“Are we there yet?”
I remember my own impatience as a child, traveling in the back seat of the car (or the back back seat of the 1976 Dodge Aspen Wagon) on family road trips, feeling such anticipation and excitement about the destination and so much frustration about the time it took to get there. I don’t remember how long it would take before one of the three of us kids would ask, but the groan and question inevitably came long before the arrival ever did – “Are we there yet?”
Looking back, I realize my parents had two strategies – distraction or immersion. They could distract us with food, music (which usually included family singalongs) or conversation about some topic that would get us kids talking. The other option was immersion – finding ways to engage us more deeply in the experience of traveling, of being on the road, of being not there yet, but finding delight and curiosity along the way. This included games like “I spy with my little eye” and car bingo – where we would compete to spot animals, road signs, license plates from distant places. There were the occasional, unplanned surprises we would find along the way – pulling off the highway to buy fresh peaches, jump in a lake or explore a butterfly sanctuary. And there were ways I learned to become absorbed in watching the landscape roll and change through the frame of my window. The truth is that both of these strategies made the journey more bearable for everyone, and often fun, but I am particularly grateful for what my parents taught me about turning my attention toward the journey itself.
In the Jewish calendar right now, we are on a journey between two places. With the celebration of Pesach, we left Mitzrayim (ancient Egypt, as well as the ever-present maytzar/the places of outer oppression and inner constriction). We are on our way to celebrating Shavuot (this year, on Sat. night June 4th and June 5th), when we stand together at the foot of Mount Sinai to receive Torah – where liberation from all that is harmful and dehumanizing is reshaped into freedom for shared meaning and collective moral and sacred purpose. In these 7 weeks in between, is the Jewish road-trip of counting the Omer.
Every evening, standing on our feet, we say the blessing – Barukh ata Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’Olam asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tizivanu al sefirat ha’omer.
Blessed are you, Adonai our God, majesty of Time and Space, who makes our lives holy through your mitzvot and joins us together in counting the omer.
And we count out loud one more day – “Today is day eleven, which is one week and four days of the Omer.” We count each day, tracking our movement toward our destination, engaging in the practice as an opportunity for discovery and growth, step by step, along the way.
Jewish mystical practice assigns a quality or soul trait to each week of the Omer. Each week is an invitation to roll down the window in search of that quality outside and within, and pulling off the road, as it were, to take time to repair and amplify that trait in our work, our relationships, our activism and actions, our inner lives and identities.
These qualities are:
Week 1: Chesed – expansive loving
Week 2: Gevurah – wise boundaries, strength, courage
Week 3: Tiferet – balance, harmony, compassion
Week 4: Netzach – endurance, tenacity, determination
Week 5: Hod – humility, yielding
Week 6: Yesod – bonding, intimacy, devotion
Week 7: Malkhut – sovereignty, authority, taking up the right amount of space
We know that in life in general, when we are in uncertainty or discomfort, when we are in an in-between time that feels uneventful and boring, when our purpose is unclear or we feel unfocused, we can employ strategies for distraction or we can practice immersion into all that is contained in the in-between, practicing deliberate engagement with the messy middle to discover the gifts and possibilities that are uniquely available before we reach a more stable destination. We are very much in an in-between time in the pandemic, partly regathering and coming back to fuller life, partly still apart, still unstable, still reimagining and growing the tools to build a society that cares well for everyone. What an ideal time to be on the road together.
For some wonderful daily Omer teachings, go to – mussarinstitute.org/count-the-omer-5782