18 May 2010

Omer 49: Ends and Beginnings

Omer Day Forty-Nine

When you arrive at the end you come to the realization that you are merely back at the beginning.  It's not too dissimilar to a recurring theme that the Sages articulate regarding the Study of Torah:  that its highest form of expression is lishma--Torah Study for its Own Sake. 

The counting out of 49 days of the Omer, in order to arrive at the 50th day, in fulfillment of the mitzvah as articulated in Leviticus, was an end in and of itself.  I didn't have a goal, per se, at the beginning of the process, but now that I have arrived at the then distant shore of 7 weeks of counting, I can admit to a couple.

One:  I chose not to pray each morning, a practice I had been exercising for the last several years.  I will admit to a decidedly disturbing but oddly rejuvenating refusal to pray daily while increasing, quite consciously, my Torah study.  I wanted the experience of not wearing my tallis in the morning; of not putting on the tefillin; of not greeting God in the I usually do each day because something felt wrong about that relationship that needed repair.  And the explicit refusal to engage the language of prayer at times drove me deep into a kind of spiritual depression at the same time that it allowed me to explore that darkness of no-dialogue which reminded me of a kind of emptiness I used to feel before taking Judaism seriously as a college student back in Madison in the early 1980s.  That darkness felt both familiar yet distant, which was instructive in and of itself--particularly important, I believe, when one is exploring the thesis that our souls do evolve, that we do change continually in our relationships with God.  Prior to the counting of the Omer, my prayer felt caught up in the idea of prayer--it was set on fire over the last several years by an increased excavation of the solitude of my daily practice but Los Angeles in February, before Passover, changed all that.  The special privilege of praying in a minyan each day during that very week shook me from my habitual solitariness; it also led me down a dark path of remorse and self-pity that I didn't have a good daily minyan to attend here in Brooklyn.  And left me despairing over *yet another thing* that since it isn't there I'll have to help build.  I wanted it there, without the work of making it.  Oh, L.A. and your seductive ways!  You make it all seem so pleasant and sunny and easy.  Alas--Sinai on Shavuot will demand action.  Shammai's voice joins forces with the Bat Kol--"say little, do much."  Stop kvetching.  Build the daily minyan.

Two:  I am too angry too much of the time.  I admit it.  It's a pain for me and a pain for others.  Who needs it?  It's an idol, too.  I mean very serious avodah zarah.  So quietly and slowly but surely I needed to use the 49 days to face this fact.  It's not painful so much as it's squirmful, as in, I don't really want to face or deal with it because the anger is like a drug, a habit, a way of life that is so routinized in one's day to day as to make it practically imperceptible and impossible to stop.

But have you ever mindfully, devotedly, counted out 7 weeks of 49 days of a bad habit?  Damn that's rough.  I now have a slightly better idea of what re-hab or AA must be like:  To face your worst instinct, your wretched habit, daily.  Brought out into the open, exposed by the light of day.  You can run but you can't hide.  Pick your cliche, people.  Deal.

When you arrive at the end you come to the realization that you are merely back at the beginning.  Where I knew I'd be and where I needed to be.  And now it's up to me to apply the lessons. 

Begin again, in jubilation, on the day after the 50th day.  Because ends, and beginnings, are worth the celebration.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

What are you angry about?

Andy Bachman said...

You mean besides anonymous comments on my blog? Here's the thing with anger--it's rarely about any *one* thing in particular; it's more dispositional. The Sages teach in Pirke Avot--"Who is strong? The one who conquers his urge," which in my case, is the propensity toward anger. These are hills I've climbed most of my life.

Anonymous said...

Actually, its always about "one" thing - what you get angry about says a lot about who you really are and what you value. You can dress it up in talking about disposition and Pirke Avot, but in the end its just plain anger usually about the fact that we can't have it the way we want it.

Andy Bachman said...

Anonymous--I am sorry to say I think your analysis about anger is missing the mark. Anger is not "who you really are" but is an expression of a character trait that can be controlled, perhaps even eradicated. It's not being dressed up to talk about disposition; nor is it dressing it up to reference Pirke Avot. The point of the latter is to indicate that the Sages understood that anger, like many different character traits, can be brought under control. That's my goal, anyway. Hag Sameach and thanks for writing.