My Omer Counting Journey (#1): Cultivating Contemplative Practices in Chevruta

For almost twenty years, I have been counting and crafting the Omer with my chevruta, my family and my community, each year adding at least one new practice to further embody and beautify the qualities of the Omer Period.

I began counting the Omer with my chevruta in Oakland, CA in the early 1990’s, meeting weekly to reflect on the journeys of our lives within the framework of the Omer Period. We began using Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s now classic flip book when it was first published in 1996 and, over the years, a sweet format has evolved that includes reading from the flipbook, followed by a period of silent sitting meditation and then sharing what is up for us in our lives. Our discussion is guided by the particular combination of sefirot for that day, and that is the lens we look through to further cultivate the qualities of boundless lovingkindness; discipline and mindfulness; beauty and compassion; endurance and determination; humility and awe; bonding at our core; and open-hearted majesty in our lives.  

Several years ago, we began integrating chanting into our Omer counting practice, matching one of Rabbi Shefa Gold’s chants to each of the sefirot and, also, choosing a chant to recite throughout the Omer Period. Now, we begin and end our gatherings with periods of chanting, further embodying the qualities of each day, each week and the entire Omer Period. 

My Omer Counting Journey (#2): Family Practice and Colors of the Omer

After my daughter was born, I wanted to come up with a way to truly engage and include her in Counting the Omer. Appreciating the impulse of Waldorf Education to completely infuse the young child’s world with beauty, I turned to a trusted Waldorf staple: silk scarves! I chose seven pastel colors and purchased two vegetable-dyed 7” squares in each color. Since my two year-old daughter’s world was drenched in pink, she chose dark pink for the first day and week (Chesed/Lovingkindess) and light pink for the next one (Gevurah/ Structure). The beloved Waldorf rainbow of pastel colors continued:  orange (Tiferet/ Beauty), yellow (Netzach/Endurance), green (Hod/Humility), blue (Yesod/Bonding) culminating in the regal purple (Malchut/Majesty). 

A note on matching colors to the sefirot:  I have done a fair amount of research and exploration on this topic and have found a variety of configurations and models. I figured my daughter’s sense of matching the color dark pink to lovingkindness, and following the rainbow to its lavender end (using a double dose of pink!), seemed as reasonable and appropriate as any other combination out there, so we went with that … and it has taken hold of us in a very deep way over the course of the last decade.

Back to the silk scarves … One scarf of each color is hung on a gold cord (beginning with dark pink on the far right and ending with lavender on the far left) in front of a window, wherever the best place is for sunlight to shine through. (Over the years, we have moved our Omer Counting scarves from the living room to the bedroom and now they are back in the living room.) We found these cute little colored clothes pins to match the colors of the scarves and they work great. Each week, one silk scarf (from the second group of scarves, not the ones that are strung on the gold cord) makes its way across the arc of colors–journeying from right to left (as Hebrew is written)– through the entire color spectrum and all of the qualities of the sefirot. In this way, there are 49 different color combinations, each offering a unique color experience of sunlight shining through.  To see photos of the silk scarves, click here.

Our evolving practice includes saying the blessing for Counting the Omer each night at bedtime and moving the scarf over to the next day. When we wake up the next morning, the sun is shining through a bright new offering of color! Sometimes, we change the scarf first thing in the morning, giddy with excitement to see the sun dancing through the changing combination of colors.

In the morning, then, delighting in the new color qualities of the day streaming into the room, we read from Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s Omer Counting flip book for inspiration and encouragement to meet the day. A practice we added some years back was for each of us to then do some kind of movement with our bodies that is inspired by the reading. Each person in the family (or group) takes their turn. Then we do all of them together. Then we are really ready to meet the day!

My Omer Counting Journey (#3): Keva and Kavanah through Crafting

Last Rosh HaShanah, I offered a short teaching to our Sebastopol Jewish community on the gifts and challenges of keva (rooted structure) and kavanah (intention, mindfulness), and offered the Counting of the Omer as a prime opportunity to explore finding ways of holding them both.

Years ago, I was deeply moved by a talk Rabbi Debra Orenstein gave on this topic at my local synagogue. She challenged us to find places within the Jewish tradition where we could connect aspects of our creative lives that we do not necessarily associate with being ‘Jewish.’  Rabbi Orenstein also encouraged us to take what is an otherwise unaffiliated practice in our lives and to root it deeply in a Jewish context, bringing a sacred  container to free-flowing creative expression. She then invited us to consider the possibility that, in doing so, we could enhance both Jewish observance and our artistic efforts.

Each year, during the Counting of the Omer, I try to take on at least one new practice to deepen my experience of the inner journey in order to be of greater service in the world. Last year, I wanted to explore ways of dancing with keva and kavanah … of bringing together my love of writing poetry & crafting with natural materials, and my longing for a deep and meaningful spiritual practice. Here’s how I did it …

–  WRITING OMER HAIKU:  Each day (except Shabbat), immediately after reciting morning blessings upon waking, I would formulate a short Haiku poem, and then post it on Facebook. To see Daily Omer Haiku 5771, click here.

–  CRAFTING OMER PRAYER STICKS:  Along with others in my chevruta and in my community, we crafted Omer Prayer Sticks, wrapping intertwining crochet threads around sticks. Different ones of us used different palettes for the seven colors of the sefirot … My daughter stuck with the palette she has come to identify with the sefirot and Counting the Omer since she was two years-old, moving across the rainbow from deep pink into lavender. I used basically the same rainbow theme but with darker hues, moving from deep red to navy blue (because those were the colors that were on sale at our local craft shop!). Others used different palettes, drawing on other resources associating different colors with different directions on a medicine wheel.  To see photos of Omer Prayer Sticks, click here.

–  CREATING COMMUNITY OMER DANCING POLES:   To see description of Omer Dancing Poles, click here.

Looking forward to seeing what creative inspiration 5772 brings!