Friday, May 06, 2016

Finding the foundation of strength

היום שלשה עשר יום שהם שבוע אחד וששה ימים בעמר
Today is thirteen days--that is one week and six days--of the omer
יסוד שבגבורה
A day of foundation in a week of strength

In this writing from the omer count of 2007, I wrote of how I began this practice that has become so foundational for me, and how the count and the sephirot and my life converged to give me an important lesson in strength.

I started my practice of counting the omer in 2000. I attended a series of three workshops at P'nai Or run by the Jewish Renewal Life Center in Philadelphia. The second of the workshops took place before Pesach. The weekend was centered around studying different aspects of Jewish ritual with Rabbi Marcia PragerRabbi Arthur Waskow, and Rabbi Phyllis Berman. It was there that I learned to count using the sephirot, giving me the spiritual hit that led me to work with this ancient practice in my modern life. Like the study of Torah, it is one of those practices that will sustain me for the rest of my life.

The counting of 2002--5762--had special significance for me. That was the year of my treatment for breast cancer. My chemotherapy started on the first of Nissan. My last infusion was on the 49th day of the omer. The counting that year had an added importance. It allowed me to avoid the tendancy to count those difficult days as a prisoner tracking her time of internment. Instead, I could use the seven attributes to support me through my illness.

It was Gevurah-the sephirot of strength-that resonated most deeply with me that year. So often the symbol of strength is a closed fist. But that year I learned how much strength there is in an outstretched, open palm. It is very difficult for many otherwise self-sufficient cancer patients to rely on others for help. But there are so many people around you at that time who want to help. The ability to ask for and accept the help you need represents a strength as great, if not greater, than any boxer's punch. That is a lesson of Gevurah that stays with me to this day.

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