For those of you attempting to make sense of the Omer counting experience, hoping to channel its ancient wisdom into relevant spiritual significance, this is for you.
This segment is going to focus on the week of hod (pronounced like hoad): the 29th through the 35th days of the Omer, corresponding to Saturday evening (May 5) through Saturday afternoon (May 12). In the mystical Omer counting tradition, hod is the fifth sephira, or divine attribute, out of the seven. Each sephira gets an entire week: seven sephirot for seven weeks of counting. Correspondingly, the week of hod is the fifth week.
The most common traditional translations of hod are "majesty" and "splendor." While those definitions are significant, clearly something gets lost in translation. Without context they are just words and will probably not be enough to glean a relatable meaning.
Another translation of hod is the concept of "submission" referring to a specific intention within prayer, as in "submitting to the will of the Creator." This type of "spiritual submission" is considered central to Muslim worship, but also finds its way into Judaism through the daily Tachanun prayer. The attribute of hod as submission also has a history in Hasidic mystical literature. But unless you are an expert in prayer or a serious wielder of Hasidic spiritual technology, the attribute or act of "submission" might not be enough to pull you into the world of hod.
Luckily, we do not have to rely purely on translations or have extensive Hasidic experience to derive meaning from the mystical aspects of the Omer. There are several other ways to connect to the sephirot. Inviting significant characters from the bible into the Omer count is one of the most user-friendly ways of enlivening this religious practice.
You might recall the custom of welcoming certain biblical icons from Passover when we invite Eliyahu Hanavi into the seder. Also on Sukkot, the tradition of ushpizin encourages us to invite a different biblical character for each night into the sukkah. So too, when we count the Omer, the mystical tradition assigns famous men from Torah to each of the sephirot. Using what we know of these characters lives, personalities, triumphs and unique gifts, we have much more information to play with. Abraham, for example, is the character associated with chesed (kindness). One of Abraham's most famous chesed moments is his treatment of the three strangers who show up at his home unannounced. From this signature moment, it's not hard to make a leap and ask questions about the role of chesed in our lives. Examples could include how we treat strangers to the dynamics around when we host and when we are guests. These kind of topics are more concretely accessible and relevant to most people than simply focusing on chesed. Drawing from Abraham's story helps us connect the dots to our own story, the story of our family, our community, the Jewish people, humanity, etc.
As we prepare for the week of hod, I will share two simple hod themes derived from the biblical personality representing hod. These themes will be accompanied by a few pinpointed questions to help us move from the theoretical to the personal with the intention to make the Omer-counting a tangible and applicable experience in our lives.
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Theme one: Hod is represented by Aaron the Kohen, brother to Moses. Not surprisingly, the week preceding hod is the sephira of netzach, represented by the character of Moses. It should come as no surprise that these two iconic biblical characters are linked up in the sephirot. That netzach/Moses precedes hod/Aaron further underscores Aaron's relationship to his younger brother Moses. "There will never be another prophet like Moses before or since" as written in the Yigdal prayer. Aaron might be the first Kohen Gadol (high priest), but Moses is No. 1. While it is typical for the Torah to give the higher status to the younger sibling, Aaron's full acceptance of his secondary role is unique among brothers up until that point in the Bible. With one exception in the book of Numbers, Aaron exhibits a general state of contentment with how the cards of leadership have fallen in his family.
Hod contemplation No. 1: Reflecting on Aaron while looking inward: What is your current status in your family? Are you content with where you stand? Bitter? Resigned to what is? What has changed since last year?
Theme two: By all accounts, Moses is closer to G-d than anyone, including Aaron. Sages, however, make it clear that Aaron is more beloved by the people. In the writings of Avot D'rabi Natan, a second century rabbi, an argument is made that the people mourned for Aaron far more extensively than they mourned for Moses. The text of the Torah supports this argument at face value, but the reasons for Aaron's popularity are more speculative. So let us speculate. What do we know about Aaron and why would he be so beloved? What was his primary contribution to the people of Israel? A quick scan of Aaron's life and legacy within the Torah and one would be hard pressed to ignore the sheer abundance of details around his profession, namely the priesthood, or the Kehuna. What was it about this elaborate system of ritual purity and animal sacrifice and Aaron's role within it that made the children of Israel cry for so long when he was gone?
Many ways one could answer this, but essentially, the central notion of holiness was introduced to the children of Israel through the priesthood. The entire book of Leviticus is synonymous with the priestly rituals and becoming holy. The idea of "holiness," that our actions could bring us closer to G-d, became a foundation for the entire structure of our religion. And even when the methods changed over time, holiness as an idea persisted. Aaron was the embodiment of human beings moving toward holiness. If he could do it, we all could do it.
Hod contemplation No. 2: Reflecting on Aaron while looking inward: How are you relating to holiness right now? Are the circumstances of your life dictating your relationship toward holiness or is holiness dictating how you see the world? Where is G-d in this context? One a scale from 1-10, how comfortable are you having a holy conversation?
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In Judaism, the act of merely counting is often considered a holy act. In many cases counting, not just quietly to oneself, but out loud or in public, gives more weight to the experience. As you count or contemplate the related themes within the Omer, remember that Omer counting is best when carried out with a chevruta (learning partner). And if you count and pay attention to the sphira of the week and their corresponding character, you may learn more about yourself that you expected. When we count or are counted among others we can start to focus more on what really counts.
For more on the Omer, join the conversation and community by visiting the Omer liveblog on HuffPost Religion, which features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual renewal between Passover and Shavuot.