Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Emotional Cycles - Omer Day 39

bu Rabbi Katy Z. Allen

We all go up and down emotionally. We have our good days and our bad days. Events happen in our lives and we fall into grief or despair, and then work our way out again. We have wonderful joyous celebrations, and then return to daily living.

Embedded in the Jewish calendar are set times that ask, invite, or even command us(in the case of Sukkot, when we are supposed to be happy) to feel different kinds of emotions. Many of these times also provide clues about historical changes and our emotional and spiritual responses to those changes.

We begin the year with celebration on Rosh HaShanah, celebration of the creation of the world, but with the constant reminder, as we head toward Yom Kippur, that we must examine ourselves, for during the past year, we have most certainly fallen short of what we are capable of doing in response to G!d's commandments to us.

We travel through the Days of Awe, reflecting on our misdeeds and searching for strength to change, and quickly arrive at Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, the most serious, intense and holy day of the calendar.

Immediately after Yom Kippur, we begin to build our sukkah. During Sukkot we remember our agricultural roots, and as we celebrate the harvest, we do our best to follow the commandment to be happy, and we remember our time wandering in the desert, being protected by flimsy huts but with G!d's constant Presence among us.

We conclude Sukkot with a Day of Assembly, gathering in community, and then a celebration of the Torah on Simchat Torah, a day that not only celebrates Torah, but, on the heels of an acknowledgement of our agricultural past, also reminds us of the amazing transformation that took place after receiving the Torah. Even though our tradition teaches the history that follows the giving of the Torah, it is difficult to totally imagine the extent of the transformation that occurred.

We then have a lull in annual holidays, almost two full months. But all that time, Shabbat is ever present, making us ever more aware not only of the cycle of the year but also of the cycle of the week. Every week provides a chance to rest and rejoice and be at peace. We also continue to mark Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of each month at the new moon, a recognition of the special calendar formed by the ancient leaders as part of forming a new people and a new way of life.

At the end of the month of Kislev, we celebrate Hanukkah - a response to a much later historical event than Simchat Torah or the previous holidays are. Through this holiday, we remember the importance of a military victory in shaping history, and we gain spiritual sustenance by lighting candles at the darkest time of year.

Tu BiShvat in the dead of winter here in North America was a tax day in ancient Israel, but now becomes a joyful celebration of trees and the natural world that surrounds us.

Purim is super-joyful, but also a reminder of the impact of political and military history on our calendar. We act with abandon in remembrance of almost having been wiped out, but of having come out victorious and alive.

We mark the weeks before Passover with remembrances of ancient events, and after the intense work of cleaning our homes and our souls, we celebrate redemption from bondage, both from Egypt and from the slave masters of our hearts and souls. We are reminded as well of the barley harvest and Passover's roots as an agricultural holiday.

We immediately begin to count. We count the Omer, 49 days from Passover to Shavuot, from bondage to freedom to revelation. As we count, we are in a period of semi-mourning, remembering a time in ancient history when Jews and Judaism were persecuted and killed, and a plague, considered to have been a sign of Divine anger for Torah scholars not honoring each other properly.

During this counting period, we observe modern holidays, instituted after the formation of the State of Israel: Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day), a day of deep mourning, Yom HaZikaron (Israel Memorial Day), when we mourn the modern loss of life in military encounters, Yom HaAtzma'ut (Israel Independence Day), when we celebrate the formation of the modern political state of Israel, and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem Day), which commemorates the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City

Our mourning ends with revelation, when we stand once again at Sinai on Shavuot, as we also celebrate the wheat harvest.

Before long, on the 17th of Tammuz, we remember that the walls of Jerusalem were breached in ancient times - a military defeat - and we enter into the three weeks of rebuke, with special haftorah readings from the Prophets that lead up to Tisha B'Av, a day of intense mourning for the destruction of the ancient temple and the dispersal of the Jewish world into galut - exile into the diaspora. Then, the last ten weeks of the year are weeks of consolation, with other special haftorah readings that remind us of G!d's love for us despite the sins that caused our exile, and during the last month of that time, the month of Elul, we begin the introspection that will prepare us for another new year.

Joyful celebrations, deep mourning, introspection, connecting to the Earth, other kinds of mourning, more celebrations - all of these are found in our calendar. All of these were built into Jewish tradition, formalized by the rabbis after the destruction of the temple two thousand years ago.

The Jewish people have been transformed before. Can we do it again? As a people and together with other peoples? Can we make the transformation needed in the face of climate change?

Our tradition teaches that transformation is possible. It also teaches that we must allow ourselves to feel the full range of emotions.

Now it is up to us - with the help of G!d - to do the work that is needed, and to grieve and be joyful and to grow and to change.

Today is Day 39, which is five weeks and four days of the Omer.
Today is Day 39, which is five weeks and four days of the journey from bondage to revelation.

Rabbi Katy Allen is a board certified chaplain and serves as a Nature Chaplain and the Facilitator of One Earth Collaborative, a program of Open Spirit. She is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long. She is a co-convener and coordinator of the Boston-based Jewish Climate Action Network.

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