This week, the dominant national news stories have centered around the growing tensions about "reopening" the country.
This week, the dominant national news stories have centered around the growing tensions about "reopening" the country. With protests in front of state capitols and truly terrible leadership being demonstrated by the White House, some states are reopening too soon... literally before outbreaks have even peaked and while death counts in their states continue to climb. (I am grateful to live here in Washington State, where a phased plan towards a more gradual reopening is underway, and surveys indicate that many Seattle residents intend to continue social distancing long after the stay-at-home order is lifted.)
What does it mean that so many Americans have become weary of life in isolation and therefore are trying to wish a crisis away before it has truly passed? I can relate to the desire for normalcy, of course, and the economic concerns are all too real... however, to me, this impatience seems like an indication of a dearth of resolve. Our nation, collectively, is sorely lacking the perseverance we need.
The antidote and answer to this problem can be found in the sefira (divine quality) associated with this fourth week of the counting of the Omer. Tonight we count day 28, which means that we are just past the halfway point on our 50-day journey "through the wilderness," our trek from slavery in Egypt to Torah on Mount Sinai. For those who are hikers, you may well understand the psychology: we now find ourselves right in the middle of the hardest uphill section of the hike; it's challenging work and we are tired, but we are not yet close enough to the peak of our climb to glimpse our destination. It's easy to become disheartened here and want to quit.
The fourth week of sefirat ha-omer is associated with the Sefira of Netzach. Netzach stands at the intersection of two Hebrew words: nitzachon, victory, and nitzchiut, eternity. The root nun-tzadi-chet already has this double meaning in ancient times; in modern Hebrew, too, l'natzeach is "to win," and la-netzach means "for eternity." Kabbalah, the mystical interpretation of Jewish tradition, reveals that the connection between these two concepts is tenacity. In other words, we learn from this word in the Hebrew language that our ability to prevail -- whether over external opponents or internal fears -- has everything to do with our ability to stick with it for the long haul (in other words, to persist, endure, or persevere).
This is the lesson for us this week, and it comes at the perfect time, just as we feel weary and need to gird ourselves with strength to get us through the next stage of our journey. After all, it's easy to feel discouraged at this point in the coronavirus saga, where we know that the timeline of our counting will be far greater than seven weeks in total (it already has been longer than that!) and it's not clear what will constitute an "end" or when that will come. While we might wish we were already at the finish line of this difficult chapter, we are not. We must dig deep and connect with the divine quality of netzach that is embedded within each of us... in other words, find the inner strength we need to push forward with persistence, tenacity, and endurance.
When the task of enduring feels too hard, we return to the tools we carry in our spiritual toolbox: to community and knowing that we aren't alone; to prayer, gratitude, breath and meditation; to finding joy, even in small moments (here's a fun Spotify playlist about Netzach/endurance curated by our friends at the Leichtag Foundation if you want to have your own dance party this week!); to drawing on the wisdom of experience (think: when have your persisted before and emerged victorious? This is literally the story of the Jewish people!); to helping others (this is the perfect week to send a note of encouragement, volunteer, or make a donation to a favorite social service organization... or scroll down to the bottom of the newsletter for a couple personal and tangible ways to help right now).
This week of netzach reminds us that the key to overcoming obstacles is perseverance. Hang in there... it's going to be a marathon, not a sprint, but we have what it takes to prevail!
Towards victory and endurance,
Rabbi Rachel Nussbaum
I don't know about you, but I've been feeling rather exhausted these days. I am a long-time coffee drinker, but had worked hard to cut back my intake to just one cup a day this summer. Now, however, as the mornings grow darker and the days are colder and shorter, I'm finding myself craving that second cup again and the caffeine jolt it might bring.
This Shabbat, Jewish communities around the world will read Parashat Noach. Although children's books and songs tend to focus on cute pairs of animals on the ark and the beautiful rainbow at the end, the tale this Torah portion tells is actually a very dark one. Parashat Noach is really the story of the complete failure of God's first creation attempt, which results in far-reaching destruction and devastation, followed by an only partially-successful attempt at a do-over.
The theme of the week is water. I'm sitting in front of my window, watching the rain fall, as I type. This week, the Jewish calendar is marking both endings and beginnings. On Shemini Atzeret (which was Tuesday), Jewish communities around the world recited the Geshem prayer, for rain, as this holiday marks not only the end of the fall chagim, but also the start of the rainy season in the land of Israel. It is from Shemini Atzeret until Pesach (still half a year away) that we insert into every Amidah we recite a special line: "mashiv ha-ruach u'morid ha-gashem," "You cause the winds to return and the rain to fall."