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Omer 2012: Count The 49 Mystical Jewish Days With Prayers, Scripture And Reflections

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Members of Kibbutz Givat Haim Meuchad with scythes at harvest of the Omer in Israel.
Members of Kibbutz Givat Haim Meuchad with scythes at harvest of the Omer in Israel.

Out of the depths of slavery in Egypt, the Jewish people rose to receive the Torah at Mount Sinai. Beginning on the second night of Passover, when the Exodus from Egypt is remembered, and ending just before Shavuot, the celebration of God's gift of written wisdom, the Counting of the Omer is a 49-day period of self-reflection and spiritual renewal.

Throughout Jewish history, the Sefirat HaOmer, as it is known in Hebrew, has taken on wildly different observances and meanings. Originating in the biblical command to actually count 50 days after giving a grain offering the size of an omer (Leviticus 23:15-16), this period later became a time of mourning over the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiba, who died of a plague for not honoring their study partners.

Amid the mourning, Lag B'Omer, the 33rd day of counting, is considered a celebration -- it marks the day that Rabbi Akiba's students stopped dying as well as the later passing of one of Rabbi Akiba's most prominent students, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, whose teachings are at the heart of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah.

In more recent times, the Omer has become an opportunity for spiritual rebirth, each day corresponding to a different aspect of a person's inner life. In this context, every day of the Omer is a unique, mystical gateway to the soul's potential.

Starting today, HuffPost Religion offers the opportunity to ascend the 49 levels of renewal as part of a virtual Omer community. Each day, we will update this liveblog with spiritual intentions, prayers, scripture, poems, art and reflections from our bloggers related to that day's spiritual energy. We welcome your participation.

Editor's note: Reflections for days of the Omer that fall on Jewish holidays or the Jewish Sabbath will be published after the holiday or will otherwise be prearranged. As the first day of the Omer is also the second night of Passover (April 7), the liveblog will not be updated until the following day.

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After counting seven times seven, we stand at the foot of Mt. Sinai. Now, we are at that point of realising that G-d is all: He is One and there is nothing else. But reaching that point, we cannot count. We cannot speak. But we can hear the Qol Shofar, the transcendent inner vibration that pulls us close and purifies.

--Reb Aharon Rubin on "The Power of Niggun and Shavuot"

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On the morning of the day the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai, along with thunder and lightning and a heavy cloud on the mountain, there was the sound of a shofar that grew increasingly loud. Later it states that the people saw the sounds of the thunder and the shofar (Exodus 20:15). Rashi comments that their seeing sounds was something that was impossible to do in any other place. He also comments that these sounds emanated from the "mouth of God."

According to the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (5:1) and expounded upon by Kabbalah, the agency of creation was Divine speech -- the 10 utterances through which God spoke the world into existence. Rashi's comment regarding the unusual phenomenon of the sound of a shofar from the "mouth of God" continually increasing in loudness is somehow connected to the actual creation of the world.

In the 1960s two scientists practically by mistake stumbled onto one of the greatest discoveries of modern science. They picked up of an unexplainable static on a measuring device leading them ultimately to discover the background static of the "big bang," thus revolutionizing our concept of how the world was created. And the emphasis is on the word "created," for before this discovery, science could not or would not admit what Torah has always claimed -- that there was a beginning point of creation -- and not that the world was eternal as the Greeks posited and accepted by many or most scientists until the big bang theory, now referred to as the standard model of creation.

The comment of Rashi regarding the Jewish people "seeing the sounds" is explained in Kabbalah in the following manner: at the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, in order to perceive the Divine revelation, all the physical senses and dimensions were unified, as were all levels of human consciousness in an extraordinary union of physical and spiritual synesthesia. When the people saw the sounds of the thunder and an increasingly loud shofar, it is possible to say that they were privy to seeing/hearing the background static of the big bang, in as much as this day had been set aside from the very beginning of creation as Rashi states -- it was as if the world was in fact being created on the day of the giving of the Torah.

In Pirkei Avot (6:2) it states that everyday a voice goes out from Sinai admonishing the Jewish people to return to Torah. It was asked in the book Degel Machane Efrayim, in the name of the Ba'al Shem Tov: If there is a voice coming out every day from Sinai, then why don't we hear it; and if we don't hear it, why bother to have a voice come out at all. He answers by saying that every time a person has the arousal to better themselves, or return to God and Torah, it is because they are in fact hearing that voice.

Just as there is a background sound permeating all the universe as a result of the initial instant of the big bang, we can say similarly that there is a spiritual background voice in the world resulting from the giving of the Torah at Sinai, an event that actualizes God's purpose for creation. Just because we don't hear the sound of the big bang doesn't mean it's not there. Similarly, just because we don't hear the voice emanating from Mt. Sinai everyday doesn't mean it's not there to be heard.

The entire universe, which we now know consists of billions of galaxies, each one greater in size than we can imagine, all comes from one almost infinitely small "point." The world is all the result of that expanding seed or spark. So too, the Jewish people are spiritually rooted and unified in our source in receiving the Torah "as one being with one heart" (Rashi on Exodus 19:2). May we all merit to hear the voice coming from Sinai "as if it was given today."

--Rabbi Avraham Arieh Trugman

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Because we dance through time in a group, we have to learn how to synchronize our personal rhythms with those of our fellow creatures. We do this by creating group clocks that allow us to keep time together. To be effective, these group clocks must take into consideration both the natural and biological rhythms...

Our word religion comes from the Latin and means "to bind together." A working religion, then, might be one that binds together the many rhythms that affect us by creating techniques -- rituals -- that attempt to synchronize the three dances, the personal, the cultural, and the cosmic. If the technique works, the reward is a new dimension of rhythm and time -- the sacred.

--Mickey Hart

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yesod of malkhut

Foundation and Creation in Earth, Majesty, Shekhinah
Bury The Creative In The Earth
All My Choices Are Divinely Inspired

D'vorah Horn

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In the Jewish calender, the holiday of Shavuot is about to return into the flow of time. Shavuot celebrates the day when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai. But what is meant by the word "Torah"? Many people associate the word "Torah" with the Five books of Moses, but according to Jewish wisdom, the Torah and what was given at Mt. Sinai was much more than a book.

Translated, the word Torah means "instruction" or "teaching." Judaism teaches that at Mt. Sinai, when God gave the Torah, both a Written Torah and an Oral Torah was given. The Written Torah is what we know as the Five Books of Moses, traditionally known in Judaism as the Chumash. The Oral Torah was something different, it was and is a living body of knowledge covering every aspect of life, from taxes and zoning laws to spirituality and sex, that has been evolving throughout history for more than 3,000 years until today. Included in the Oral Torah are instructions about how to interpret and understand the Written Torah. In fact, there are many passages in the Chumash that cannot be understood without the Oral Torah.

For example take the passage found in Deuteronomy 11:18: "You shall put these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes." Nowhere in the Chumash are instructions given as to what these "words" that were to be a "sign" and "totafot" are. The Oral Torah teaches that what is being described in this passage are called Tefillin. Tefillin are leather boxes containing four parchments on which are written certain key passages from the Chumash, and they worn on the arm and forehead. Pairs of Tefillin were discovered in the Qumran archeological site (where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found) dating back to around 1,900 years ago. These ancient Tefillin were constructed according to the insturctions given in the Oral Torah and were made in the same way that Jewish scribes make Tefillin today.

On a deeper level, the Torah (both written and oral) given at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot is the spiritual path of the Jewish nation. When the Torah was given at Mt. Sinai it was not given to an individual, it was given to the people of Israel. In the book of Exodus, God says to the Jewish people that they are to be a "kingdom of priests." In many monastic and priestly traditions, adherents withdraw from society, from the marketplace, even from having a family in order to focus on Truth or God or Being (pick your word for whatever it is that is beyond any concept). This is not the Jewish path. Judaism cannot be practiced alone, it is meant to be experienced in communion, in relationship both to others and to God. Judaism is a worldly religion, but the goal of Judaism is beyond the world.

The Torah given at Mt. Sinai is also a body of laws governing Jewish life which is known as Halacha. To function in a healthy way, a nation in the world needs laws. When literally translated, Halacha means "the way" or "the walk." These laws are meant to cultivate an awareness of the presence of God in all areas of life, from economic, to familial, to spiritual. God is not just in the synagogue, God is in the kitchen, and the boardroom. To follow Halacha is a spiritual practice, and when followed the mundane becomes Holy. When you are feeding your child, you are not just feeding your child, you are serving God. There is even a word used to describe how Halacha is meant to be practiced, which is with kavannah (this idea is based on the teachings of Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan). Kavannah can be loosely translated as "aim" or "intention." A Jewish life is meant to be lived in such a way that in every moment, a person is present, thinking and acting mindfully. Living with intention, with kavannah, is the opposite of living on autopilot. Halacha when practiced with kavannah re-contextualizes life into a sacred ritual, which allows the depths of life, the innate Divinity within life, to come forth.

There is a teaching from the Oral Torah: The reason the Torah was given in the desert is to teach us that in order to receive, like the desert, we need to be empty. This Shavuot may God bless us to let go of any preconceptions of what we think is true, and to be open to hear God speaking to us personally, and that we find our letter in the Torah.

--Eitan Press

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In honor of the splendor of mother nature and father sky, in honor of the variety of ways that HaShem emanates in this world, in honor of the different ways to look at our beautiful and wondrous planet, and in honor of the great poet Bob Dylan's birthday, here are seven different quotes from Bob Dylan that touch on music, consciousnesses, society, mystery, mystique, beauty and beyond...

"A song is anything that can walk by itself."

"Basically you have to suppress your own ambitions in order to be who you need to be."

"I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I'll die like a poet."

“I'm against nature. I don't dig nature at all. I think nature is very unnatural. I think the truly natural things are dreams, which nature can't touch with decay.”

"Ah, my friends from the prison, they ask unto me
'How good, how good does it feel to be free' ?
And I answer them most mysteriously
'Are birds free from the chains of the skyway'? "

“It's like my whole life never happened,
When I see you, it's as if I never had a thought.
I know this dream, it might be crazy,
But it's the only one I've got.”

“I define nothing. Not beauty, not patriotism. I take each thing as it is, without prior rules about what it should be.”

Enjoy this wisdom. Tear it apart. Revel in the revealed. Seek the mystery. Find the beauty. Laugh at the irony. Wonder about the...

Happy Birthday Bobby.

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A playlist for Malkhut from the wizards at ShirBliss:

  1. Pharaoh’s Daughter – Enpesare
  2. Pharaoh’s Daughter – Ka Ribon
  3. Chana Laila – Lion of Judah
  4. Jenny Scheinman – Seating of the Bride
  5. Phish – Tela
  6. Mark Feldman and Sylvie Courvoisier – Malkhut
  7. Moshav – Pitchu Li
  8. Eprhyme – Shomer Salaam
  9. Ben Perowsky – Adon Olam
  10. Gary Lucas – Adon Olam (vocal)
  11. Rob Burger and Mauri Refosko – Assanhado
  12. Matisyahu – I Will Be Light

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netzach of malchut

Today's energy of the Omer is Netzach sh'b Malchut, the endurance of Mother Nature and Father Sky. The forces of the Universe are beautiful and everlasting; one tree may fall while five more grow in a forest. Today, we are reminded that divine guidance is available to us through any and all times of hardship. We can access the power of the Stars, because the same energy is inside of us. Remember, there is a divine pool of Life hovering over you. Do you feel it?

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netzach of malkhut

Perseverance and Endurance in Earth, Majesty, Shekhinah
I Got Out Coyote Wolf
D'vorah Horn

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Kavanah for the week of malchut/shechina Majesty Divine Presence:

I am my prayer to you
I call myself present
And into alignment with the passing of time
May the abundant generosity that fills our world
Come through me
And answer my yearnings
With truth
And expansive understanding.

--Psalm 69:14

We remember we are all sacred vessels through which the Divine flows into the world.
Each of us fashioned in our own particular way so as to bring forth our unique gifts.
Our lives are our offerings.
May our hearts be open and our minds be clear
So the work of our hands bring blessing
And the work of our hands brings peace.

--Rabbi Yael Levy

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A podcast with the author of biblical women Omer calendar:

In this episode of radio613, Avi and Malcah were honored to speak with Rabbi Jill Hammer about her Omer Calendar of Biblical Women. The airwaves were blessed with Rabbi Hammer’s thoughts and teachings about ritual, midrash, and the Omer period.

Check out radio613's site...

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From Ma'yan Tikvah's Divrei Earth on tiferet of malkhut, harmony in leadership:

The stars are in the sky all the time, during the day and at night, we just can't see them during the day because the light of our star, the Sun, is so bright, not because it is so big, but because it is so close to us, a mere 93 million miles, or 8.2 light-minutes, away. Only at night can we see the stars, and the darker the night, the more we see. If the full moon is shining, it diminishes our ability to see the stars. If there is light pollution from a city, it diminishes our ability to see the stars. And of course, a cloud cover gets in the way of our seeing the stars. Everything must be in the right balance for us to see a star-studded night sky.

...read more spiritual wisdom from Earth and Torah

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tiferet of malkhut

Beauty, Love and Heart in Earth, Majesty, Shekhinah
Lengthen: Meeting The Need To Be Loved
D'vorah Horn

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@ DorielleBrooke : Attitude for today: seek beauty in every aspect of creation, appreciate the balance between inner and outer realms that is so gorgeous #Omer

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@ Chochmat : #omer day 45 until sunset Tuesday. #Compassion, balance + beauty within sovereignty. What great qualities for our personal nobility. #Wisdom

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Malkhut means Kingdom, and refers to the whole of what we normally call “reality.” It is the place of our earthly journey, so we focus this week on the nature of the world in which we live. Malkhut represents the most contracted level of self, when we are identified with particular conditions of the reality we experience. This identity is constructed from what is most compelling to us in our interpretations of our life situations.

At the same time, Malkhut receives the energies from all the other sefirot on the Tree of Life, so hidden within our world are the streams of awareness which can pierce the apparent separateness and fragmentation of this world. Everything we need to support our awakening from the entrapment in our conditions can meet us here.

In our meditations this week, we focus on Malkhut as the place we live. We take time to explore the nature our current reality.

A focus phrase for the week: I find my Way in this world.

--Rabbi Ted Falcon

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Around the Web

Omer Calendar - Jewish Holidays

Judaism 101: The Counting of the Omer

Lag b'Omer and the Counting of the Omer

Counting the Omer

Sefirat HaOmer - Orthodox Union

Counting of the Omer - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Project Genesis: Sefiras HaOmer / Lag B'Omer - Torah.org