Updated: May 6

The passage of time has been nothing short of startling for me. During the midst of the pandemic, and even now as things are 'easing up', I ride the wave of time, from one activity to another, from one holiday to another...not really feeling that I've actually experienced it. I can't explain it beyond that. It is a bizarre feeling....to be at once present and yet not.

Passover was a dream, a fleeting sense of a holiday. I know that most can't wait for it to end, but for me, I feel that it disappeared. Eight days, gone in a whisper of time.

And now, how can I truly feel that I am in the Omer period, when I'm still wondering where Passover went?

You can see the difficulty.

I experience meditations and also lead them---which one would think should enhance my ability to be in the present moment...but no. It is a struggle to maintain the acute sense of time when the meditation is over.

When I pray, I'm in the present moment, but I want to feel that feeling always, the feeling where I'm in every single moment, but surely, I can't meditate or pray all day. Too often, the moments pile up and then seem to crumble.

So, how can I make this Omer period last? One of its advantages right now is that being in the thick of it, gives me the benefit of a long stretch of time.

I think before the whole Covid thing I did not face this. I am convinced, that this is the type of Covid I've contracted. The one where there are no symptoms, but the clear sense of time has been unmistakably warped. Yup, that's the one I have. It's not contagious, but perhaps might affect others. Who knows?

Do you experience this also?

If so, let's jump into the Omer. Let's halt time and continuously live in the moments of each day.

Updated: Mar 22

Our sages were always trying to find the shortest ways to describe complicated concepts. While there are 48 Ways to Wisdom (elucidated in Foundational Ethics / Pirkei Avot) there are numerous discussions of other sayings that attempt to distill concepts in as little as three (okay four) words. For example, what does the world rest upon [Pirkei Avot 1;2]? Answer? Torah, Avodah (Service) and Gemilut Hasadim (acts of loving kindness).

A favorite saying of mine is a three word answer, found in the Talmud, in Tractate Eruvin (65b) in answer to the question about how you know a person's character. Really, just three words! This phrase describes how, in different circumstances, your true character is revealed. The original saying (by our Sage Rabbi Elai) is: "In three matters a person’s true character is ascertained; in their cup, i.e., their behavior when they drink (or when they either have a full cup or one that's empty); in their pocket, i.e., their conduct relative to their financial situation and dealings with other people; and in their anger." (edited for gender and clarity)

The Hebrew offers a poetic play on words:

בִּשְׁלֹשָׁה דְּבָרִים אָדָם נִיכָּר: בְּכוֹסוֹ, וּבְכִיסוֹ וּבְכַעְסוֹ

B'shlosha devarim Adam nicar: B'koso, U'vkiso, U'vka'aso

"...in three ways a person is recognized: through one's cup, through one's pocket / wallet and through one's anger".

Has this been true for you? Have you revealed your true nature at these times? Do you know what circumstances prompt you to be your truest self? Or those situations which 'push your buttons' and cause you to behave in ways that you'd rather forget.....

When have been the times in your life when your truest character was revealed?

Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, author of the foundational Mussar Text Mesillat Yesharim (11:143) refers to this Talmudic dictum when he describes the difference between an anger that is in your heart, and an anger that shows on your face. Anger that goes deep within you is not a productive anger. Anger is a trait that tends to take over one's personality, so much so, that our tradition in so many ways tells us how destructive it is.

We are told that "When a person keeps from getting angry, his enemies will have no control over him." (Sefer HaMiddot, Anger:1). For a better understanding, read this as: "when you keep yourself from getting angry, your ability to control yourself will increase, and your inclination to get angry (your enemy) will decrease and therefore lose power in controlling you".

In the Babylonian Talmud (Pesachim, 113b) it says: 

"There are three people the Holy One loves: One who does not get angry. One who

does not get drunk. One who does not stand on ceremony."

I find the third statement the most interesting...."one who does not stand on ceremony".

Standing on ceremony is really about gaining stature by listening to our own egos. It gets in the way of us doing the right thing at the right time. Think about it, how many times do you want to be the first person to make peace, but you stubbornly hold your ground. How many times have you reached for your cell to call someone, only to tell yourself that they should be calling you. How often do we hold ourselves back from doing a kindness...thinking that (selfishly) we haven't been treated so fairly recently. How often does anger dominate our decisions?

When we learn to control anger, it loses power over us. It is hard work...the work of a lifetime. But, oh so very rewarding.

Responsibility, Achrayut / אחריות is one of the character traits that a person focuses on while practicing Mussar and engaging in character and spiritual development. To appreciate its nuances, we can go right to the Hebrew for clarification of what is involved in this trait.

Let's first look at the core letters of the word, which in Hebrew, is called the root, the shoresh. By examining the word's core meaning, we avail ourselves of the rich meaning that goes beyond a dictionary definition. The three-letter root word consists of Aleph-Chet-Resh [A-CH-R] which can mean either Achar (After) or Acher (Other). Big deal you say? Well, yes, because embedded in the very words for Responsibility are clues to help us understand the Jewish foundation for this trait / middah.

So, let's parse this out a bit, taking each meaning separately. Let's interpret this concept of responsibility through the lens of Achar (After). We can be responsible to others after we take care of ourselves (think oxygen mask on an airplane). A well-known phrase from Leviticus / Vayikra (19:18) tells us to וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ / V'ahavta L'rayecha Kamocha

"And you shall love your neighbor as yourself" which can be interpreted in several ways, one if which is that by loving and respecting yourself first, you will in fact be better able to care for someone else. In other words, you've worked on yourself enough, so you are able to love fully and therefore will be bringing (less) emotional baggage into the relationship. You are able to give fully, and love that person as a creation of God, when you, yourself, value yourself as being created in the Image of God.

Another interpretation of Achar (After) as part of responsibility is that we are entrusted with creating a better world for those who come after us. We are required to not just think of using up resources but working on replenishing them. Our task goes beyond ourselves to generations in the future.

What happens when we focus on the three-letter root word that can spell Acher (Other)? The meaning of this tells us that we need to be concerned about 'the other' in society. Those who are marginalized, the ones who are easily forgotten, those who are out of our daily sight yet need us to pay attention.

These are our challenges when we think of our responsibility. Do we prioritize our own needs first, as in Acharei / אחרי (After me ----which ironically is also part of the word אחריות ? Or do we concern ourselves with being activists, working on behalf of those who come Achar (After)? Do we focus on the immediate needs of the “other”, those who are mostly forgotten, as in “Acher” (The Other)? How do we juggle our responsibilities to ourselves and to others?

You already know, there is not one answer for all situations, for all times. What we're being asked to do is bring this knowledge of responsibility, with all of its meaning to our effort to be more responsible. To be more fully human.

The sage Hillel, said it best in the most poetic way:

If I am not for myself, who will be for me?

And when I am only for myself, what am I?

And if not now, when?

(Foundational Ethics / Pirkei Avot 1:14