We are now in the period of the Omer-- the counting of 7 weeks until Shavuot, the time our tradition teaches that we received the Torah on Sinai. The link between Pesach and Shavuot is essential; it reminds us that freedom must be harnessed to responsibility.
There is the potential to see freedom as merely freedom from. In Hebrew, this kind of freedom is called chofesh, and it is seen as an important, but not as a fully mature expression of freedom. In the Pesach seder, when we say, "We are now slaves-- next year may we be free people", we use the term b'nei chorin for "free people." Chorin, or cherut, is a different kind of freedom, it is freedom to. Cherut is the Jewish ideal of freedom as it is the freedom to choose engaged, loving, responsive action. Cherut is an active process of observing the world and then not feeling locked into one way of responding, but rather finding the freedom to respond appropriately to the details and nuances of the truth of this moment. The freedom of cherut is the freedom that is emphasized as we move from Pesach to Shavuot.
Jewish mindfulness practice is a path of cherut, because it is a path of choice. As we practice mindfulness, we become more clear about what our habitual patterns are, and then we have the freedom to choose to act in a maximally wise, compassionate and responsive way. We strengthen our capacity to respond and act skillfully in the world as opposed to reacting mindlessly.
In mindfulness meditation we see more clearly how we are sometimes controlled by a smallness of mind or heart, by fear, or by aversive or grasping impulses. Meditation helps create more space so that we do not need to act out of this smallness, but we can choose to act out of a larger, more inspired and confident sense for who we are and what life is about. This is cherut. Pesach is harnessed to Shavuot and the cherut we find within ourselves in mindfulness practice is harnessed to loving, responsive action.
The Omer is a period of refining and exploring this essential process. In the Kabbalistic system, each of the seven weeks corresponds to a different midah (ethical/spiritual quality). One way to approach the Omer is to see each week as an opportunity to look at the midah as a particular window into the process of moving from (and between) freedom and responsibility. Each week presents different questions as to how we might further wake up to where we are--and where we might be. For example, we might ask the first week: How might I be more loving? How might I open to the love and generosity of others-- and the Divine? How does my lack--or presence-- of a loving perception effect the other?
There is a further way of seeing each day of each week as corresponding to a quality within a quality (e.g day 1: chesed within chesed, day 2: gevurah in chesed, etc.)-- I tend to keep it simple and just focus on the single midah for the entire week.
The midot of the Omer, from week 1 to 7 are (this specific list is thanks to Rabbi Yael Levy's excellent Omer counting book):
Chesed (love, generosity, compassion)
Gevurah (Strength, Judgment, Discernment)
Tiferet (Radiance, Harmony, Balance, Truth)
Netzach (Eternity, Vision, Endurance)
Hod (Presence, Gratitude)
Yesod (Foundation, Connection)
Malchut/Shechina (Majesty, Divine, Presence)
Thank you to all who joined us at our first meeting on April 12. It was a huge success with over 50 of you joining us to create an evening of powerful connections!
Please join us for our May meetings -
Tuesday May 3, May 17 and May 31.
3020 North Lincoln Avenue, Chicago(in the Lakeview neighborhood)