Experiencing Pain and Finding Beauty, Together with Kavana

Together, we will keep moving forward, one step at a time. Together, we can still find beauty, splendor, and magnificence. Together, we've got this.

Last night was a rough one in my house. My child's summer camp announced that they won't be opening in June as planned. While this news certainly didn't come as a complete surprise, having to face the reality of the situation "for real" was still incredibly sad.

Of course, this experience of feeling deep sadness (and/or disappointment, frustration, anger, etc.) isn't unique to kids... all of us are experiencing our own versions of these emotions these days, as we grieve the many losses -- both immediate and anticipated -- that accompany this strange time in which we find ourselves.

This window on the Jewish calendar -- the period of the counting of the Omer -- is also characterized by a kind of semi-mourning. (This is a throw-back to ancient times, when the Omer corresponded to a period of intense oppression experienced by a group of second-century rabbis living under Roman rule.) In "normal" years, it has always felt a little contrived to me that we have to try to make ourselves feel sad during the Omer by mimicking Jewish mourning -- e.g. no haircuts, no parties or weddings, no live music. This year, the dynamic is flipped and the pain is oh-so-tangible, as we find ourselves legitimately missing things like haircuts, social gatherings, concerts, and (most of all) the normalcy they represent.

In Omer terms, today is the 21st day of counting, which means it's the end of the 3rd week leading us towards Shavuot. (In Covid terms, we've been counting for significantly longer... this Friday night will be Kavana's 8th in-home Shabbat experience already!). As I explained last week, each week of the Omer is associated, in Jewish mystical tradition, with one aspect of God. This third week's quality is Tiferet, which means glory, splendor or beauty.

Despite the grief and the semi-mourning practice, there has indeed been beauty all around us this week. This week, I experienced the beauty of nature in a variety of ways: I saw a bald eagle gliding over Puget Sound, and I stopped during neighborhood walks to smell the light purple lilacs in their fragrant glory! The Kavana community's Zoom room was bathed in splendor, too: we hosted a Yom HaAtzmaut party for our Gan families, held a workshop about restful insomnia (thank you, Sondra!), taught Jewish origami in our kids' chugim, and a facilitated a robust conversation about the value of "shalom bayit" (peace in the home) at Havdalah Club. As we continue counting and prepare to move into week four (Netzach), it feels appropriate to pause to acknowledge this beauty, even from within the pain of loss.

This is easier to do when we can remember that we are truly in it together. Tiferet is situated in the middle of the map of the sefirot, which is said to indicate the delicate balance between the two sides that represent giving and receiving. Each of us is bound to have better days and harder days. Part of the beautiful thing about being part of a community (even if the community has to exist mostly in cyber-space for now) is that when any one of us is having a down day, there's always bound to be someone else who isn't, and is ready to pick us up. As we have said before, if you are struggling in any way, please please don't hesitate to reach out, and we'll do our best to provide support from within the Kavana community or to connect you up with the right resources outside our community! Each of us will need help sometimes, and will be able to offer help sometimes. This balance is precisely part of the splendorous beauty of tiferet.

Not having summer camp to look forward to is sad. The uncertainty of not knowing what will happen next or how long this "new normal" will last is very hard. Our Jewish tradition guides us to acknowledge these painful realities, even while we continue counting our days and our weeks.

Together, we will keep moving forward, one step at a time. Together, we can still find beauty, splendor, and magnificence. Together, we've got this.

Yours in community,

Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum