Omer Counting: Day 2 (April 24, 2016)


By: Cantor Juval Porat

Having spent the first 2 nights of Passover with friends and community, I feel so grateful for the teachings I’ve been receiving with each encounter at the Seder table. The concepts of real slavery in our times, the messages of Passover to not only live with appreciation of the freedoms we experience in our lives, but to tackle injustices within our communities still echo strongly in my mind.

Like a new year’s resolution though, it gets so easy, as a new week begins and old and new projects with ranging degrees of meaningfulness face me and many of us, to get lost in the routine once more and forget about the powerful messages of Pessach. As we move away from Passover and on towards the next holiday, how do we save ourselves from complacency?

The second day of the Omer invites us to reflect on the very core of being present while journeying through, namely, the strength (Gevurah) found within the  compassion (Hesed). I take it as a reminder that just like physical exercise strengthens our bodies, so can the regular practice of compassion strengthen our minds. It can help us shift our focus from the bad on to the good, from resentment on to the forgiveness, gratitude and appreciation as we face whatever life throws at us.

The theme of this day leads me to the known verses from Psalm 34 that almost read like a list of tips on compassion-exercises:

Who is the person
Who desires life
Who loves all their days
To see good

Guard your tongue from evil
And your lips from speaking deceit
Turn away from bad
And do good
Seek peace
And pursue it

The following performance of these verses set to the music of Baruch Chayat took place at Berlin’s historic New Synagogue in 2001 and features iconic Israeli singer Hava Alberstein and the Klezmatics. Watching it on the second day of the Omer, taking in the historic significance of the location in which the performance takes place, reminds me that people who are equipped with strength derived from compassion can live with courage even in times of hardship and evil.

What can you do today to act in compassionate and loving ways, towards yourself and the world around you? Where can you extend yourself and where should you not?

On this year’s counting of the Omer and beyond, I hope for answers to the questions raised to be available to us and may compassion allow us all to emerge from our experiences with a new found sense of hope and empowerment.

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