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Omer 48

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty eight, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim v’shmone she hem shisha shavuot ve shisha yamim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Malkhut, relationship within majesty, sexuality within nobility

The thing about working at a high school is how much information you get. So and so went out with that guy who only likes her for her body, and the things he said to her! Meanwhile such and such is no longer talking to this other person because of what she said to him before he told that girl that…Now, these two are not dating and they’ve been not dating for 2 years and they’ll probably not date for the rest of high school. These other two on the other hand are dating but one of them is clear that he’s only with the other one because she helps with homework.

I tell them, “people, are you sure you want everyone knowing all this stuff? Really?” Sometimes, those old fashioned rules are useful. When to say, “hi” and to whom. Go out for coffee 3 times and then go to the restaurant. And above all, do NOT let your teachers and every kid in your 50-student high school know all the details of your romantic lives.

It seems formal and stilted and Victorian to talk about rules as far as relationships go. Is there room for actual emotion in all that show? I think there not only is, but that it’s stronger and better if those rules are respected and followed. So much that we do depends on custom and tradition, ritual and rules. And it brings a bit of a respectability to what is otherwise a messy and random situation.

Good rules can create stronger relationships – and good relationships create nobility. It is beautiful to see a true romance, and it can elevate a person to being a queen or a king. We’ve heard that someone is a queen in her partner’s eyes or the sovereign of the home – and it makes sense.

My bigger kids are coming to visit today – and it will be wonderful. I will feel richer than any billionaire and more honoured than any ruler. Within my family, I love my role.

Today, we use rules to strengthen our relationships and relationships to highlight our roles.

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Omer 41

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day forty one, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer. Hayom yom arbaim v’ehad she hem hamisha shavuot ve shisha yamim laOmer.

Today is Yesod be Yesod, intimacy within intimacy, foundation within community.

Today, I think about building friendships. Sometimes, it’s so easy – the other person says something funny, I laugh, and presto, a connection is made – a friendship is built. Sometimes, it’s a boatload of work – of getting poison thoughts out of my head, of maintaining limits and boundaries even when it feels artificial to ensure there is no power imbalance, of calling even when they’re boring or overemotional or both, of doing favours – and accepting gifts, of little things that make others smile, not laugh. It’s a lot work which I don’t always want to do. But that is where the intimacy within intimacy comes from – doing that work, finding those answers and building those connections.

Today, I build the foundation within the foundation of my relationships – I do the work even when I don’t want to.

Omer 36

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day thirty six, which is five weeks and one day of the Omer. Hayom yom shloshim ve sesh she hem hamisha shavuot ve yom ehad laOmer.

Today is Khesed be Yesod, kindness within sexuality, grace within intimacy

Oh, never liked this week! All secrets and intimate stuff and stuff we shouldn’t really be talking about but here it is the sexuality week. This week is dangerous! It’s so easy to hurt someone that is family, that one is intimate with. Who knows what will destroy that relationship? Calling too often and being labelled as annoying? Showing too many emotions to the point that you’re scary? Being reserved and private, and people think you’re disconnected? Not coming over often enough so that you’re just plain neglectful? People’s opinions of us are made much too easily and are much too hard to change in this area. People get easily offended and quickly turned off. We can think of Yesod a bit like a minefield – if we aren’t careful, there could be an explosion. So, we must walk through this minefield with caution. What’s one of the best ways to be cautious in the area of intimacy? I think it’s to act with Khesed, with kindness. If I make an effort to think of the other person, to think of her needs, to think of her areas of offence, and act with as much kindness and grace as I can muster, I am less likely to cause an explosion that destroys the sexual relationship. I am more likely to succeed in creating intimacy and closeness.

Today, I am kind in my relationships – it helps to build intimacy.

Omer 22

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheinu, melekh ha’olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sfirat ha-omer.

Blessed are You, Adonay our God, ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with mitzvot and gives us this opportunity to count the Omer.

Today is day twenty-two which is three weeks and one day of the Omer. Hayom yom esrim ve shtayim she hem shlosha shavuot vey om ehad laOmer.

Today is Khesed be Netzakh, kindness within power, love within victory.

Power isn’t kind. Power imbalances in particular. Some people have skills and abilities that give them power over others – they are smarter or more capable in n area. These imbalances are what can destroy a relationship – or build a broken, abusive one. So, how can one have kindness in power, or love within victory? It’s tricky – because it’s not a matter of doing things for someone else. That can feel like taking over – it can feel very cruel. But we manage to put love into our power when we cook with the kids, letting them mess up the kitchen with their random attempts. When we play cards with our friend who always loses, and I show them how or find a way to not have the game be about winning or losing or play a game I always lose as well, and I manage to do it with enough grace that my friend feels supported rather than dominated, then that’s kindness as well.

Today, I temper my victories by trying to be gracefully supportive, especially in areas where I have strength.

Omer – Day 48

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve shmone laOmer, shehem shisha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty eight of the Omer, which is six weeks and six days of the Omer.

yesod be malkhut: intimacy within majesty; relationship within dominion

More importantly, it’s Friday! Thank God it’s Friday! I am so tired today, that I legitimately put my lunch on the photo copier and stared at it waiting for it to heat up. It didn’t but the other teachers gave me some weird looks. There’s a day of rest coming up. Now, mind, I don’t take the day of rest to the extent some people do – occasionally I have to work on Saturdays. But still – Friday night is special and I tread it as such – no work, ever, and family time and singing and love and quiet and all the things that recharge and re-energise and set one up to do it all again.

God gave the Jewish people such a gift when we got the Sabbath. It’s like a wedding gift – many places in the bible there is talk about an intimate relationship between people and God. On Shabbat, that intimate relationship is felt and celebrated. When we talk about the Sabbath queen, we acknowledge the glory and majesty of Shabbat. When we pray “satisfy us with your goodness and bring us joy in your redemption and purify our hearts to serve you…”, we acknowledge the relationship. Shabbat is good.

Today, I sing in the joy that is Shabbat!

Omer – Day 41

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom arbaim ve ehad laOmer, shehem hamisha shavuot ve shisha yammim laOmer.

Today is day forty one of the Omer, which is five weeks and six days of the Omer.

yesod be yesod – intimacy within intimacy; love within love; relationship within relationship

You just can’t write “do not commit adultery” in a set of commandments meant to be understood for kids. And it’s a fun commandment to explore in a time when some marriages are more open than others, and where some people have definitions of adultery that may not match those in the dictionary. However, it’s easy to understand “keeping promises”. Kids know what that’s about – but sometimes, as adults, we forget.

We don’t always even realize we’ve made promises – and in a casual relationship, maybe we haven’t. In intimate relationships, though, casual words have an effect. “I find you attractive” is far from a promise. When said to a cute acquaintance,  it can be easily forgotten later. When said to a friend, in a relationship, however – it changes things. Expectations arise, for better or for worse, and the relationship is never the same. A promise has been effectively made. Of course, the attraction may not work out. It will feel like a commitment is broken, however. It will cause a rift in intimacy that will take time to heal.

“Maybe later,” we say to a child, casually, thinking nothing of it but wanting to avoid the screaming fit that a no might lead to.  For the child who loves her parent very very much that casual remark was a promise and when it doesn’t happen, a promise that leads to heartbreak.

When we recognise that in intimate relationships, the words we say are promises of action, when we keep our promises, even though we didn’t entirely mean them when we said them, when we let people know that we are safe to trust and depend upon, then we build intimacy within intimacy and make our relationships stronger – and more holy.

Omer – Day 39

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom shloshim ve tesha laOmer, shehem hamisha shavuot ve arba’a yammim laOmer.

Today is day thirty nine of the Omer, which is five weeks and four days of the Omer.

netzakh be yesod – victory within intimacy; power within romantic love

OK, so it’s probably not the best idea to be writing this after having a serious conversation with someone about rape. It just brings up all the wrong images. Power plays within loving relationships shouldn’t happen. Oh, of course there are everyday imbalances – one of the old Jewish jokes I remember was “I decide all the important things – who runs our country, how much to pay my workers, … -and my partner decides little things – what we wear, what we eat, what we do for fun…” It was a tongue-in-cheek way of saying that even power imbalances only work in a relationship when they’re balanced out.

So what kind of victory is there in intimacy? The desire – no, the need – for intimacy  can lead to ugly feelings when thwarted. Jealousy, anger, resentment, shame – these are all the dark side of intimacy, and as with the dark side of the force, quite powerful. I win when I don’t give in to those feelings – when I say, “I will just love. Without jealousy, without any negativity for them or myself, I will love this person as hard as I can.” It is a struggle and a battle. I rarely succeed as well as I would like. However, when I manage to let go of jealousy and shame and anger and resentment and just hold love – that is a victory.

Today, I win at relationships when I realize the only one I have any power over is myself.

Omer – Day 38

Barukh ata Adonay, Eloheynu Melekh ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’zivanu al s’firat haOmer.

Blessed be the Eternal God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Mitzvot and has commanded us to count the Omer.

Hayom yom shloshim ve shmone laOmer, shehem hamisha shavuot ve shlosha yammim laOmer.

Today is day thirty eight of the Omer, which is five weeks and three days of the Omer.

tiferet be yesod – beauty within intimacy; grace within romantic love

And it happens to be my wife’s birthday! How cool is that? My wife is very beautiful, so it’s fitting, really. There is an incredible amount of beauty in relationships – it’s where we see each other as the most real people available, as the true us that we don’t show otherwise. In our romantic relationships, not only do our masks come down so that we show each other reality, but also, we can see past the minor flaws and imperfections – be it of age or of anything else – and see the person we fell in love with. When we let down masks and see past other people’s flaws, that’s when magic happens and there is true beauty in the people we look at. Today, I will see the beauty, especially in those I love.

Elul 21

Love – it rocks. No, seriously, looking at someone and knowing they love you and seeing that love shine from their eyes and get reflected back from mine, it’s awesome. It adds colour to a black-and-white world, and gives everything an added dimension of wow. It changes the appearance of everything – all of a sudden, wrinkles become laugh lines and skin splotches become birth marks and everyone looks beautiful.

It’s like that children’s story I was told as a kid – “the most beautiful woman”. So, the town was having a party and everyone gathered at the park to enjoy the town picnic. As kids do, little Tanya wandered very far from her mama, got lost, and she was very small – just three, and having just learned what words are all about. She found a grown-up and said she was looking for her mama, whose name was Marsha. This wasn’t very helpful, of course, in that 80% of the women in that town had the name Marsha. The adults asked about her mama and she said that mama was very pretty – prettiest in town. Then she burst into tears and they could get no more out of her. ‘Pretty Marsha’ was found – but it was not her kid. Nor was it ‘Tall Marsha’s’, ‘Plump Marsha’s’, ‘Young Marsha’s’ ‘Sweet Marsha’s’ or any other Marsha that the townsfolk could think of. Then a woman hesitantly walked up and said, ‘have you seen my daughter? We were in the fields and…’ It was ‘Ugly Marsha’, known as the most homely woman in that town, who generally stayed on the sidelines. ‘There she is,’ said Tanya! ‘Prettiest mama in town.’ That’s what love does.

Sometimes it stinks. It hurts to love someone and not have that love returned. It can rob everything else of flavour. It can cause people to do silly things that are unhealthy or dangerous. It can lead to tears and explosions, broken things and broken hearts. Even when everything seems to work, love hovers near obsession and possessiveness, jealousy and manipulation. Making sure that one is on the right side of that thin line is not simple. You can try to ignore the negative stuff but it sneaks in.

It’s not a four-letter word for nothing, you know! I’ve heard so many people weigh in on what it means and when it’s appropriate to use it and to whom, that it’s become almost meaningless. I’ve been told to take it lightly, to make it real, to give it my all, to be careful with it, to embrace it wholeheartedly, to make it casual, to treat it lightly, and to treat it with care. I’ve been told just about everything.

Rationally, love makes only a limited amount of sense. We do not pick a beloved because she’ll be the most useful, productive, intelligent, compatible, caring person we know. We pick someone we love. There is no real good reason for us to love our siblings, our kids or our parents – we just love. Of course, there are those who say that that love is a complex collection of hormones designed to ensure we have a compatible physical mate and an adrenaline based reaction that ensures the propagation of the species. To me, this is a cheap answer – one that doesn’t address all the complexities of emotion, that doesn’t inform, and most importantly – that guides poorly. The thing about love is that it just is.

And I believe in it. For better or worse, in sickness and health, I believe we love, and we should love. I work hard to put love at the top of my reasons for behaving a particular way. I think it’s worth dedicating oneself to love, and looking at actions and asking, “will this increase the amount of loving there is in the world?” I believe in excited first-blush-of-discovery love and tender kiss-on-your-little-head love, and painful the-whole-world-is-a-void love, and all the other loves big and little in the world.

I won’t give up on love. I’m going to keep doing whatever it takes to make those connections happen. For those times when love rocks, I will give it all I’ve got and all I am. Loving someone takes precedence over getting work done, over any other activity. In fact, I try (mostly I fail) to have it inspire those activities – why am I working on this project? Because I love doing it, or because I love so&so and it will make her happy, or because I love myself and it will make me healthier or happier.

I think if I was going to make a religion, that would be the one word I’d use in it. “Love.” I know. It’s tired. It’s overused. It’s boring.  Blah, blah, blah, love your neighbour, blah – but then, let it in and it’s crystal clear and funny and beautiful. “Love your neighbour. Love yourself. Love anyone. Love.” It’s worth it.

Elul 19

Ask.

It’s the most vulnerable place in the world, asking. ‘Would you go out with me?’ ‘Can you forgive me?’ ‘Can you help me?’ ‘Can I help you?’ You risk a ‘no’, and that is terrifying. It implies that you haven’t heard or been heard well enough, that you need something that another isn’t willing to give, that you’re imposing or being demanding. A failed question denies so much more than the immediate request – it denies the depth of understanding and acceptance in a relationship. It’s hard to ask.

It’s worthwhile, of course – and people are very pro asking. Community and connection are essential in the Jewish faith, asking God even more so. ‘If the answer is no,’ we reason, ‘at least we tried.’ If we don’t ask, we’ll never get a yes.’ Asking opens the door to communication, to relationship, to that connection and intimacy that many of us desire, some of us fear, and all of us need for growth. All we can do is use our words and strive to cope with the answers.

Sometimes, the ‘no’ is just too bitter, though. When the answer is ‘no’ to questions of love, of attention, of self-worth – then it’s not easy to take. So, we go it alone. We don’t ask for help, thus admitting no weakness. We don’t ask for attention, thus admitting no desire. We work out our own answers, creating meaning for ourselves. It may be a cold, lonely place to be, but at least there’s no risk of rejection. In so many ways, not asking is safer.

So, too, is not answering. Answering is also fraught, after all. Who wants to destroy someone else’s world? That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone! On the other hand, committing to something one doesn’t want to do just to make someone else happy? Well, that leads to dysfunction and abuse, quicker than one would have thought possible. Here, it’s harder. How can one not answer? The question has been asked, hanging in the air like a sad little half-filled balloon. Will it be filled and fly away? Will it flop limply to the ground, the air having been let out of it in a quiet woosh? One has to say something.

People do a lot of tricky things to avoid answering questions. They say, ‘ask me later, I’m busy’ or ‘that’s a possibility’. They turn the question back on itself, with a ‘well, what do you think.’ They give a vague could fit anything answer, along the ‘that sounds good in principle but I’m not sure…’ or ‘let’s do that…when we next have time.’ These answers get rid of the question, yes. They don’t do much to improve communication, though. Really, best to go back to not asking the question.

Of course, no question = no communication, and one is stuck in a loop which is difficult to work with. I don’t have a way out of the loop, really. There was a time when I knew the answer to this question at least, and could say, ‘ask!’ Ask though it’s hard and embarrassing and leaves you crying because growing love is all there is, and the most important thing and so ask. Now, I’m less sure. The asking can so easily become demanding, begging, nagging, or whining – all of which are very unappealing. Maybe it’s better to make the space, and stay safe.

Now, I have fewer answers and fewer questions. I’ve become more quiet. Maybe that’s part of growing older. I still ask, just more rarely. I hope it means that the questions I do ask are more worthwhile. It’s that balance that’s the real challenge. How to ask the right questions, with courage and strength and even with joy, how to answer the questions clearly and accurately even when the answers break expectations, and how to be OK with any answer given? How to take the space when needed and not ask when asking would result in pain and unnecessary work for others? Today, I acknowledge the need for distance, for quiet silences, for spaces without words. For everything there is a time, it says in Ecclesiastes. There is a time for asking and a time for staying quiet. Today, I accept and honour those who chose not to ask.