived through and observed. G"d and Moses are right to wonder how the people can live through these miraculous acts of G"d and still lack faith (though even Moses himself demonstrates it and loses his chance to enter the promised land.) I, myself, scratch my head wondering how the Israelites can be so agnostic after experiencing what they have experienced.

The outcome of this scouting expedition was a foregone conclusion, given the track record of the Israelites, and given that they had only known freedom, and had only been experiencing G"d's miracles for a relatively short time span. That Caleb (and perhaps Joshua) experienced things a little differently only goes to show that in every group there are those more trusting, more positive, more willing to believe and have faith. Yet still, even in our own time, they are a minority, and sometimes, all too rare.

I say "perhaps Joshua" because the Torah is a little less clear on just how strong Joshua's faith was at this point. It was Caleb who spoke up first, and Joshua only spoke up later, and then only together with Caleb, and not on his own. Perhaps Joshua needed to see the example of Caleb's faith before he was willing to step out on that particular limb? And there is a significant difference between Caleb's words, and the joint declaration of Caleb and Joshua. Caleb simply says "hey, we can do this." When Joshua and Caleb speak together some verses later, they say "IF G"d is pleased with us, then we will succeed.

Caleb's initial declaration is assuredly one of faith. While the Torah tells us that the other scouts went about spreading bad (evil? false?) reports, Caleb never publicly contradicts the reports of what was actually seen. He simply insists that because G"d is with the Israelites, they will succeed. And it wasn't until after Caleb made his statement of faith that the other scouts upped the ante by elaborating on their report and adding to it the idea that there were giants in the land. Clearly they were fearful of the power of Caleb's exhortation to the people that they would believe that mere faith in G"d would see them through. "Old tapes" were playing in their heads. They couldn't see it the way Caleb (and possibly Joshua) did. Their life experiences hadn't prepared them for it.

Which, inevitably, leads us back to someplace I really hate going, and that's the puppet master G"d. As some sages have taught us, G"d knew the people weren't ready for the promised land, and so this whole elaborate sham was concocted to drive the point home. It also provided an opportunity to help Joshua develop a stronger sense of faith in G"d, in preparation for his future role as leader of the people.

Perhaps this helps explain why, prior to this point in the text, there's no suggestion that anyone wants to go out and scout the land of Canaan, and thus why it is G"d who says to Moses, "Shelakh l'kha," send forth-for yourself (i.e., for your own sake, your own edification) men to scout the land. The Torah doesn't say "some among the Israelites were worried," or "Even Moses, in his great faith, was uncertain, and wanted to be sure that the people could successfully move into Canaan." I say "prior to this point in the text" because, in Deuteronomy 1:22, Moses says that the people came to him and asked that the land be reconnoitered. Now, we can chalk this up to the fact that the Torah is not seen as being in chronological order, and so we can't really discuss what takes place in Shelakh-L'kha without also taking into account these verses near the beginning of D'varim.

Or perhaps we can attribute this to Moses' often "selective" memory (as when he blames the people and not himself for the rock-striking incident.) Moses "conveniently" forgets that it was G"d's idea to send scouts. Or perhaps he "deliberately" forgets, not wanting to give the people any opportunity to see G"d as the manipulator that Moses knows G"d to be. And make no mistake about it, Moses clearly knows that G"d is a manipulator, and that G"d can be manipulated. Moses himself appeals to G"d's vanity and ego later in Shelakh-L'kha in convincing G"d to not destroy the people for their lack of faith, as a matter of "saving face." "What will the Egyptians and others think of you," he asks G"d, "if you bring this people out from Egypt only to destroy them in the wilderness? That you could not accomplish the task you, G"d, had set for yourself. How's that gonna look?" And better yet, G"d buys it hook, line, and sinker. Or so Moses thinks.

So which is it? Did G"d plan the whole thing out knowing this was the only way to show the people they weren't ready for the promised land, or do we see this as G"d learning yet another lesson from the school of "this is what happens when you give your creations free will?" Did the scouts really encounter giants, fortified cities and have a real sense of the difficulties of moving into Canaan, even with G"d's help? The scouts surely saw that the land was indeed as described--flowing with milk and honey. They surely desired to live there (or at least saw it as a desirable place to live.) Was their lack of faith in G"d merely a result of the newness of their experience of freedom?

I have my opinions on these questions (though I'll readily admit they can and do change with each reading of the text.) And part of what goes into my readings of these texts is my own experience. That includes my shortness, but it also includes how I have learned to deal with it over the years of my life.

What are the lenses through which you see life, and through which you read the text, and how do they shape your reading? Spend some time this Shabbat finding out. And always remember that to someone, if not you, those giants might be very real. Adding that to the mix of what shapes your reading can have a profound influence on it. And that is why studying with others, or with a partner, is so important. You can't see the world through my eyes, at my 4'-10" height. Yet perhaps my sharing with you what things look like from down here might help influence how you see things from "up there." And, ultimately, it is my hope and prayer that in so doing, no one will ever be "looking down" at another. Metaphorically, that is.

Shabbat shalom,

©2004 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Sh'lakh-L'kha 5772- Cover Up (Redux and Revised 5761)
Sh'lakh-L'kha 5771 - Ignorantia Juris Non Excusat
Shelakh L'kha 5769 - One Law
Sh'lakh-L'kha 5767-Cover Up II - G"d's Scarlet Letter?
Sh'lakh L'kha 5766 - Another Missed Opportunity?
Shelakh Lekha 5764-They Might Really Be Giants
Shelakh-Lekha 5762-Minority Report
Shelakh-Lekha 5761-Cover Up?
Shelakh Lekha 5760 and 5765-Anamnesis
Shelakh-Lekha 5759-Do You Spy What I Spy?


Friday, May 24, 2013

Random Musing Before Shabbat–B’ha’a lot’kha 5773–Still Ecstatic After All These Years

Thirteen years ago I asked this question to start my musing for B’ha’a lot’kha:

“When did we learn to fear passion, to learn to let go and let Gd's spirit flow freely in us and through us?”

The timing seemed appropriate for me to re-examine and revisit that musing this week, as I prepare to once again attend Hava Nashira, the Annual Songleading Workshop held at the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute Camp in Oconomowoc, WI. You’ll understand why as you read on.

Is it our modern, technological, scientific orientation that leads us to view ecstatic experiences as alien, bizarre, neurotic? Even I find myself sometimes questioning an epiphanal moment,  wondering if sleep deprivation or mass hysteria is a better explanation.

Look at how we classify people engaged in ecstatic practices. We immediately think of snake handlers, speaking in tongues (and, as our parasha reminds us, this is not an idea that originated with Xtianity,) shaking, quaking, dancing, whirling, chanting, shouting, crying. We might even imagine our Chasidic Jewish co-religionists in fervent worship. Because we are suspicious of it, we might not think of it as ecstasy, and try and give it more "Jewish-sounding" names, but walk into some Chasidic services and I assure you you'll see some ecstatic worship. We easily dismiss the passion of our Xtian friends. We say "What a bunch of nutcases" or "losers" or ignoramuses" or "suckers." Some criticize our Chasidic brothers and sisters for their fervor by asking what their fervor contributes to the world - does it do more good than working for social justice. "Don't spend so much time clinging to G”d, and a little more time helping out here on earth," they might say. While that’s not a sentiment entirely without value, let’s not sell that fervor short.

We are not alone in our judging of ecstatic worship or behavior. As our parasha says:

Bemidbar 11: 26 Two men, one named Eldad and the other Medad, had remained in camp; yet the spirit rested upon them--they were among those recorded, but they had not gone out to the Tent--and they spoke in ecstasy in the camp. 27 A youth ran out and told Moses, saying, "Eldad and Medad are acting the prophet in the camp!" 28 And Joshua son of Nun, Moses' attendant from his youth, spoke up and said, "My lord Moses, restrain them!" 29 But Moses said to him, "Are you wrought up on my account?

Fervor, ecstasy, call it what you will, has a purpose, a meaning, and is, in my opinion, efficacious. As Moshe Rabbeinu goes on to say:

11:29b Would that all the L”rd's people were prophets, that the L”rd put G”d’s spirit upon them!

I probably experienced my first truly epiphanal moments, my first ecstatic worship moments, at those early Hava Nashira workshops in the early 90s.  I was so completely lifted up and transported by the energy, the love, and the music. Up to that point I had certainly found my participation in, and assistance as a pianist with worship a positive, meaningful experience. However, it was a Hava Nashira that I first discovered the true power of the music to bring about an ecstatic state. Yes, I questioned whether it was sleep deprivation, or simply being caught up in the moment. That could have been part of it. However, the experience transformed me. It was powerful enough that it enabled me to recall that same sense of ecstasy outside of that kind of special setting.  It made it possible for me to bring that ecstasy with me wherever I went, wherever I worshipped, wherever I added my musical skills to worship. It made it possible for me to not only demonstrate that spirit to others, but to also help them find it for themselves (though that is still an ongoing process for me.)

Now, despite two decades of being able to experience ecstasy at those Hava Nashira workshops, and of being able to carry them with me and enabling me to share that ecstasy with others-even though now I surely know better-the doubt remains at times. There was always the worry that I had simply fallen under someone’s spell. Now there is the additional complication of wondering if I am simply falling under my own spell.

Now, too, there are also the moments when the ability to recreate those ecstatic moments elude me. They seem to come more frequently these days, which is one reason I’m glad to be heading out for Hava Nashira in a  few days to get my recharge. I’m definitely an older battery now, that won’t hold the charge as long.

If I, with the fortune to have Hava Nashira, and other experiences (like the newly created sister program, Shabbat Shira) to serve as spiritual and ecstatic recharges, still find my battery draining, if I still wonder about the reality of my ecstatic experiences, then I must ask myself how much more difficult it is, I fear, for those with even less secure faith than my own, to believe in such experiences, let alone have them.

We often don't like prophets because what they have to say makes us uncomfortable. It should, and it is supposed to. Fact of the matter is, it wouldn't make us uncomfortable unless we did have some guilt or concern or failing or worry or nagging doubt. I suggest the same is just as true of the ecstatic among us, and of ecstatic worship.

It’s not just a matter of modern scientific, psychological, and sociological understandings and cultural norms. Many Jews today, unsure of their own beliefs, unskilled and often not as learned as they could be (whether by choice or circumstance) in their own religious tradition, fear, resent, and often lash out at those who seem to know more, or be more observant, or act ecstatically or passionately in their worship. Is it a fear and resentment mixed with jealousy as well? Have the ecstatic among us achieved what far too many feel they can't achieve?

What a strange combination it could be. Some of it fear of the unknown, the odd, the weird, the “unscientific” nature. Some of it perhaps jealousy for the ability to let go and experience ecstasy.

That is the truly sad part. Far too many no longer believe they can ever achieve some sort of reasonable passionately spiritual plane of existence. However, this power is not lost to us. It has always been within our grasp, and will always be so. As a friend of mine often reminds me, the bush is always there burning, unconsumed, just waiting for us to discover it.

It requires, sometimes, stepping outside our paradigms, pressing the "edge of the envelope," stepping through the looking glass. This is scary-we fear loss of comfort and security, and are unwilling to risk that, even when we feel an emptiness in our lives that perhaps only G”d and ecstatic love can fill.

I know that fear. I certainly felt it at my first Hava Nashira. my first Biennial, my first CAJE conference. Slowly, ever so slowly, through faith, the need, sheer luck, and willingness to grab the hands offered to me, I managed to work through that fear. Nevertheless, the fear still finds me, at times. However, one thing that gives me the strength to go on is my effort to be one of those people who reaches out his hand to help others discover this beautiful ecstatic path. Purpose makes my passion possible, and helps me over the rough patches.

At Hava Nashira, the fear rarely finds me. It continues to be a safe place where I can be as fervent in my prayer as I desire, without being labeled and looked at askance. This, despite the fact that it has grown from a  small, intimate community of about 50 people to one 5 times that size. Yet, it is telling to me that, even in this safe space, the fears sometimes finds me, more so with the passing years. Is something changing inside of me?

Sometimes, I still get self-conscious when I’m at a service, particularly just as a congregant (which still happens, at times.) I am singing out loudly, adding my voice and my harmonies. Mostly, I do so without fear, allowing myself to experience the moment. Yet there are still moments when the voices in my head are telling me to quiet down, to not stand out so, to not frighten others. That last thought. at least, is sometimes useful. I don’t want my ecstasy to become a barrier to someone else getting what they need from services, nor do I want it to frighten them or scare them, or steer them away from pursuing ecstasy in worship. At the same time, I do want to be an example to those around me that ecstasy in worship is quite real, and quite possible.

Faith. This is what we sometimes lack, and often what we need most. What I need most. Faith requires trust. The willingness to step into the unknown. To let the spirit of G”d flow in us and through us and out of us. To be ecstatic, passionate, fervent, joyful. Is it possible to love G”d with all our heart and soul and do any less?

No, let us not fear the ecstatic among us. Let us become them. All of us.

11:29b Would that all the L”rd's people were prophets, that the L”rd put G”d’s spirit upon them!

Ken y'hi ratson. May this be G”d’s will.
Ken y'hi ratsoneinu. May this be our will.

Shabbat Shalom,


This musing is dedicated to the memory of Debbie Friedman, z”l, who first enabled me to experience truly ecstatic worship through music, and was one of those who took my hand and helped me on my journey.

©2013 (portions 2000) by Adrian A. Durlester

Other Musings on this Parasha:

B'ha'alot'kha 5771 - Mandatory Retirement
B'ha'alot'kha 5770 - Ecstasy (Redux 5760)
B'ha'alot'kha 5766 - Vay'hi Binsoa - Movin' Out, Movin' On
B'ha'alot'cha 5765-Unintended Results?
Beha'alotekha 5762 - Redux 5759 - The Kiss of Moshe
Beha'alotekha 5760-Ecstasy

Friday, May 17, 2013

Random Musing Before Shabbat–Naso 5773–Guilt. Self. It.

      וַיְדַבֵּ֥ר יְהוָ֖ה אֶל־מֹשֶׁ֥ה לֵּאמֹֽר׃
      דַּבֵּר֮ אֶל־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵל֒ אִ֣ישׁ אֹֽו־אִשָּׁ֗ה כִּ֤י יַעֲשׂוּ֙ מִכָּל־חַטֹּ֣את הָֽאָדָ֔ם לִמְעֹ֥ל מַ֖עַל בַּיהוָ֑ה וְאָֽשְׁמָ֖ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִֽוא׃
      וְהִתְוַדּ֗וּ אֶֽת־חַטָּאתָם֮ אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשׂוּ֒ וְהֵשִׁ֤יב אֶת־אֲשָׁמוֹ֙ בְּרֹאשׁ֔וֹ וַחֲמִישִׁת֖וֹ יֹסֵ֣ף עָלָ֑יו וְנָתַ֕ן לַאֲשֶׁ֖ר אָשַׁ֥ם לֽוֹ׃

5:5 The L”rd spoke to Moses saying:
6 Speak to the Israelites: When a man or woman commits any wrong toward a fellow man, thus breaking faith with the L”rd, and that person realizes his guilt,
he shall confess the wrong that he has done. He shall make restitution in the principal amount and add one-fifth to it, giving it to him whom he has wronged.

Confession is good for the soul. Though we more often hear this sentiment couched in Christian (and in particular Catholic) terms, it can be reasonably argued that it is a universally acceptable idea. Being burdened with guilt is rarely, if ever, a good and healthy thing for a human being.

There is much about these words of Torah to be lauded, appreciated, and embraced. They establish a requirement for recognizing , repenting, and making restitution for wrongs committed between one human being and another. Between any human being an another. They establish a penalty to be included as part of restitution. They note that such offenses break faith with G”d. Wrong another person and you have, effectively, wronged G”d. That’s another powerful incentive to not commit wrongs against others (as if we needed more incentive?)

In the Hebrew, the verb used for confession is in the hitpael, a reflexive verb form. This tells us that we must confess to ourselves. It would be easy for some to perform a ritual of expiation without admitting their own guilt to themselves. Twelve-step programs ask for a triad of confession – asking people to admit to G”d, themselves, and another human being the exact nature of their wrongs. Implicit in the words of the Torah are the need for self-confession, and, through the public acts of expiation and restitution, confession to other humans. One can argue that confession to G”d is also implicit here, through the ritual act of expiation, though the text only explicitly requires a self-confession. (Then again, we can ask if confession to G”d is ever necessary when the understanding of G”d is of an omniscient divinity. Yet replete throughout our sacred texts are indications that G”d is not entirely omniscient. While one can easily make the argument that a lot of what we are required to do that appear to be for G”d’s sake are actually for the sake of human beings, it’s equally possible that there are indeed things that G”d needs/requires/wants from us. Our free will might also make it impossible for G”d to truly be omniscient. I’d better stop-my head hurts.)

All of the positive things these words teach us are great. but I see one huge hole here. The hole is actually based on how the new JPS translation translates the last three words of verse 5:6. They settled on “and that person realizes his guilt.”

I have a problem with that. It creates one enormous loophole. What happens when you don’t realize your guilt? Or pretend to not realize your guilt? Are you still obligated to confess and make restitution? Yes, elsewhere in Torah we are given the obligation to let people know of their wrongs, and/or warn them of the consequences of their sinful acts. Nevertheless, there’s no mention of that here.

The Torah also doesn’t stipulate a time frame here. That “self realization” could comes days, weeks, months, years, decades later.  The Torah is making some assumptions here. It is assuming that the self-realization will happen, and that it will happen in a timely fashion. Guilt is difficult to keep bottled up, and it is not an unreasonable assumption to believe that guilt will usually (and eventually) out. However, what do you do in situations where the realization never comes, or comes many years later. Is a mere one-fifth added to the restitution sufficient after that much time, or should there be more “interest” added?

I realize I am being nit-picky here, and even stretching the context-which appears to be about property theft, but in doing so I’m following in the footsteps of the rabbis and sages. There are times when Torah is quite explicit, but a great deal of the time it is not so, and it is not an easy process to always come to a consensus about what might be implicit in the text.

Note that my issue, as I stated, is with the translation. What do the words וְאָֽשְׁמָ֖ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִֽוא׃ really mean? Wrongdoing/guilt, the self/soul, specific 3rd person singular pronoun. Guilt of the self (is) it/she. It is guilt of the soul.

This is not necessarily about self-realization. It could simply be telling us that the very act of wronging another human being simply produces the condition of guilt in the soul/self. It does not perforce imply self-realization of that guilt. Back in parashat Vayikra, we do read the clear requirement: “and he realizes his guilt-or the sin of which he is guilty is brought to his knowledge” (Lev 4:28) Yet not here.

Self-realized or not, the person who wrongs another person has broken faith with G”d, bears guilt, must confess, and must make restitution.

So why did the JPS editors decide to provide their verbal loophole? Many commentators have said over the centuries that self-realization and acknowledgement of a sin are crucial to any potentially efficacious ritual atonement, so the JPS committee certainly has the weight of the sages on their side. They took the liberty of assuming that the text implied a self-realization.

Nevertheless I wonder why the original text is less clear. What is the Torah trying to teach us? Is it a reminder that self-realization does not always happen? If so, then why not add the earlier thought from parashat Vayikra that someone else could point out the person’s guilt to them?

וְאָֽשְׁמָ֖ה הַנֶּ֥פֶשׁ הַהִֽוא׃

Those three words are my project for this Shabbat. I will run them through my organic computer and see if I can determine what they might truly mean (or at the very least, what they might mean to me.) I commend the same activity to you.

Shabbat Shalom,

©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester

Other musings on this parasha:

Naso 5772 - Keeping Me On My Toes II
Naso 5771 - The Nazarite Conundrum
Nasso 5770 - Cherubic Puzzles
Naso 5768 - G"d's Roadies
Naso 5767 (Redux 5759) - The Fourth Fold
Naso 5765-Northeast Gaza-Side Story
Naso 5763--Lemon Pledge
Naso 5759-The Fourth Fold
Naso 5760-Bitter Waters
Naso 5761-Keeping Me On My Toes
Naso 5762-Wondrous Names (Haftarah Naso from Judges)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Omer Thoughts for 5773–Days 1-49

Many of you have asked me to recap my daily Omer posts from FaceBook since you may have missed some. Here are year 5773’s 49 days of comments. Enjoy. Happy Shavuot!
1. Tonight, 1 is not the loneliest number, for all over the world, it is being counted. It is one. It is the first. We count it together. Just as we will count 48 more until we can celebrate the greatest gift of the One. 2. Tonight we count 2. Two days of the omer. Two is togetherness. We count together. Two are tablets inscribed with words to guide our lives. Two is me and you. Two is us. Two is light and dark, day and night, good and evil. Two are the twin soliloquies of Nellie Forbush and Emile DeBecque. Two is/are Rodgers and Hammerstein. Two are our ears, our eyes, our lungs, our nostrils, our arms, our legs. Two are the halves of our brains. Two is love. Two is a but another path to the One. 3. Tonight is three. Triads are powerful at least in prose and poem, so they say. Triads are also problematic in politics, love and other areas. So three is a number of power and of caution. How perfectly Jewish is that balance. So as we count three tonight, let us remember both the power and the problem with three, and let us strive for positive triads, like truth, love, and caring. Or choose one of your own. Happy omer counting. 4. Four. Four is the letter Dalet. Four is the door. Today it can be the door we must pass through to get to Shabbat. Four are the corners of the earth, to which we must spread light and hope and joy and love. Four are the rivers which ran out of Gan Eden. Rivers of diversity, of divergence, of diaspora. Four, at Pesakh, are the questions, the cups of wine, the children. The four are said to represent being brought out of Egypt, being freed from slavery, being redeemed, and becoming G"d's people through covenant. For this reason, some have come to see Four as a number of completion. But for us, tonight, four is not completion, only a step along the way, with 45 more to go. Tonight, do not stop in your four, your dalet, your door. Walk through it into Shabbat and peace, rest, and love. 5. Tonight we count five days of the Omer. Five is a significant number in the Mimousa celebration that marks the end of Pesakh. So tonight, may five be a harbinger of the end of Pesakh to come in a few days. Five are the books of the Torah. Five is the hamsa. Five are the digits of the hand. There's a lesson in the five of the hand. Four of the digits are the same, and one is in opposition - the thumb. It is that oppose-able thumb that makes it work. The lesson from five in this case is that in every group, we should not always seek homogeneity, but encourage active opposition that still strives to work together with its opponents to create do and useful things. Opposition can mean strife at times, but it can also lead to great success through cooperation, as evidenced by the human hand. Five is success through the cooperation of opposing forces. Whether you are a finger or a thumb, strive to do your part as one of the five. Shavua tov, and Moadim L'Simkha. 6. Tonight we count six. Some say six represents incompleteness or imperfection. A more positive spin on that is that six represents the last or final step before a conclusion. There is an interesting dichotomy here. For some Jews, tonight and tomorrow will be the last day of Pesach, and for others, it will be the next to last day. So, for some, it will be a day of incompleteness, and for others, a day of completing.
There must be something important about six. In the creation story in the Torah, only the sixth day is referred to as "THE sixth day." (So is the seventh day.) All the others are simply first day, second day, etc.The Mishna has six orders. The magen david has six points. A completed cube has six sides. Shavuot begins of the sixth day of Sivan. I'm not much of a mystic, but six-squared is 36, lamed-vav, representing the 36 righteous beings-and that idea will come around again when we reach the 36th day of the Omer.
So whether it is a day of completeness, a final step, incompleteness or something else for you, may it be a day six filled with blessings.
7. Tonight we count seven days of the Omer. For some, it means that Pesakh is over, and for others it means the final (8th) day, for those who observe it, has begun. Seven is truly a number representing wholeness and completeness.It represents a full week of days. It represents the days of creation. Seven appears so many places in Judaism. The menorah has seven branches. Sukkot and Pesach are seven days long (except for those who follow rabbinic tradition and observe an eighth day.) There are seven wedding blessings, seven blessings in the Shabbat amidah, seven Noahide laws, the first verse of the Torah has seven words,every seventh year is a sabbatical year, there were seven cows and stalks in Pharaoh's dreams, the world has seven seas, and so many more examples. The omer itself counts seven weeks of seven days leading up to Shavuot. All these words based on the Hebrew number seven.
Here's one you might like. According to the rabbis of the Talmud, there were seven female prophets: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Avigail, Huldah, and Esther.
Why seven? Why is a week 7 days? Why, whether you understand it as reality or metaphor, was the world created in seven days? Given that we have five digits on our appendages, why did we not decide upon a five or ten day week?

To us now it simply seems logical because it is what we are used to, it is the standard we have been following for thousands of years.
So, on this seventh day of the omer, you can choose to embrace seven, and find in it wholeness and completeness and love and joy.. Or you might choose to question seven, and wonder why it holds such sway over us, why it took G"d seven days to create the world. All are worthy pursuits. It's my belief you can find your way to the Divine by following either path, for there is surely more than one path to G"d, to faith, to love, to peace. whatever path you choose, may you find what you are seeking.
8. Tonight we count eight days of the omer. One week and one day. It has been said that is seven represents the completeness and the universe as we know it, then eight is the step beyond the known universe.
On the eighth day we circumcise. It's interesting to note that Hanukkah, the holiday which celebrates our triumph over the Syrian-Greeks, who forbade circumcision in Israel, lasts for eight days. (The rabbis put a spiritual spin on this, but their spin requires acceptance of the miracle of the oil, a miracle likely invented well after the Maccabean revolt.)The rabbis play even more of a mystical game - Mattathais was of the house of Hashmon, a word, that in Hebrew begins with the letter khet, the letter representing eight, and also contains in it two of the letters for shemonah, eight in Hebrew. We also have the letters that spell oil, shemen. It all fits together nicely.

I'd like to spin this another way, and offer a nod to a good friend who keeps reminding me of the importance of doors, and our obligation to go through them. Eight is twice four, and four is the letter dalet, which means door. Every door has two options - you can go through the door two ways - in our out (and of course, which is which depends upon your own perspective.) In this way, each door is really two doors.
The number eight calls upon us to step outside/inside, to go through the door and put our belief and faith into practice. (It is not enough to invite the hungry in to our Seder, we must go out and feed them. Eight beckons us to do this.)

Eight asks us to step outside our comfort zone. Whether it is considering a world beyond the world we know, or it is going out into the world in which we live, from where we are, to help bring about tikkum olam and olam haba,
Eight asks us to go beyond. On this eighth day of the omer, confront the doors you encounter and step through them, and in doing so, may you find love, peace, and joy. 9. Nine. Tonight we count nine days of the omer. As with yesterday's eight, we have another connection with Hanukkah, as there are nine candles on the hannukiah.
The ninth day of the month of Av is a day or mourning and fasting, as recall many awful and terrible tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people throughout our history.
Nine months is, of course, the average length of a human pregnancy.So the number nine is fraught with potential and possibilities. Though I cannot carry a child, I am told by those who can and have, that it is not always a pleasant experience. So the nine months are a reminder that even the most blessed of outcomes has trials and tribulations along the way.
May nine today remind you of life's possibilities and potential, and of the need for perseverance through life's troubles on the way to realizing that potential and those possibilities. For those of you with children, whether from your own womb or that of another, or even children through whom you vicariously parent (whether friend, teacher, or other) may nine remind of you of the preciousness of our children. May it remind us all that we must do all we can for our children and our children's children so that they may inherit a world that is worthy. As they say, if Moshiach comes while you're planting a tree, finish planting the tree first.
There is another nine. It's not a Jewish nine. Maury Yeston, the creator of the musical Nine, based on Frederico Fellini's semi-autobiographical film 8-1/2, wrote this about his work: "The great secret of Nine is that it took 8 1/2 and became an essay on the power of women by answering the question, “What are women to men?” And Nine tells you: they are our mothers, our sisters, our teachers, our temptresses, our judges, our nurses, our wives, our mistresses, our muses." So for those of you who choose, nine can be a homage to all the women (and especially the mothers.)
(for the curious among you, Fellini's film title of 8-1/2 was based on the number of films he had made as a director - seven features including 8-1/2, plus two shorts and one collaboration, each representing a "half film.")
So whether it's a nine for women, a nine for possibilities, a nine for perseverance, a nine for the hannukiah, a nine to remember sad occasions for the Jewish people, or some other nine, make it your nine. Make it a blessing. Do it for yourself. Do it for the children. Make your counting count. 10. Tonight we count ten days of the omer. One week and three days.
Ten: words, things, commandments. Ten plagues.Ten days of repentance. Ten martyrs.Ten sefirot.Ten fingers. Ten toes. A minyan. There may be some things for which a minimum number of people is required, when one needs a quorum. For other things, it might only take a single individual. Or two. Or three. Or four. Or five. Or six. Or seven. Or eight. Or nine,
Ten is just a number. It happens to coincide with our digits, so we wound up with a base ten system of numbers, and lots of other tens in our world. We're stuck with it, might as well embrace it.

A community of ten. It's a good place to start. Reach out to ten friends. Make a minyan of friends. Decide on something to do together to make the world a better place.
Belief starts with one person - with belief in oneself, and belief in things outside oneself - other people, a power greater than ourselves, a deity. It builds with each person who adds their person to the community. We have come all the way from one to ten. Let us continue to grow and build this community.
As a treat tonight, I want to offer this link to a song from the musical "Snoopy!" which talks about the power of belief and community. 11. Eleven. Tonight we count eleven days of the omer, which is one week and 4 days.
Eleven. It is the first two-digit prime number. It is the first palindromic number. It is the first number that looks the same right-side up or upside-down.(Well, sort of...) Cricket and Soccer allow 11 players on the field. Eleven are the stars in Joseph's dream. Ah, there's the Jewish hook, eh?
However, the eleven I am thinking of tonight though, is from a totally secular context - Apollo 11. May that 11 inspire us all to go where no human has gone before. Side-stepping arguments about the relative value of manned vs. unmanned exploration, and the merits of the "space-race" between the United States and the USSR, it was a remarkable achievement. May it show us the power of working in community. May it inspire us to have a can-do attitude. May it remind us to be in awe of the universe in which we live.
Tonight, may it inspire you to take one small step yourself. Who knows if that one small step may prove to be a giant leap for humankind.
12. Tonight we count 12 days, one week and 5 days of the Omer.
12 are the tribes of Yisrael. For many, another twelve has a significant impact in their lives. These are the Twelve Steps. Countless numbers have sought help through programs based upon these steps, and countless numbers have indeed been helped by them. There are all kinds of addictions, behaviors, and problems that are being addressed through programs based on the Twelve Steps. I am thankful we are living in a world which is growing more open to people admitting their weaknesses and openly (or privately) seeking help with them, without any kind of stigma attached. While this particular expression of these steps may have had in origins in a community with Christian leanings, the steps themselves are universal, and my own readings and research over the years have uncovered many examples of Twelve-Step ideas in Torah and Jewish thought. So tonight, as I count twelve, I will be grateful and thankful for those Twelve Steps, for all those who have found comfort, solace, and understanding through them, and pray and hope that they will continue to touch many lives, bringing them peace, joy, and love. 13. Thirteen. Tonight we count thirteen days, which is one week and six days of the omer.
Thirteen is the age at which a boy becomes bar mitzvah, (By tradition, a woman becomes bat mitzvah at twelve. Don't get me started.)
I'm not a big fan of gematria, numerology and the like, but 13 is the gematria for the word ahava, love. Even more significantly, it is the gematria for the word "ekhad" which means "one." So, in that sense, thirteen represents G"d.
Thirteen is, of course, are G"d's self-described attributes of mercy.
In an effort to distill articles of faith for Judaism, the Rambam (Maimonides) came up with thirteen articles of faith.

As I have some issues with both the 13 attributes of G"d and the Rambam's 13 articles of faith, I won't delve any further into them, though I commend them to you for your own study and edification.
Outside of Judaism, thirteen has taken on some negative connotations. It's a shame. Thirteen doesn't deserve such a bad rap. Though this prompts me to remember that we have just finished observing Yom HaShoah, Holocaust remembrance day.
Tonight, as you count thirteen, think of love, think of the One. Think of The One's love, or your own love for The One. Think of taking your place in the Jewish community. (There are all sorts of times when one might choose to become "bar mitzvah.") Tonight, be thirteen. 14. Fourteen. Tonight we count fourteen days of the omer. That is two weeks of the omer. Two sevens out of seven sevens.Two complete periods of time. A fortnight. It's one thing to have one period of something completed under your belt, it's another entirely to have two of them. It's a time to rejoice at having made it so far!
Fourteen is the number of lines in a classical sonnet (at least from the 13th century onward.) So I offer you this sonnet, not particularly well written or poetic, but it fits the formula.
The second day of Pesakh starts our count
Of omer off'ring to the Temple brought
And seven weeks of days is the amount
of barley harvest's fruit that we have wrought
On evenings forty-nine we bless and praise
In words of Hebrew spoke since days of old
The omer's counting seven weeks of days
Each day has special meaning so we're told
We went forth out of Egypt to be free
Four hundred years opressed did end that day
Yet Sinai shows us there's still slavery
This time it's God though that we must obey.
Two weeks, a fortnight do we count tonight
Praise G*d, Halleluyah, lead us to light.
15. Fifteen. Tonight we count fifteen. Fifteen is one of two numbers that is written in different Hebrew letters from what would be expected, in order, it is said, to avoid using the letters of G"d's holy name. So, in place of the expected "yud hay" representing ten (yud) plus five (hay) it is written as nine (tet) plus 6 (vav) and has led to the word "tu" (as in "tu b'shevat" the fifteenth of the month of Shevat, the "birthday of the trees."
We can allow this fifteenth day of the Omer to represent substitutions, or different representations. We can allow it to represent the extreme extent to which our tradition might go to avoid making a mistake or transgressing a commandment, or giving offense to G"d. We can allow it to remind us that there are different combinations that can add up to where we want to get. I like this last one the best. There are many ways to add up to fifteen. Just as there are many ways to add up to to many numbers, to many results. Just as there are many paths to G"d. Whatever path you choose, whether to reaching 15, or 49, or 50, or G"d, or whatever it is you hope to reach, I hope the numbers add up for you. 16. Sixteen. Tonight we count 16 days, which is two weeks and two days of the Omer.
Like the fifteen of yesterday, sixteen is the other number written as Hebrew Letters in a pattern that differs from the norm, to avoid using the letters of G"d's name. Thus instead of yud vav, ten and six, it is written tet zayin, nine plus seven.
For you chess players out there, you start with sixteen pieces each (and there are sixteen pawns in the game, 8 for each player,) For you sports nuts, 16 was the number for Whitey Ford, Frank Gifford, and Joe Montana, among others.
For me an interesting sixteen is related to age. Some communities mark the age of 16 as a time of a significant coming of age for youth. (In Judaism we mark the age of 13 with similar significance. ) Uzziah, who was ancient Israel's longest reigning King (52 years) became king at age 16. Is anyone ready to rule a nation at 16?
The well-used Meyers-Briggs personality-type classication system uses 16 classifications. For you math geeks, 16 in base 2 is 1000, in base 4 it's 100. Not germane, but I thought it might be of interest to some.
So tonight, for day 16 of the Omer, may you play your 16 pieces well in life's chess game. May you come to discover that G"d's amazing universe is populated by far more than 16 types, in fact, by as many types as there are individual beings in it. Maybe today will be a day of alternate notations.

Maybe day sixteen is the day you will step up to the plate and assume the responsibilities of your own royal domain. Whichever of these, or whatever this sixteenth day may represent for you, may it be a day of discovery, of reflection, of harmony. May you help fill it with love and peace for yourself and others. 17. Seventeen. Tonight we count seventeen days, which is two weeks and three days of the Omer.
Seventeen isn't a particularly popular number (although studies indicate that when asked to pick a random number between one and twenty, most people pick 17. I wonder why?
Seventeen is the seventh prime number, and knowing the importance of seven in Judaism, perhaps we can build something around that? Could the indivisibility of prime numbers somehow represent G"d? So might seventeen, as the seventh prime, represent a completeness, a whole cycle of indivisible G"d, and connect us yet again to this counting of seven weeks of seven days?
17 is the number of years in the cycle of the cicadas that are about to wreak a messy plague upon areas of the mid-Atlantic. On this journey from slavery to freedom (or perhaps yet another, perhaps more benign form of slavery-if slavery can ever be said to be benign- at Sinai in the form of our covenant with G"d) we can recall the plagues that led to our freedom. Locusts were the seventh plague, so perhaps this day of the seventh prime is an appropriate day on which to do so?
Lots of activities seem to become legal in a number of places around the world at the age of seventeen. One can rent or buy M-rated video games, rent or see in theaters R-rated movies, or get a private pilot's license at age 17.  Or perhaps we can just have fun and parody a Beatle's tune:
Well, tonight is just seventeen
You know what I mean
There are thirty two more days we have to count
So how could I count any other
Oh, when I saw that seventeen
Well, it looked at me
And I, I could see
That before too long I'd have to count yet higher
But this was a number like no other
Oh, when I saw that seventeen
Well, my heart was keen for that seventeen
As I counted her tonight
Oh, we counted through the night
And we danced into the light
Yet tomorrow night I'll have to count another
But how could I count any other
Oh, when I saw that seventeen
Slim pickings tonight on which to hang something of deep meaning and significance, but surely we can all find something of meaning. Least random number, the seventh prime, reaching a legal minimum age limit for certain things cicadas, or Beatles. Whatever your choice, may you be able to dance in the light, and find peace, love, and happiness. 18. Eighteen. Tonight we count eighteen days, that is two weeks and four days of the Omer.
Yesterday's number, 17, wasn't the easiest to write and think about. 18, on the other hand, is fraught with possibilities.
We can start with the lesser known. A significant milestone in the counting of the Omer is the 33rd day, Lag BaOmer (lamed-gimel representing 33.) It occurs on the 18th day of the month of Iyar.
18 minutes is the time allowed from start to finish for baking matzah that is kosher for Pesach.
Jews don't have a monopoly on 18. The Bhagavad Gita has 18 chapters. It is part of the Mahabharata, which has 18 books. (It goes deeper, as it depicts a war between 18 armies that lasts for 18 days!)
18 is, of course, the age of majority is many, many countries. It is the age of majority in most, but not all, of the United States.
Yet nothing trumps the plain gematria of yud-khet (10+8) which yields the word Khai, meaning life.
We are told to "choose life." What does this mean? How do we do this? The context in Torah is asking us to choose between life and death, blessing and curse. Is it truly in our power to choose between life and death? (This would seem truly odd if one imagines a world in which all was predestined, but I don't think most people buy that these days. The new fallback position is "ineffable G"d. Then again,. none of this is new. Thousands of years ago these issues were on the minds of our ancestors.) Our ancestors were no less conflicted than we are. After all, aren't there situations in which choosing the curse might lead to life and choosing the blessing might lead to death? How then, do we choose?
If it is a matter of attitude, then we can certainly choose to live, in that we are active, engaged, and doing good works. Or we can choose death, to live with ennui, to be isolated, alone, perhaps uncaring.
For me, choosing life means finding a way to live a life of meaning. It doesn't have to be BIG meaning. Simple things are enough. It's difficult to have everything I do in my life contribute to that meaning in the way I would I would like it to do, but I can at least try to measure my choices and actions by that standard. If I fail to live up to it, well, I'm only human.
Tonight, this eighteenth day of the Omer, find your own way to choose life. 19. Nineteen. Tonight we count nineteen, which makes two weeks and 5 days of the Omer.
There are nineteen years in the cycle which synchronizes between the lunar and solar calendars to make the Jewish lunisolar calendar. It's quite remarkable, when you think about it, that we have this connection that allows us to link the lunar months with the solar year. It's not unique to Judaism - it was known to the Babylonians, the ancient Chinese, and the Greeks among others. However, we're he only ones still using it. We've been using it since it was fixed by Hillel II in the Hebrew year 4915 (358-369 CE.) (That's problematic because, as amazingly accurate as the rabbis were in creating the Hebrew calendar, accurate modern measurements have shown it to be just a little bit off, and slowly but surely, things are shifting and getting out of sync. When the calculations are done, it's about 3 hours off in terms of calculating when the there should be a rosh hodesh new moon. As a result, the major festivals have drifted about 13 days forward over the last 1600+ years. Left uncorrected, you can see what could eventually happen. So, on the one hand, the nineteen represents a remarkable achievement, and on the other hand, it's just a bit off. Then again, even the ancients knew that the original nineteen was just an approximation, so things have been off, and required a lot of tinkering, from the very beginning.)
Nineteen are the number of blessings in the Amidah of the weekday Jewish prayer service, also known as the Shemoneh Esrei, or Eighteen. In the fifth century BCE when the rabbis of the great Sanhedrin fixed large portions of the liturgy, the central core of worship contained 18 prayers. Some seven centuries later a prayer against heretics was added and became the nineteenth of the 18 blessings. But the old nme stuck. So nineteen is a bit of lagniappe, a little something extra as they say down in new Orleans. Is it significant that the extra prayer is one that asks for heretics to be destroyed (the birkat haminim) ? Are heretics something to be rid of, or are they necessary to a well-fucntioning religion?
What will your nineteen be? Recognizing a remarkable ancient achievement? A reminder that, as human knowledge changes, we must be willing to consider changing even the most sacred of traditions or risk a collapse or failure of the whole system? (An interesting question-do we adjust the Hebrew calendar, or do we start re-inventing the chagim to fit the new places in the cycle of the seasons they will eventually occupy? Which is the better finagle from tradition's perspective?) Will nineteen be your chance to add something extra to your routine of prayer? An enjoyment of having a little something extra? Will you fight against heretics, or embrace it them? Some many possibilities from such a relatively small number. May your nineteen bring you blessing, love, and peace.
Shavua Tov. 20. Twenty. Tonight we count twenty, which is two weeks and 6 days of the Omer.
Twenty. A score of days. The Omer is four score and nine days, so we're no even through one quarter of it yet.
Twenty is, in countries not using the metric system, a measure of optimal eye vision at a distance of twenty feet, thus 20/20 vision. (If you're interested in knowing more about what the first twenty means, try Googling "visual acuity" or "eye chart." It's all rather fascinating but to complex to explain here.) Hindsight, they say, is always 20/20. I'm not so sure of that. It's just as possible to see the past through a lens or a bias. Remember that "objects in the mirror may be closer than they appear."
Twenty is, according to the latest research, the optimal number of moves to solve a Rubik's Cube. This, too, involves way too much explaining. Also, in the past, the number was higher, so this only reflects the latest research.
Tonight might be a good time to consider the answer to the question "what's your twenty?" Twenty is slang for the CB-Code 10-20, meaning your location. So, on this twentieth day on the path from the narrow place (Egypt) to Sinai, where are you? It may be enough to just consider where you are physically. However, you might want to consider where you are spiritually, religiously, in terms of faith, in your understanding of G"d.
Or perhaps we can turn the question around and ask G"d "what's Your twenty?" What do you think G"d might answer? Everywhere? Nowhere? Both? Neither? What's your answer to that same question? Where, (or what, or when) is G"d's "twenty" from your perspective? What is your "twenty" in relationship to your understanding of G"d, and what is G"d's "twenty" in relationship to where you are?

Just remember that your "twenty" doesn't mean much unless it's thought of in relationship to some other "twenty." I don't just mean physically. but, in fact, is any "here" meaningful unless it is seen in relationship to another here? You could say "in relationship to there" but that sets up a different dynamic, and I like to see this in more Buberian terms. Here-there feels more like "I-It" and here-here feels more like I-You or I-Thou.
So tonight, consider whether your vision of G"d, or of life, or the things in it, is 20/20. Or see if you puzzle out the things that are puzzling you in twenty steps. Or consider your physical, spiritual, religious, faith, or other "twenty." Your "twenty" can be in relation to someone else, to G"d, to any number of things-choose.
Whatever your "twenty" may there be others who share it, or are connected to it, and may your "twenty" be a place of meaning, fulfillment, love, and shalom. 21. Twenty-One. Tonight we count twenty-one, which is three weeks of the Omer.
Twenty-One is the sum of 1+2+3+4+5+6 (which also happens to be the number of dots found on all sides of a single die in a pair of dice.)
Twenty-One is...oh, who am I kidding? Can we be thinking of anything tonight other than the tragedy in Boston?
Let us pray for all those killed and injured. Let us pray for our shattered world, and let us all strive to work to restore our world to one of peace, harmony, and shalom.
22. Twenty-Two. Tonight we count twenty-two, which is three weeks and one day of the Omer.
Here's an interesting twist. Twenty-two divided by seven yields π (Pi.) (Almost. It's not quite a perfect mathematical result.) In any case, this connects twenty-two with the seven weeks of seven days of the Omer in all sorts of fascinating ways. π is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. A circle is whole, it is a physical representation of shaleim and shalom. The diameter of a circle divides it into halves, and Judaism is replete with balanced halves - dark-light, day-night, tov-ra, and so on.
There are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Twenty-two letters which formed the words with which God created the universe. What an amazing universe it is. Including, I would add, mathematics. The mathematics of our universe are also amazing, full of the most incredible, beautiful, awesome concepts and realities.

So twenty-two gives us the opportunity to explore wholeness, balance, mathematics, and geometry. It gives us the opportunity to appreciate our universe, its creation (and its creator.) More than enough to think about on this twenty-second night pf the Omer. I wish you happy explorations, shalom, and love.
23. Twenty-three. Tonight we count 23, which is three weeks and two days of the Omer.
Julius Caesar was stabbed 23 times. Hmmm. Not such a fun fact.
23 is a magic number for the so-called birthday paradox. In any random group of 23 there is a 50% probability that two people in the group will have the same birthday. Interesting, though hardly earth-shattering.
One significant occurrence in Judaism of 23 is that this is the number of judges required for a trial involving capital punishment. While there is clearly capital punishment in the Torah, the rabbis really bent over backwards to mske the death penalty almost impossible to utilize. It must be verified by at least two witnesses that the accused was forewarned of the illegality and potential consequences of their crime before they allegedly committed it. The accused must be of legal age and of solid mind. The Mishna tells us in Makkot 1:10 "A Sanhedrin that puts a man to death once in seven years is called destructive. Rabbi Eliezer ben Azariah says: even once in seventy years. Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Tarfon say: had we been in the Sanhedrin none would ever have been put to death."
There is Proverbs 23:23 - Buy truth and never sell it; and wisdom, moral discipline, and understanding" There's some sage advice, and also, in fine Jewish tradition, some balancing necessary. How do these things (truth, wisdom, ethical behavior, and understanding) all depend upon and interact with each other? Is truth always truth? Are ethics situational? What differentiates wisdom and understanding? Many questions to ponder.
Of course, there is Psalm 23, the shepherd psalm. Talk about thinking positively!

So we have 23. Stab wounds. Probabilities. A precaution against capital punishment. A reminder to hold on to the truth, to wisdom, ethics, and understanding. Positive thoughts of a caring and sheltering G"d. Whatever your 23 is tonight, may goodness and loving-kindness follow you all the days of your life, and may you dwell in G"d's house for lengthy days.
24. Twenty-Four. Tonight we count twenty-four, which is three weeks and 3 days of the Omer.
24 hours in a day.
24 joints on the fingers of both hands
(excluding the thumbs. Some speculate this is why the Egyptians and other early cultures divided the day into 24 hours. They seemed to favor counting the finger joints to fingers. Further speculation on this suggests they preferred a base 12 system because 12 has more divisors (2,3,4, 6) than 10 (2,5)
24 blackbirds backed in a pie.
24 carats is the standard for pure (actually 99.9%) gold.
24 frames per second is the traditional frame rate for 35mm motion picture film
24 was a television show starring Kiefer Sutherland (which I haven't seen.)
24 is the gematria for the word כַּד, pitcher, jug, vessel
24 are the book of the TaNaKh.

In Genesis 24:24, Rivka reveals herself as the daughter of Bethuel
Proverbs 24:24: He who says to the guilty "You are innocent," shall be cursed by people and damned by nations."
As with every night of counting the Omer, you have your choices to consider. Tonight, I'm going with the last one, and applying it to how the US Senate treated the gun lobby today. May they be cursed by the people and damned by the nations Of course, you may not share my political or ethical sentiments when it comes to gun control (which are, to be frank, to eliminate all weapons in the world) yet you need not agree with me to find value in what I've written tonight.
Whichever 24 you choose, may it fill your vessel. May you find meaning and value in it, may it lead you to a life of peace an love, and may it help make the world a better place. And not just for the next 24 hours.
25. Twenty-Five. Tonight we count twenty-five, which is three weeks and four days of the Omer.
Just over half-way there. It has been an interesting journey so far. We've had so many things to explore and consider. So tonight, for twenty-five, let's stop and take stock of where we are at this half-way point.
It's supposed to be a journey from slavery to freedom. Yet the freedom we find at Sinai is maybe not quite so free. Part of me would not be in such a hurry to reach Sinai knowing that we'd simply be trading slavery to Pharaoh for service to G"d and a host of some really difficult to follow rules.
Yet though G"d asks for our obedience, we have free will, and can choose to not be obedient. I suppose we had that same choice under Pharaoh, theoretically. I'm not sure exercising our free will under Pharaoh or in our covenant with G"d will yield anything positive. The odds, in fact, are against that in both cases.

Yet, why not roll the dice and go for it? There's even a tenuous 25 connection here. Twenty-five in Hindi is pachis which gives rise to the name of the national game of India, pachisi (adapted in this country into Parcheesi and Sorry!) In India, the game is played not with dice, but with the shells of the cowry snail. Six shells are thrown. If all of them land with the closed side upright, that value is the highest possible in the game, twenty-five. The game is about a journey, as each player moves their four tokens all the way around the board.
I cannot let it go unsaid that the last five days have certainly been crazy ones here in the United States. This is not the place to write about them, but I urge you to give due consideration this Shabbat and twenty-fifth day of the Omer to all that has transpired.
So it's appropriate on this twenty-fifth day, coinciding with Shabbat, to stop and rest a bit just past the halfway point of the Omer. Find some peace, some wholeness, some love. Then, fully-rested, we can proceed through the second half of our journey.
26. Twenty-six. Tonight we count twenty-six, which is 3 weeks and 5 days of the Omer
There was a time when a typical television series had 26 episodes per year. That has changed in recent years.
A marathon (and that is certainly a topic of discussion of late) is just a bit over 26 miles.
Proverbs 26:26, referring to those who dissemble, says "His hatred may be concealed by dissimulation, but his evil will be exposed to public view.
Of course the big Jewish connection to 26 is that it is the gematria for G"d's name.

So tonight, we can consider the shrinking television season, marathons, the price of lying and deceit, and G"d's name. Worthy topics all, for our consideration. Whichever you choose, may you be able to finish your marathon and find peace, love, and meaning.
27. Tonight we count twenty-seven, which is three weeks and 6 days of the Omer.
Psalm 27 is the source of the text Akhat sha'alti
אַחַת, שָׁאַלְתִּי מֵאֵת-יְהוָה אוֹתָהּ אֲבַקֵּשׁ: שִׁבְתִּי בְּבֵית-יְהוָה כָּל-יְמֵי חַיַּי
One thing I ask of the L"rd, that I will seek: that I may dwell in the House of Ad"nai all the days of my life.
Psalm 27 may also contain the only Biblical reference to zombies:
בִּקְרֹב עָלַי, מְרֵעִים-- לֶאֱכֹל אֶת-בְּשָׂרִי:
צָרַי וְאֹיְבַי לִי; הֵמָּה כָשְׁלוּ וְנָפָלוּ.
When evil ones came upon me to eat my flesh, even my adversaries and foes, they stumbled and fell.
Interestingly enough, it has become a custom to recite Psalm 27 throughout the month of Elul. (There's something there, to consider that all those faults one has been examining could be eating us. We do speak of being consumed by guilt...)
Psalm 27 is, I think, one of the better Psalms. I think of it as extremely realistic in its structure, which wavers back and froth between certainty and uncertainty on David's part. The first three verses (including the zombie verse 2) evidence a surety on David's part of G"d's unfailing protection.Then, in verse 4, the akhat sha'alti noted above, David is asking G"d for the boon of dwelling in G"d's house. Verses 5 & 6 return to the more assured theme. Then in verses 8 & 9 David asks G"d to be heard, to not hide G"d face from him, to not forsake him. In verse 10 a little surety burst through, only again to give way to uncertainty and asking again in verses 11-13, verse 13 being a somewhat transitional and hopeful one. Verse 14 ends the psalm with a word of advice to look to G"d, and to be strong and of good courage. That's a mixed message - trust in G"d, but carry a big stick?
This psalm is full of humanity. We hear and feel David's vacillation between certainty and uncertainty. Here, just past the middle of the Omer, we might be feeling some of this same uncertainty. Where have we been? Where are we going? Is this journey meaningful? Will I stick with it, keep counting the Omer?
I hadn't intended this to be an analysis of Psalm 27, but there you have it.
So what else is 27?
The gematria of the Hebrew word בֶּכֶה is 27. It means crying or weeping. But why dwell on sadness-we've had quite enough for now.
The gematria of the Hebrew word חִידָה is 27. The word is Hebrew for riddle, puzzle, or enigma.
Ah, that's perfect, isn't? It's where I will leave you, too. A chance to puzzle out what this 27th night of the Omer will be for you, to consider the enigma of the Omer, of Torah,m of Judaism itself. May your puzzling yield moments of light and illumination, and my they reveal the path to love and peace.
28. Twenty-eight. Tonight we count twenty-eight, which is 4 weeks of the Omer.
For my musical friends, 28 is the opus number for Chopin's 24 preludes.
The Chinese culture uses 28 astrological constellations. (Interestingly enough, the Chinese calendar is, like the Hebrew calendar, a lunisolar calendar that attempts to link the lunar and solar cycles.)
In Jewish tradition, every 28 solar years the sun returns to its place of creation in the heavens, and we recite the Birkat Hachama, the blessing of the sun. We last did this on the day before Pesach in 2009, Wednesday, April 8. April 8, and will next do it on Wednesday, April 8, 2037. Like the Hebrew calendar itself, and its 19-year cycle, the calculations for 28 year Birkat Hachama cycle are quite complicated. They are, unfortunately fixed to the now abandoned Julian calendar. While it still amazes me how reasonably precise our ancestors were, their calculations were a little off, yet we remain bound by the halachic calendar for calculating the date of Birkat Hachama (and for calculating the Hebrew calendar) an as a result, we continue to get just a little out of sync with the Gregorian calendar each year. Oddly enough, the Gregorian calendar is basically, with minor variance, a 28 year cycle! (That cycle gets messed up because of the leap-year rule which says that years which are divisible by 100 but not by 400 are not leap years.)
Is there a lesson here? There are many things which Judaism stubbornly refuses to change in the face of clear evidence. Will we ever be organized enough and willing to put aside our internecine disputes long enough to convene another Sanhedrin to fix the calendars? Or will we continue to get out of sync with the rest of society? Some might argue that we have always been a little out of sync with the rest of the world and this is a good thing! I believe, like all things Jewish, that what we need here is a little balance between the extremes.
28 is the gematria for the Hebrew word כּוֹחַ koakh, strength. I pray that we have the strength to do what it takes to enable Judaism, in all its varying forms, to survive, perhaps even to grow. Perhaps even to, dare I say it, evolve?
So tonight, you can listen to some Chopin Preludes; study Chinese astrology; celebrate the sun; ponder the meaning, use, and value of strength; consider how Judaism should deal with traditions that modern knowledge demonstrate to be incorrect; or decide how you will work to help insure the future of Judaism. May you go from strength to strength, and may your world continue to be filled with peace, love, and exploration.
29. Twenty-nine. Tonight we count twenty-nine, which is four weeks and one day of the Omer.
Poor old twenty-nine. It seems to have very little significance. The only twenty-nine that rings a bell for me is the Interstate Highway that runs north from Kansas City, passing through Fargo, North Dakota, where I lived for ten years, and on to the Canadian Border. I've actually driven the entire length of I-29, and it's a pleasant enough experience. It passes through Council Bluffs and Sioux City, Iowa, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and Fargo and Grand Forks in North Dakota.
In gematria poor old twenty-nine is the word כָּזָב which means a lie, untruth, falsehood.
So we seem to have hit the doldrums of the counting of the Omer. Luckily, Lag BaOmer is just four days away.
However, there is another 29. It's that extra day we get in February during leap years. Day 29 is four weeks plus one day extra. A little something extra. Lagniappe, as they called it in New Orleans. So perhaps this 29th day of the Omer can be a one for us to be thankful for sometimes getting a little extra time-something we could all use, I'm sure. In fact, we can make day 29 a day to think of all the little extras that sometimes come our way in life. As you think of them, I hope they make you smile. I hope they bring pleasant thoughts. I hope they help you find your path to wisdom, love, and shalom.
30. Thirty. Tonight we count thirty, which is 4 weeks and 2 days of the Omer.
David was 30 years old when he became King of Israel. Not at all anywhere near the youngest to assume the throne, and, for his time, not all that young. Yet today one can't become President of the United States at age 30.
The Hebrew letter ל lamed represents the number 30. Lamed by itself is a preposition with many meanings, most commonly to or toward, but sometimes for.
The gematria of the Hebrew word כי (ki) is 30. כי is a very versatile word that is can be an adverb, conjunction or preposition. It can mean: that, since, but, although, for, as, or because. It can also mean: verily, indeed, only, except, if, even though, when, Such an array of meanings from such a simple words, who two letters have values of 20 כ and 10 י respectively, adding up to 30.
Hebrew has no lack of words that have multiple meaning and usages (the prefix ל lamed being one of them) but כי is one of the most common and most varied in meaning. In almost every case, ascertaining the exact meaning of כי requires the use of context and other clues. Sometimes its meaning is affected by words with which it is paired or placed before or after.
So this thirtieth day of the Omer can be one of כי, or versatility, and multiple meanings, of examining context and placement. A day of possibilities. May those possibilities lead us all to shalom an tikkun olam.
And for my journalistic friends out there:

31. Thirty-one. Tonight we count thirty-one, which is 4 weeks and 3 days of the Omer.
Not a lot of 31s abound. But if you look hard enough, you can find them.
Chapter 31 is the last chapter of Proverbs, and it has 31 verses. It contains, in verses 10-31, the acrostic poem “Eshet Khayil," "A Woman of Valor." (As a side note, many of you know I revel in attempts to redeem so-called irredeemable texts, and for many, Eshet Khayil is such a text. For one feminist's take on its possible redemption and relevance in these times, see . link removed fore security reasons

Tamara Cohen offers an alternative to Eshet Khayil on RitualWell:
But I digress. Back to 31.
The gematria of several Hebrew words is 31.
לא (Lo, 30, 1) which means "no," or "not."
אל (El, 1, 30) is a name of G"d,
So if we read "no" backwards, we get G"d, and if we read G"d backwards, we get "no." That's interesting, don't you think?
אל (1, 30) with different vowels, can also be a preposition variously meaning: to, towards, unto, into; against.. We would certainly want to move towards G"d. Yet how can the same prefix/preposition also mean "against."

As noted yesterday, by itself, ל can be a prefix that means "to," "towards," "for," and more. Yet add the little aleph to it and it becomes "no, not" or even a prefix that can mean "mis-," "non-," "un-," and similar negative or negating features.
The wonders of biblical Hebrew. Even it betrays the sense of balance between opposing forces and idea the pervades almost all of Judaism. G"d or no. Towards or against..
All of which leads us to a question:
איך (eikh, 1, 10, 20) means "how." "How" is a very different question than "why." The "how" can be (though not always) easier to ascertain than the "why." (Our Omer counting won't get us high enough to reach the gematria value for the word למה "why" in Hebrew.) In some ways, I see "how" as a more essential Jewish question than "why." Asking "why" rarely leads to the most effective solutions, whereas asking "how" is often much more efficacious. Asking why you are having difficulty with something might lead to rationales, justifications, explanations, even excuses. Asking how you can change/fix/overcome a difficulty or challenge is likely to provide useful answers. I have read some philosophical writings that suggest that avoiding "why" question is a cop-out, and that religions and spirituality are all about asking the "why." I agree that asking "why" is a large part of religion. At the same time, I believe Judaism teaches us that asking "how" is as important (if not more so.) Often, the only answer religion gives to "why" is that old "ineffable G"d" canard. I know I would find that less useful than a likely answer to a "how."
So this 31st day of the Omer can be a day to understand and come to terms with the eshet khayil. A day of El, or a day Lo. A day of exploring the essential understanding of opposites and balance in Judaism. A day for learning to frame questions with "how" instead of "why."
I wish you a 31st day in which asking "how" can lead you to love, wisdom, and shalom.

32. Here's my Omer thoughts for day 32, a little early since I won't be able to send them out later tonight. Apologies to all who dislike "Omer spoilers."
Thirty-two. Tonight we count thirty-two, which is four weeks and 4 days of the Omer.

32 is the ASCI and Unicode code for a {space}. That somehow seems appropriate for a day of the Omer which falls on Shabbat. Shabbat is a day to put space between the work-a-day weeks of our lives. Shabbat is a space out of time. However, it is wise to remember that a space need not be seen as empty-a space is full of potential. In print, a space separates words. Sometimes there is much to be read in the spaces between the words. Then again, to paraphrase Freud, sometimes a space is just a space.
32 is the Hebrew gematria value for כבוד (kavod 20,2,6,4) which means: weightiness, respect, honor, glory, As the counting of the Omer wears on, it is worthwhile to remember that this counting is something we are commanded to do, so there's a matter of respect (and honor) involved in keeping this commandment. I have always enjoyed the fact that the Hebrew word for honor/respect is based on the root that means heavy or weighty. Of what value is honor or respect given that has no weight to it?
32 is the gematria value for לב (lev 30,2) which means heart, center, middle, conscience, emotion, determination, knowledge and more. Though our modern scientific understanding tells us that the brain is the seat of thought, feelings, etc., we persist in connecting the heart with a wide range of emotions, feelings, thoughts, and even wisdom. There's a lot of pseudo-scientific and anecdotal evidence that purports to show the heart is more than just a pump. I will also readily admit to experiencing what I can only describe as emotions, thoughts, and pain of the heart. Personally, I don't need to believe that the heart can actually feel or think to use it as analogy or metaphor when speaking of emotions, wisdom, and more. At the same time, I remain open to possibilities, as there is still so much about how our bodies and minds work that we don't understand. We certainly don't have a solid scientific understanding of the ideas of conscience and soul.
This 32nd day of the Omer, which is also Shabbat, we can create a sacred and holy space for ourselves (and fill that space with possibilities upon possibilities.) We can explore the meaning of honor, respect, and their connection to weight. We can examine our hearts, and consider the role they play in our lives - physically, spiritually, religiously, emotionally, metaphorically, analogically, and more. Use your heart to fill this 32nd day, this Shabbat, with love, wisdom, and peace.
33. Thirty-three. Tonight we count thirty-three, that is four weeks and 5 days of the Omer.
It's here. לג, the 33rd day of the Omer, Lag BaOmer. It is a day of joyous celebration, for miracles of the past - and for miracles of the present and the future.
Reverse the letter order and get גל, a word which in Hebrew can mean wave, fountain, billow, well, shaft, lever, mound, heap.
Tonight the flames billow forth like a fountain from a mound of heaped wood, creating a wave of light illuminating not only the night but lighting our way in the darkness. It is the light of the very well of existence, from which can all drink deeply on this night. And on all other nights. For the light of the Eternal is always there, just waiting for us to find it an drink it in, illuminating our bodies, minds, and souls.

Let us dance. Let us sing. Let our souls soar high as the flames soar into the night. Tomorrow, during the day, let us revel in the splendor that is our natural world. Let us have picnics and play games. (I'm happy to skip the bows and arrows.)
Enjoy the miracles around you, tonight, tomorrow, and each and every day. The fire is always burning, we need just turn aside and see it.
A joyous Lag BaOmer to one and all.
34. Thirty-four. Tonight we count thirty-four, which is 4 weeks and 6 days of the Omer.
Our day of celebration has ended, and with it, too, our weekend is coming to a close. Our day of joy has ended, and we resume the mundane task of counting - though forever mindful that our counting will take us to Sinai and to receiving the Torah.
Thirty four is the gematria of כוח (koakh) which means strength, power, force, might.
Thirty four is the gematria for בבל (Babel) Hebrew for the city-state of Babylon, and for the locale of the famous tower where G"d confounded our speech so that, in our hubris (or in G"d's fear) we would not be able to cooperate so easily to build another tower to the heavens. Today, we have the technologies to challenge G"d in far greater ways. These technologies are a great boon, yet sometimes a double-edged sword, and we must wield them with caution, and justly.
Thirty four is the gematria for כיד (kid) Hebrew for misfortune or calamity. On Lag BaOmer we celebrated the ending of a time of misfortune and calamity for Rabbi Akiva and his students. Even on the heels of our joy of remembrance for the ending of an ancient calamity, even though our remembrance of their misfortune has ended, for now, we would do well to be mindful and aware of all misfortune and calamity that has happened, is happening, and could happen to our neighbors, our friends, our family - and to ourselves. We must do all we can to prevent them, and, in their wake, act quickly to address them.
Change the letters around and you get either דכי (D'khi) surging, dashing to pieces, breakers or you get כדי (K'dai) Hebrew for according to, in order that, according to the need of.
The order of the letters makes big differences in the meaning. In our lives, in our universe, in our relationship with the Divine, how we arrange the order of things, the order of words, the order of letters, matters.
On this thirty-fourth day of the Omer, let us all find the strength to be mindful of misfortune, and be cautious and thoughtful about how we arrange the letters and other things in our lives. May our hopes, and our deeds not be dashed to pieces upon the breakers of life. May our thoughts and efforts all be, insofar as is possible, according to the needs of our world.
Shavua tov.
35. Thirty-five. Tonight we count thirty-five, which is 5 weeks of the Omer.
35 is the gematria for יהודי (Yehudi) Hebrew for Jew or Judean
35 is the gematria for גלב Hebrew for barber (and the Hebrew root for shearing.) Change the letters around and you get גבל Hebrew for one who kneads, and a Hebrew root that means to twist, or to set a boundary.
To be inclusive, 35 is also the gematria for לה Hebrew for her, or for to her.
Day 35 is a good day to celebrate being יהודי. Being a Jew is a journey, just like the one we are on from slavery to freedom, from Egypt to Sinai, as we count our way through the Omer. L"rd knows we need barbers, so we can celebrate them. We certainly need kneaders,especially to create our challot for Shabbat. It's funny that these same Hebrew letters also are about boundaries. They are something we need, and often, they are something that we knead. The liminal areas of our world, of our lives - they are often the most important place, for it is at the boundaries, the borders, where we interact. We like to think of borders and boundaries as firm, when, in reality, they are often not firm at all. In addition, they are probably far too many times and places where we maintain firm, unalterable boundaries when we should be more willing to allow the things on either side of those boundaries to be flexible, to be kneaded together. Judaism is so much about balance between things that appear to be on one side or another of a boundary, and reveals to us the truth that what makes the world go round is the very interplay between these things. It's not one or another, but often both, kneaded together, that make it possible for us to live reasonable, balanced lives.
Let us all walk in the twilight together, and revel in the blending across the boundaries of day and night, dark and light. What's clear in the light of day or the dark of night may appear less so in the liminal time of twilight, yet often in my life I have discovered true clarity at exactly that time.
May your exploration of the boundaries in your life, your universe help guide you on your path to finding true peace, wholeness, and love.
Thirty-six. Tonight we count thirty-six, which is 5 weeks and one day of the Omer.
36 is a perfect score on the ACT. Growing up on the east coast, I was not familiar with the ACT, and didn't learn about it until I went away for college. Why the folks who created the ACT decided that each of the three sections would be worth 18 points is beyond me, but then again, they've changed the SAT scoring methodology since I took it back in the 70s, and I still can't figure out how to compare the two systems!
36 has all sorts of significance in Judaism.
Chapter 36 of Genesis is the geneaology of Esau. Chapter 36 of Exodus describes the work of Betzalel and Oholiav and the over-abindant generosity of the people in presenting their gifts for the creation of the mishkan. Numbers 36 is the last chapter of that book, and tells the story of Zelophehad's daughters.
According to tradition, Adam and Chava (Eve) spent 36 hours in Gan (Garden of) Eden.
36 is, of course, twice חי (Chai, whose gematria is 18) and so doubly lucky.
36 is the gematria for אֵיכָה (eicha) Hebrew for how, and the Hebrew name for the Book of Lamentations.
36 is the gematria for אלה (Eileh) Hebrew for these, those. With different vowels, it is Hebrew for the terebinth tree (and often mistranslated as Oak, which it is not.)
36 is the gematria for the Hebrew root בדל which means to separate (havdallah, l'havdil, etc.) Separation, division, plays an important role in the creation story and in all of Judaism. Change the letter order and you get, not unsurprisingly, לבד a word that can mean alone, apart, unaccompanied. Though not widely attested to in Hebrew texts, a third letter order variation, דבל, is believed to mean clumping or pressing together. Ya gotta love Hebrew!
36 is the mystical and mysterious ל"ו, representing the so called lamed-vavniks, the hidden 36 righteous who exist in each generation to protect us from disasters. (If you've been following the TV show Touch, they have been following this theme-although they have recently erred significantly when having a lamed-vavnik self identify-albeit only in narrative dialog. It is said thre 36 are so humble that someone saying they are one of the 36 is clear proof they are not!)
What an abundance of riches we have to consider on this 36th night. Perfect scores. Artistry. Generosity. Genealogies. Justice for women (the case of Zelophehad's daughters is arguably more of a Pyrrhic victory. however, for a number of reasons.) We can choose to relish the 36 hours that humankind had in Gan Eden, or choose to bewail our having been thrown out of it after such a short time. We can think about life. We can ask how. We can point to those or those, or sit under our terebinths. We can separate, clump together, be alone. We can consider the nistarim tzaddikim, the hidden righteous, the 36. Are they really there? I'd like to believe that righteous ones have stepped forward in every generation. However, this 36th night, I am going to consider that perhaps it is not enough to depend on the existence of the 36. We must take on the responsibility for protecting each other, and protecting the world, ourselves.
Whatever your thoughts on 36, and this 36th day of the Omer, may you be blessed, may you find peace and love.
Thirty-seven. Tonight we count thirty-seven, which is 5 weeks and two days of the Omer.
Psalm 37 is an oddity. It is an imperfect acrostic. Every other verse in it starts with the next consecutive letter of the aleph-bet, although there is no ayin, the first verse starts with the "l'david preface," the last acrostic verse starts with a vav prefix, and there are 3 additional verses after the verse that starts with shin.
You know, it's funny. I said some time back that I'm not much of a gematria fan, you so many of these Omer thoughts has revolved around Hebrew gematria. It has provided some interesting connections.
37 is the gematria for the Hebrew root הבל which can mean vanity, futility, emptiness.It can also mean breathe, breath, exhale, 
37 is also the gematria for the Hebrew root גדל which can mean to grow, enlarge, to be big, to be great. Change the letter order and get דגל, which means flag, banner, to flutter. Change the letter order yet again and get גלד which can mean to cover, or a scab, a covering, to enclose, or even skin.
One man's obsession with the number 37 has resulted in this fascinating (if bizarre) website:
Yes, day 37 is just another day in the counting of the Omer. However I am seeking to find meaning in each day, without necessarily resorting to the traditional mystic and kabbalistic assignation of meaning. Day 37 is feeling a bit like Psalm 37 to me. Not quite right, yet full of meaning and potential. I hope that it is not a day of vanity or emptiness for anyone. If you have wounds, I hope and pray that they become covered over. I hope you find a flag or banner to fly high .In fact, I hope day 37 helps you to grow and enlarge your understanding of the universe in which we live and our place in it. Find your 37, and make it meaningful. May your 37 lead you to happiness, shalom. and love.
Thirty-eight Tonight we count thirty-eight, which is 5 weeks and 3 days of the Omer.
Alright, I admit it, I'm a science fiction nerd. So this is why the first thing that came to mind when I thought about 38 is that in the series Stargate SG-1, it was only possible to maintain a stable wormhole connection between stargates for 38 minutes. Interestingly enough, 38 was also a number associated with the Egyptian god Anubis. The Stargate series conflated all sorts of ancient pantheons, utilizing gods and names from Egyptian, Norse and other mythologies. They chose Anubis as a name for a particularly evil character. Coincidentally, 38 figures significantly in Norse mythology, with many Norse sagas divided into 38 chapters.
38 is the gematria for גלה a Hebrew root meaning to uncover, reveal, disclose, discover. Change the order and get להג, a root meaning to be devoted, and, in later usage, to study. In modern Hebrew לַהַג means patter or nonsense.
38 is the gematria of אזל a Hebrew root that means to go (away,) to vanish, to disappear (in modern Hebrew sometimes it is used to mean out of print!)
So what are we to make of this thirty-eighth night (and day?) Well, for one thing, imagine if you had only 38 minutes to maintain a constant connection with another galaxy, or, for that matter, some sort of spiritual connection with G"d or the Deity (or force) of your understanding. How would knowing you only had 38 minutes change and affect what you did?

On this 38th day, what can you uncover or reveal - about something, or even about yourself? Can you devote this day to study? Before this 38th day vanishes, can you give it meaning beyond the ordinary or nonsensical?
I hope you haven't found these thoughts to be לַהַג. May this 38th night and day of the Omer be one of hope, healing, and peace.
Thirty-nine. Tonight we count thirty-nine, which is 5 weeks and 4 days of the Omer.
It seems somehow appropriate as the 39th day of the Omer this year coincides with Shabbat, considering that the rabbis managed to mine 39 different categories of work used in the construction of the Temple that became the basis for prohibited activities on Shabbat.
It is custom that when a punishment of forty lashes is ordered, only 39 actual lashes are given. 40 lashes was the maximum punishment permitted (see Deut 25:2-3) and, true to our custom of building fences around things lest we transgress, it was custom to stop at 39 just to be sure. (The Romans, two, were noted for the practice of giving 40-save-one lashes, though this was generally applied to their household slaves and petty transgressors. When it came to criminals, the Romans were not known for compassion. If that itinerant rabbi from the Galil was flogged by the Romans-as the story is told-it's likely he would have received far more than 40 lashes.)It would have been nice if the Jewish custom of 40-save-one for lashings came about as a result of compassion, but alas, that does not appear to be the case (though the rabbis certainly tried to give it that spin.
Poor 39. It seems to be devoid of even some gematrical play to give us a hook. זבל, which has a gematria of 39, means garbage or manure. Ah, but fate intervenes. 39 is the gematria for the Hebrew word טל tal, meaning dew. טל, dew, appears in the Tanakh 37 times (wouldn't it be nice if it were 39 times?) Dew is life giving. It sustains us when the rains do not fall. Dew glistens and shines.This 39th day of the Omer is also Shabbat, and Shabbat is like dew, with all its sparkle and promise. On this 39th day, this Shabbat, let us pray for a world where forty-save-forty is the norm, that no human is subject to such harsh punishments as the lash. Let us pray for a world in which our decisions are ruled more by compassion than playing it safe. Let us pray that love, compassion, and shalom fall upon us like, and as surely as dew.
Forty. Tonight we count forty, which is five weeks and 5 days of the Omer.
Forty gets a lot of play in Judaism, that's for sure. Forty days and forty nights of rain in the great flood. Forty days we spent receiving the Torah at Sinai. Forty are the number of days the twelve spies spent scouting Canaan. For our failure to have faith despite the report of the spies (except Joshua and Caleb) we had forty years of wandering in the wilderness. Kings David and Solomon each ruled for 40 years.
As per yesterday's comments, the Torah tells us that forty lashes is the maximum punishment to be given (and tradition teaches us to withhold one.)
Forty, we are told, is shorthand for "a long time" or "a lot" used in Judaism, as well as Christianity, and Islam (and there's some evidence in other ANE cultures including Sumerian, Hittite,Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian, et al.)
So here's a question. If 40 stands for a long time, why do we call a short nap taking 40 winks?
Forty weeks is the average length of a human pregnancy.
The phrase "forty acres and a mule" represents one of the greatest policy failures and shames in U.S. History. If you don't know your Civil War and Reconstruction history, go and learn it.
40 is the gematria for the Hebrew letter מ (mem.)
40 is the gematria for the Hebrew root חבל which is quite an all-purpose root. It can mean: to tie together, to bind; to impound, to seize a pledge; to act corruptly, to ruin, to be destroyed, to be pulled down; to become pregnant;to let down by rope, rope,cord; labor pains; and more. Change the letter order an get חלב which can mean: milk, fat, tallow, marrow, to be greasy, to smear, and more.
So how can we make day forty an all-purpose day?
Forty days of the Omer may seem like a long time, but we're not here yet. We have days to go before we come to our mountain. We have accumulated a lot of wisdom, a lot of ideas, a lot of questions along the way. Perhaps this is a good day to take stock of how far we've come, how far we have yet to go, and what we want to do with what we've learned so far, and what we want to do when we get where we are going.
Wherever you have been, wherever you are,m and wherever you may go, may you find love, wisdom, and shalom.
41. Forty-one. Tonight we count forty-one, which is 5 weeks and 6 days of the Omer.
Forty-one will forever be for me the number of of Mozart's last symphony, No. 41, known as the "Jupiter." It's still one of my favorites despite having spent months analyzing it in music theory class. It's a magnificent work. And, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, it is a sobering thought indeed that when Mozart was my age, he had already been dead for 23 years!
41 is the gematria for טבל Hebrew for: to dip, to dive or plunge into, Change the letter order to לבט and it can mean difficulty, torture, to come to ruin.
41 is the gematria for לוה Hebrew for" to borrow, to accompany, to join oneself to.
41 is the gematria for איל Hebrew for ram (an metaphorically, for a ruler, mighty. Switch the letters around to יאל and it can mean to be keen on something, prepared to do something.
41 is the gematria for אם Hebrew conjunction/adverb meaning if, whether, supposing, unless, even though. With different vowels, a form of the word for mother, dam (animal mother.) ancestress, matriarch.
41 is the gematria for גלח Hebrew for to shave, or to be shaved. Change the letter order to גחל and you get burning/glowing coals/charcoal.
41 is the gematria for גבול, the Hebrew word for border.
This 41st day is the border between the 5th and sixth weeks of the Omer. It can be a day as magnificent as the Jupiter Symphony. A day when we can dive into our studies, our thoughts, or whatever it is we wish to dive in to. (And sometimes, this can lead to difficulty.) We can join ourselves to a cause, an action, an activity, a project, another person. Or we can been keen or prepared to do something. We can act mighty ruler, the ram (or be an Aries, like me.) We can honor the mothers in our lives and all the mothers and matriarchs we know. We can get a shave. We can light a fire and bathe in the glowing embers, blessing G"d for warmth and light-both the physical and spiritual kind. Or we can make this a conditional day, with lots of ifs, suppositions, and conditions. No great mystical or kabbalistic insights. Just another number in a series from 1 to 49. A number that I hope will represent for you, for all of us, a day of love, learning, and shalom.
42. Forty-two. Tonight we count 42, which 6 weeks of the Omer.
This should be simple. 42 is the ANSWER to the “ultimate question of life, the universe and everything” as determined by the giant supercomputer Deep Thought over 7.5 million years. The problem is that no one knows the question that was asked. So a small planet, which we know as “earth” was constructed as a giant organic supercomputer to determine the question that was answered by Deep Thought as 42! All this according to Douglas Adams and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series.
I have always found this idea, that our planet an all life upon it was created as a giant problem-solver to be very attractive, and there’s something very Jewish about it. While I don’t want to see us all as cogs in a machine, or bits in the brain of a computer, I do think we are an experiment in life. I also view the Torah not as answering questions, but as great directions for getting us to ask the right questions.
Lewis Carroll was also fascinated with the number 42 and it found its way into his books in numerous ways.
There are 42 marks/spots/dots on a pair of dice (1+1+2+2+3+3+4+4+5+5+6+6=42.)
As a native of New York City, I can’t ignore the number’s connection to a most famous and well-known street that runs through the heart of Manhattan. How did 42nd Street wind up as such a central and major thoroughfare, as both an infamous and famous location?
There’s some fun and interesting gematria connections, but I’ll leave those for you to explore. I’ve been relying on gematria more than I had intended for these Omer thoughts, so tonight I’ll give it a rest.
So for this forty-second day of the Omer, we can think of those dancing feet. We can go down the rabbit hole or through the looking glass. We can think about a pair of dice, or we can roll them. Thought or action-that’s always a choice.
Or, as I am planning to do, we can reflect on 42, and the earth’s role in determining the question to which 42 is the answer. The earth as experiment, the earth as brain. Consider Judaism’s role in teaching us the importance of asking questions, and of knowing questions. For of what use is an answer without knowing the question? If you find all this mind-boggling, overwhelming, and frightening, well:
Don’t panic!
We have our own Hitchiker’s Guide, which we call Torah. May this 42nd day lead you to good questions, to Torah, and ultimately to shalom.
43.Forty-three. Tonight we count forty-three, which is 6 weeks and 1 day of the Omer.
I even surprised myself at the first association of 43 that came to me. Even today it feels somewhat out of place for me, the nerdy short kid who studied piano, read books well beyond his years, and had broad and diverse interests in science, literature, the arts, and more. I wasn't much of a sports fan (nor much of a sports player, and my communicative self usually got picked last to be on a team. I (sort of) followed baseball, and rooted for the Mets (and was never much of a Yankee fan, even though I lived across from Yankee Stadium all through High School.)
So what 43 do I remember? Richard Petty's car. No, I didn't follow NASCAR races assiduously (and NASCAR was hardly as popular then as it is now, especially in the north east.) There was something ,magical about Richard Petty. I would actually find myself watching him race on TV when I could.. Now, I never had any desire to become a race car driver, and I'm not into cars (or speed) that much. I haven't watched a NASCAR race on TV on several decades, and never had seen on live. I have attended one Indy 500. These days, I rarely even watch the Indy 500 or Kentucky Derby!) Nevertheless, even today, all these years later, when I hear 43, Richard Petty and the succession of cars that bore that number are what comes to mind. I remember how much I enjoyed seeing 43 appear in the Pixar movie "Cars" and hearing Petty's voice as the character of "The King" the champion car which bore his famous number.
For those into strange coincidences, I note that racer Dale Earnhardt, Sr lost his life driving in the last lap of the 43rd Daytona 500 in 2001. Dale tied Petty's record of winning seven NASCAR championships.
So this 43rd day is, at least for me, a day of childhood connections, of memories. Of strange coincidences. Of things that aren't often part of my thinking, my day, my life, resurfacing. What can it be for you? What memory does 43 bring up for you? Or can you use this 43rd day to make a memory?
Happy memories, or memory making. May they always be memories that bring you wisdom, love, and shalom.
44. Forty-four. Tonight we count forty-four which is 6 weeks and 2 days of the Omer.
Forty-four is mathematically-religiously symbolic in that we light/utilize 44 candles over the course of Hanukkah.
For you mystics, the word merkavah (chariot) appears 44 times in Tanakh. Also, Ezekiel's chariot had 4 wheels and four faces, another 4-4. (Ezekiel;s vision was of a chariot that was actually composed of heavenly beings and living creatures.) Perhaps the earliest of the Jewish mystical movements, the merkavah mystics took Ezekiel's vision and ran with it, building an entire mystical system around it. The rabbis of the Talmud were very cautious about it, and tried to limit study of merkavah mysticism to only the very knowledgeable and learned sages. It was (is?) an esoteric knowledge that could prove very dangerous to the unlearned.
Aspects of merkavah mysticism found there way into other Jewish mystical traditions. It is intricately entwined with hekhalot (palaces) mysticism (and sometimes they are collectively described as mysteries of the chariots and palaces. Aspects of merkavah mysticism were incorporated in kabbalah. In addition, Ezekiel's chariot vision combined with Isaiah's visions of the throne of G"d collectively underlie the liturgy of the daily Kedushah, the words of the first section themselves coming from Isaiah, then Ezekiel, and then Psalms.
44 is the gematria for the Hebrew root/word ילד which means to give birth, .
As our journey nears its end, we can stop to anticipate the birth of the Torah that is before us. Already we must be feeling the pangs and pains as we prepare to bring forth a totally new way of understanding how to live in this world. It will not be like Egypt, that's for sure, though it turns out we will be only be trading servitude to Pharaoh for service to G"d. An illusory freedom, perhaps, in some ways. Nevertheless, we are filled with the hope and anticipation that, whatever it is, it will be better. what do we do in our own time, from our own perspective, knowing that we did indeed exchange slavery to Pharaoh for servitude to G"d? There is, at least, one major difference. Pharaoh would destroy us utterly, if he chose to do so. G"d promises that, despite our stubborn, intransigent failure to follow G"d's ways, in the end G"d's love for us will come forth and G"d's promises to our ancestors will be met. Or so the Torah tells us. Whether that has been our actual experience is up for debate.
So tonight we can remember what it was like in the darkest time of the year, as we lit our way into the future, remembering days of old, and miracles that never happened (but that doesn't matter.) We can revel in the mysteries of the chariot and the palaces, though we'd do well to observe the cautions of the rabbis. These days, people delve in Jewish mysticism with far less background and wisdom than the rabbis suggest. Maybe this is a good thing - democratizing the esoteric. Then again, maybe not. I don't personally feel I have even a hint of the wisdom and knowledge required to seriously study chariot and palace mysticism, or kabbalah, and so, at best, I dabble. The choice is always there for you to make for yourself. Choose wisely.
Or tonight we can feel the pangs of labor, as the birthing time of Torah approaches. What is needed to prepare ourselves for this? Will we be ready to receive the Torah when it comes? Hopefully our efforts at counting the Omer will prove efficacious in those preparations.
May your path of counting always lead you to wisdom, love, and shalom.
45. Forty-five. Tonight We Count forty-five, which is 6 weeks and three days of the Omer.
So,the first 45 that comes to min or those little 7" discs of vinyl. So I thought I;d rummage through my record collection to see what I still had in 45s! I found:
  • Lollipop by the Chordettes
    (B-side Baby-Come-A-Back-A)
  • High Hopes (sung) by Frank Sinatra
    (B-side all My Tomorrows)
  • I Didn't Raise My Boy To Be A Soldier by Eli Radish
    (B-side when Johnny Comes Marching Home)
  • Harper Valley PTA by Jeannie C. Riley
    (B-side The Girl Most Likely)
  • ABC by the Jackson 5
    (B-side Stop the Love You Save)
  • America, Communicate with me by Ray Stevens
    (B-Side Monkey See Monkey Do)
  • Corner of the Sky (sung) by Michael Jackson
    (B-Side To Know)
  • The Happening by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass
    (B-side Town without Pity)
  • I'll Never Fall In Love Again (sung) by Dionne Warwick
    (B-side What the World Needs Now Is Love)
  • Hey Jude by the Beatles
    (B-side Revolution)
My friends always wondered about my affection for pop and bubblegum. They figured that anyone who had been studying piano at Julliard since the age of 5 was probably only into classical music. Well yes, I liked classical music. But that had never stopped me from liking and listening to anything else, especially Broadway show tunes. Sure, I was exposed to some classical snobs, but once Leonard Bernstein said the Beatles were okay and revolutionizing music, it was easy to shut the snobs up (well, except a lot of the snobs didn't care for Bernstein all that much, but that's another story altogether.)
I grew up poor, in a NYC housing project, in as ethically diverse neighborhood as you can imagine. Lots of Motown and plenty of bubblegum, and, courtesy of all our parents even holdovers from the great vocalists like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bing Crosby, Tony Bennett, Nat King Cole, Peggy Lee, Dinah Shore, Doris Day, et al. (I would venture to say that I was alone, or at best a small minority among my friends when it came to my love of show tunes.) My musical tastes were, and always have been, diverse.
(Even more interesting, if I had saved them, would be what shows up in my collection of 8-tracks! I know that it included some Johnny Cash, some Broadway shows. I guessed I missed the opportunity to share contents of  my LP collection, but then again, Lag BaOmer took precedence when it came to 33!)
45 is the gematria for אֵדָם - Hebrew for Adam, or man, or, as a verb, to be red, to redden, to sparkle. There is a great play on this word: אם is mother or woman. ד  whose gematria is four, is said to stand for the 4 matriarchs, and, by extension, the womb. Thus אֵדָם is the womb inside the woman, and thus man is, inside, woman.
45 is the gematria for מאד - M'od,  Hebrew for force, might, muchness, exceedingly, greatly, in abundance. I love this word, and I especially love translating it as muchness (particularly in places like the m'odekha in the v'ahavta prayer - all your heart, all your soul, and all your muchness - has a really nice ring to it.)
So on this 45th night, we can reflect on the music of our youth,made on bygone methods of recording and sharing music. We can explore the connection between man and woman. We can think about our muchness and have we use it. However you spin it, may the music lead you on paths of wisdom, love and shalom.
46. Forty-six. Tonight we count forty-six, which is six weeks and four days of the Omer.
Forty-six is us. That is, it takes 46 to make us who we are - each of us, individually, and each of us, collectively as a species. Those 46 chromosomes alone determine everything about us.
We are not, by the way, the only species on earth that has 46 chromosomes. We're also not anywhere near the top of the list. A species of fern wins with 1,260 chromosomes. A chimpanzee has 48. So does the humble potato!
So obviously it's not about how many chromosomes one has. As the saying goes, it's not quantity, it's quality.
46 is the gematria for the Hebrew word אמה which can mean cubit, forearm, canal, maid, handmaid. I've always struggled with the concept of the cubit, a unit of measure that could vary widely, since human forearms are generally of varied lengths! Then again, are not all measures of length arbitrary, to some extent? (Scientists might argue that measurements fixed to constants like the speed of light or atomic decay are not arbitrary. Of course, history has shown the things once seen as absolute or constant were in fact not.)
46 is the gematria for the Hebrew word לוי - Levi, meaning a Levite. They are the schleppers, the roustabouts, the roadies of the priestly world. How typical, that they did the drudge work, probably did most of the really hard and important work, and were considered second behind the priests. Some things never change.
So this forty-sixth night, we can celebrate those who do the real, hard, often thankless work behind the scenes like the Levites. We can consider the futility of sure measurements. We can revel in the mystery that is us, made all that we are by just 46.
It is also Shabbat. A day when we are not supposed to be schleppers. A day when we stop the schlepping, and try to experience a taste of olam haba. May your taste, your forshpeis, reveal paths to wisdom, love, and shalom.
47. Forty-seven. Tonight we count forty-seven, which is 6 weeks and 5 days of the Omer.
47 is the gematria for the Hebrew word אולי, ulai, which means perhaps or maybe.
47 is the gematria of the Hebrew word במה which means stage, platform, rostrum, raised or elevated area.
47, according to some, is the quintessential random number. It is found everywhere. It apparently all stems back to a mathematics professor at Pomona college in the mid 60s who used the number in a demonstration of faulty mathematical proofs.  47 became part of Star Trek lore. The number made many appearances in episodes of Star Trek: TNG, and also found its way into other Sci-fi series including alias and Fringe and even into the new Star Trek films. It seems a student who attended Pomona went on to become a writer on ST;TNG and "infected" other writers with the passion for 47.
It has even spawned the 47 Society who explore and seek to corroborate the claim that 47 is the quintessential random number. They collect and report "47 sightings"
Trying to make order out of the seeming randomness of the universe, eh? Sounds quintessentially Jewish as well.
So this forty-seventh day we can take the stage, raise ourselves to new heights, and, perhaps, just maybe, we can seek to make sense of the apparent randomness of life and our universe. Oh, and report any 47 sightings to the 47 Society, of course!
I wish you all a shavua tov, a week of gladness, joy and shalom.

48.Forty-eight. Tonight we count forty-eight, which is 6 weeks and 6 days of the Omer.

48 is the gematria for the Hebrew word כוכב which means a star.
48 is the gematria for the Hebrew root/word חיל which can mean (depending on vowels:) labor pains, power, strength, brave, capable, will, and more.
48 is the gematria for the Hebrew root/word  יחל which means to wait, to tarry, to await. That seems an appropriate word for this 48th night, as we wait, patiently, for the 49th day of the Omer, followed by Shavuot on the 50th day.
The sages have determined that there are 48 ways to acquire a knowledge of Torah.
So, on this 48th night, we wait. We seek knowledge of Torah. We seek to be capable and have strength, though we must also learn to control our capabilities and our strength. We seek the stars, the light of the stars - the light that shines from above, and the light that shines from within.. We wait. After only one more day of counting, we can celebrate the gift that is Torah.
May it be that our counting leads us to ways of wisdom, love, and shalom.
49.Forty-nine. Tonight we count forty-nine, which is seven weeks of the Omer.
We made it. All the way from one to forty-nine. seven weeks of seven days It's been quite an amazing journey, and I am so glad we could share it together.
Has our journey prepared us for what comes next? Are we ready to receive the gift of Torah? The midrash tells us that we received Torah somewhat under duress, with Mt. Sinai being held above us as a threat. (Actually, if you dig deeper, you'll see there is more than one midrash on this topic, and they don't agree. One says G"d lifted the mountain, another says the G"d brought the heavens down to the mountain top. Of course the debate deepens because later midrashim suggest that not only the Torah, but Torah sheba'al peh (the oral law) was also given at Sinai. Yet even on this the rabbis didn't agree.)
49 is the gematria for the Hebrew word/root דמה, which can mean: to be like or resemble; to cease, cut off, destroy; to come to rest; to become silent, to cease to exist; liken, compare, imagine; one silenced or brought to silence.
Change the letter order and you get the Hebrew word/root מדה which can mean: to measure, a measurement; tribute, tax payment.
Change the order again and get הדם which means footstool.
With the end of day 49, our counting will indeed cease, be silenced (until next year.) This doesn't give us permission to put our feet up on our footstools. The counting of the Omer may have ended but we have many more obligations to fulfill, not the least of which is to study this Torah of which we are being gifted. It is how we respond to Torah, how we interpret Torah, that gives rise to our character, that gives our measure. Measures, middot, are the tools we use to describe so-called normative (desirable?) behavior. By some accounts, there are 48 of them. So this 49th day is the middot plus one - the day to go beyond the measure of what makes one a decent human being.
So as we prepare for receiving the gift of Torah on Shavuot, let us use this 49th day to prepare by seeking to go that one measure beyond what we are called upon to do.
I wish you all a beautiful and meaningful Shavuot. In this trip through the Omer, and in the coming holiday, I hope that you have found/will find paths to wisdom, love, friendship, curiosity, questions, mysteries, comforting things, your understanding of the Divine in each of us and in the universe, and shalom.
April-May 2013
©2013 by Adrian A. Durlester

Technorati Tags: ,,