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Rabbi Jill Hammer, Ph.D.

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The Shunnamite: Majesty Within Love

Posted: 04/15/2012 3:55 pm

The seven weeks of the Omer represent a process of completion: the first sheaf of grain becomes a full loaf of bread. So too, the liberation of Passover flowers into the giving of Torah at Shavuot.

The story of the Omer begins with Passover, the liberation from Egypt. Women are prominent in that story, from the midwives who saved Hebrew babies, to Miriam who watched over the infant Moses in the Nile, to Tziporah who saved Moses from the Angel of Death. The story of the
Omer ends with the wheat harvest, when Ruth the Moabite went down to the threshing floor to ask Boaz to create new life with her. The birth, growth and harvest of seed from the earth is a process intertwined with the lives of women and with the Shekhinah, the Divine Presence who is
embodied in the life-force of the world.

The "Omer Calendar of Biblical Women," from which this post is taken, offers the story of one biblical woman for each of the 49 days of the Omer. It is meant both to teach about the women of the Bible and to honor the Shekhinah at the season of harvest. My prayer is that this calendar will help everyone to recognize the Shekhinah working in their lives.

"One day Elisha passed through Shunem.
A great woman lived there, and she invited him to eat a meal..."

--II Kings 4:8

The Shunammite (a woman of the town of Shunem) is a wealthy married woman living in the time of the kings of Israel and Judah. The Shunammite suggests to her husband that they build the prophet Elisha a chamber on their roof so that he has somewhere to stay when he travels. Elisha asks how he can help her, but her regal reply is: "I live among my own people." I want for nothing, she implies. She does lovingkindness out of a sense of abundance and majesty: malkhut sh'b'chesed.

Elisha knows that the Shunnamite has no child. He prays for her to become pregnant. The child grows older, but one day he is out in the field with his father and he develops sunstroke. He runs back to his mother and dies on her lap. Without a word to her husband, the Shunammite rides to the prophet. She bows before him, yet she does not plead for her child. She only says: "Did I desire a child of my lord? Did I not say to you: 'Don't delude me?'" Elisha goes to the home of the Shunammite and lies face down upon the child "with his mouth on its mouth, his eyes on its eyes, his hands on its hands" until it revives. Without a word, the Shunammite bows, takes up her child and departs.

The Shunammite has great chesed: she is kind to the prophet, loves her son deeply, and cares for her husband. Yet her chesed is always full of malkhut, majesty. She helps others, relies on herself, and when she needs help she asks for it with dignity. We are most like the Shunammite when we give and receive love gracefully.

This is an excerpt from the "Omer Calendar of Biblical Women," available at West Side Judaica in NYC or online. Join the HuffPost Religion Omer liveblog.

 
 
 
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