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
This week, we begin reading a new book: Exodus / Shemot. The first chapter of Exodus is a veritable character study of Pharaoh. We meet Pharaoh in verse 8 and learn that he "knew not Joseph"... in other words, he is different than the pharaohs who have come before him. In verses 9 and 10, we hear Pharaoh's ego and fear come through from behind the text, and we witness how he manipulates through words as he tries to convince his people that the Israelites are a threat. We see how his Egyptian "base" takes up his cause in verses 13 and 14, transforming into oppressors themselves, and ruthlessly imposing upon the Israelites various labors and embittering their lives. And finally, we see Pharaoh's violent tendencies escalate -- from a place of fear yet again -- as he commands first that all baby boys be killed in private as soon as they are born (verse 15), and then, when that plan fails, that his people murder Israelite babies by drowning them publicly in the Nile River (verse 22).
As 2020 draws to a close, I’m sure many of us have been reflecting on some variant of the question: what will we carry forward with us from this year?
Last month, for my birthday, my husband bought me a new cell phone. It's a big step up for the one I've been using for many years, which didn't hold a charge well and had cracks in the screen patched with scotch tape. This new phone is fast and bright, but the most amazing feature to me is its facial recognition ability -- that is, it unlocks automatically when I'm looking directly into it and it can "see" my face.