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Toward Shabbat: Aharei Mot-Kedoshim

Counting the Omer has taken on new meaning for me this year. Each time I sit down to study the daily or weekly attributes, each time I focus on a particular character trait or value, I think “Wow, this is exactly what I need right now.” The opportunity to reflect on and refine my own ways of being has given me a sense of agency at a time when so much feels out of my control. 

The ritual of counting, with the spiritual practice of study and prayer, is in and of itself a grounding and centering experience that reminds us we are rooted in a long tradition. At moments of upheaval and uncertainty, the structure and familiarity of ritual can have a comforting and stabilizing effect. The added value of exploring the seven emotional attributes, which in various combinations constitute the 49 qualities we examine during the period of the Omer, can be a meaningful catalyst for personal growth at a time when much of the day might otherwise be spent just trying to make it through. 

I found the wisdom within this week’s Sefirat haOmer practice to be particularly helpful in navigating and leaning in to my life as it is right now. This was a week of balancing—sometimes skillfully and more often precariously—many competing demands: work, children, an upcoming move, my own desire for a little time and space to try to process everything. The constant juggling is exhausting and more than once I have wondered if I am really doing any of it very well at all. And then I noticed that this was the week of tiferet, of focusing on the beauty that comes from compassion. 

Tireferet: Relate to Ourselves & Others with Compassion

Focusing on tiferet asks us to find ways of relating to ourselves with compassion, viewing ourselves with an orientation toward kindness, generosity, and gentleness. These are unusually trying times and there will inevitably be moments when we do not show up as our best selves. Can we see these moments for what they often are: manifestations of our own anxieties and fears? Can we be compassionate with ourselves as we work to act or speak differently next time? 

Focusing on tiferet asks us to find ways of relating to others with compassion as well. Perhaps that means giving the people with whom we share our homes the benefit of the doubt or reaching out to our neighbors to see how they are doing. No matter how many times we may get it wrong, there is always another chance to get it right. Who might appreciate a phone call or a letter? Where might a tzedakah donation really make a difference? What are the needs in the community and how can we help?

The practice of Sefirat HaOmer reminds us that while there is much that is beyond our control, there is still a lot that is up to us. Tending to our own emotional and spiritual lives through the refinement of various attributes and character traits leads us to understand ourselves and engage with others in healthier and more meaningful ways. Turning to rituals, those of our tradition and those we make up, can sustain and nourish us during uncertain times. I may never find a perfect way to balance all of the competing demands of this moment, but I can learn to accept that I am doing the best I can. I may not be able to open school or make everyone healthy or return life to the way it was, but I can approach everyone around me with compassion and care and do what I can to make this time a little more bearable for us all. 

This Shabbat, may you find the strength to focus on what is possible, rather than what is closed, and may you find comfort and creativity in rituals old and new.