UP FOR THE COUNT
poems for the counting of the omer
by Esther Cameron
[Note: This series of poems is a versification of ideas found in Rabbi Simon Jacobson’s A Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer. Rabbi Jacobson writes that with the sefirah, “the Torah invites us on a journey into the human psyche, into the soul.” Rabbi Jacobson explains the combinations of the sefirot that apply to each day during the sefirah period, and suggests practical exercises to confirm the practitioner in the rectification of the particular trait for each day. Several years ago, I meditated on the combination for each day by composing a short poem, and they are posted in the hope that others may find these "numbers" helpful as an aid to their own reflection. -- EC ]
1. Chesed shebechesed (Nissan 16/March 26-27)
G-d, who in kindness birthed the universe
And formed the abundant earth to be soul’s nurse,
Grant that in my own soul I find the spring
Of such unforced, unstinted nurturing,
That it may ever flow at touch of need
And only good from thought of good proceed.
2. Gevurah shebechesed (17 Nissan/March 27-28)
That kindness that streams through us from the Source
Of kindness, meeting barriers, may not force
Its way to others’ vessels unprepared.
If then you must remain with gifts unshared,
Restrain the wish to give for giving’s sake.
This is the purest gift you now can make.
3. Tiferet shebechesed (18 Nissan/March 28-29)
May the fair world find favor in my eyes
That from self-interest free I may devise
Such measures as You place within my reach
To grant the wish, supply the need of each.
All parties let me fittingly befriend
As toward Your final harmony they tend.
4. Netzach shebechesed (19 Nissan/March 29-30)
Whatever I have loved, may it have been
For love of the eternal spark within,
The spark that blazes yet does not consume –
So may my love endure “to the edge of doom,” (Shakespeare)
So may my hands hold steady in any fight
To which I may be summoned by love’s plight.
5. Hod shebechesed (20 Nissan/March 30-31)
If I have truly loved, may it be shown
In that I waived my claim to know alone
What is, and opened to the other’s view
And in this way my inner world-map grew,
Until I touched the hem of G-d’s design,
Which humans through humility divine.
6. Yesod shebechesed (21 Nissan/March 31-April 1)
For G-d and all the good that I behold
May my love be wholehearted and whole-souled,
And send me partners likewise resolute
To labor jointly toward a common fruit:
I would become a thing on which to build
A world in which love’s purpose is fulfilled.
7. Malchut shebechesed (22 Nissan/April 1-2)
In those we love, a shade of majesty
Shines through. Love draws a veil back, and we see
The other as a being “nobly planned” (Wordsworth)
In the image of our Maker. Then, to stand
Beside this excellency, we too must
Assume our royal shape, though drawn in dust.
8. Chesed shebigvurah (23 Nissan/April 2-3)
Where kindness cannot straight itself bestow
Lest it should cause ingratitude to grow,
It takes the appearance of severity,
To weed before it sows, yet still must be
Itself – the more itself for having checked
Its impulse in the hope of good effect.
9. Gevurah shebigvurah (24 Nissan/April 3-4)
Ask, if I keep such order in my days,
As need not shun the great Comptroller’s gaze,
My schedule not too lax, nor yet too tight,
My space in order, and time used aright,
A reckoning of my deeds at each day’s end –
How do I fail here, and what can I mend?
10. Tiferet shebigvurah (25 Nissan/April April 4-5)
Suppose that some have acted without care
For me, or for what I perceive as fair,
Have planted obstacles upon my path
And caused my soul to wrestle with great wrath.
Still let me strive to see their shapes that stood
Before You, when You called creation good.
11. Netzach shebigvurah (26 Nissan/April 5-6)
May I be constant in the will to frame
My days in order, and to hold the same
Pattern amid impinging exigencies
Or swirling wills that rise, the helm to seize
Where I should govern. Give me strength to stand
Firm to myself, and those I must command.
12. Hod shebigvurah (27 Nissan/April 6-7)
Where I must judge, let judgment not be born
Of self-esteem and condescending scorn,
But of those moments when I have let in
Awareness of my own shortfall and sin
And of a care for all that must depend
On principles I have not leave to bend.
13. Yesod shebigvurah (28 Nissan/7-8 April)
Not with a stranger’s cold high-handed ire,
Which can intimidate, but not inspire,
Would I admonish, lest ill will unbind
The ties by which our lives and souls are joined,
But must learn lovingly to be severe
So as not to repel, but to draw near.
14. Malkhut shebigvurah (29 Nissan/8-9 April)
If called on to rebuke and penalize,
May I on that occasion not despise
The one on whom the unwilling stroke must fall,
But rather to both souls may it recall
The royalty of One whose stamp appears
On the reprover, and on the one who hears.
15. Chesed shebetiferet (Nissan 30/April 9-10)
As though from far outside the world I view
This make of humankind, myself, each You,
Yet in your nearness must no less rejoice
As the companions of my soul’s own choice.
G-d bade me help you out in any way
I can, and His kind love to you convey.
16. Gevurah shebetiferet (1 Iyar/April 10-11)
Compassion, which extends to all, has yet
Limits which the Compassionate One has set:
I may not sympathize with harmful will,
Unhealthful cravings I may not fulfill,
Upon one claimant I may not bestow
What to another I more rightly owe.
17. Tiferet shebetiferet (2 Iyyar/April 11-12)
With love and awe commingled and embraced,
The lifeline of one other I have traced;
Grant that this same regard I may extend
From next of soul-kin to remotest friend
In your great concert of affinity,
Where I may be helped, and may help, to be.
18. Netzach shebetiferet (3 Iyyar/April 12-13)
You, who hold compassion in your thought –
What happens when, hard-pressed and overwrought,
You find yourself accosted by a plea
From someone who does not ask graciously,
Or someone out of favor claims your aid -=-
Can you be piteous still, and unafraid?
19. Hod shebetiferet (4 Iyyar/April 13-14)
Toward those whom I am privileged to befriend
Even in thought may I not condescend
Nor make their need a footstool for my pride,
But may my soul be humbly gratified
To see another being unfold and rise
Whether through my assist, or otherwise.
20. Yesod shebetiferet (5 Iyyar/14-15 April)
If someone else’s need I can divine
And match that need with some resource of mine,
Then not alone the present need is met
But on the inner firmament is set
A constellation of bright amity
That burns, unlike the stars, eternally.
21. Malkhut shebetiferet (6 Iyyar/April 15-16)
Where I catch sight of beggared majesty
I know that it desires not charity
Alone, but recognition of a worth
That cannot be reduced by outward dearth.
This tribute if I render proves me true
And just to royal rank that is mine too.
22. Chesed shebenetsach (7 Iyyar/April 16-17)
What helps us to persist and to endure
Through years of toil unthanked, of gain unsure,
Is love, which still beholds and holds and clings,
Unmindful of the arrows and the slings,
To thought of good that it will not relinquish,
Lest joy, and sense of sense in life, should languish.
23. Gevurah shebenetsach (8 Iyyar/April 17-18)
I must be steadfast, yet not obstinate,
Must still consider, though my course be set,
The compass and the stars, and what draws near.
Resolves and habits must not be so dear
To me, that I cannot be shown their flaws
Nor be convinced to alter for good cause.
24. Tiferet shebenetsach (9 Iyyar/April 18-19)
Throughout my days may one intention hold:
To help the other’s being to unfold
Until their Maker’s first design appears,
Whatever in them now shows as adverse
To that intention notwithstanding. True
Is the conception, and will crown when due.
25. Netsach shebenetsach (10 Iyyar/April 19-20)
I have within myself the strength to last
Against this world and all its forces massed
Against the soul. I can persist, endure
And overcome. Why, then, so insecure?
Let me, though time’s distractions lead astray,
Be sure this dark is meant to turn to day.
26. Hod shebenetsach (11 Iyyar/April 20-21)
I know, dear G-d, my strength is not my own,
That strength, that now in stubbornness is shown,
Standing against the clouds of wrong, defiant,
Now bowed in tribulation’s onrush, pliant,
But always rooted in the ground of You,
From whom flow days perpetually new.
27. Yesod shebenetsach (12 Iyyar/April 21-22)
Unless the soul is held in boundenness
With other things, how can it stand the stress
That so bears down on every single strength
That, isolate, they must give way at length,
Brittle. But joined, they toughen, do not break.
All may be suffered, if for some good sake.
28. Malchut shebenetsach (13 Iyyar/April 22-23)
Through all that time and your own fault may bring
Remember who you are, child of a king.
You are well worth the work of holding on,
Whatever you may think is wrecked and gone.
The soul that bears within the David-shield
To everlasting victory is sealed.
29. Chesed shebehod (14 Iyyar/April 23-24)
May I be always privileged to perceive
The other’s worth and beauty, and not grieve
To see such merits as I have outshone,
But let me rather cherish as my own
All excellent gifts that make Creation bright --
The bearers shall be precious in my sight.
30. Gevurah shebehod (15 Iyyar/April 24-25)
Let me award myself no hasty prize
For non-insistence, where agreement buys
A doubtful peace with what is not approved
By that deep sense that is not mine, nor moved
By my small fears. My face I need not save,
But rightfulness I may not dare to waive.
31. Tiferet shebehod (16 Iyyar/April 25-26)
If ever I am set upon my course
And feel my rightness with too keen a force,
Let me at least not cease to see and hear
Whatever watches my approach with fear.
Regard for others, fear of others’ pain,
Should bring me to humility again.
32. Netsach shebehod (17 Iyyar/April 26-27)
Among the ranks of beings that I see,
I also have my place and my degree,
And as I hope not to inflate or boost
My claims, I would not let them be reduced
Unduly, nor through diffidence abate
What in a good cause I must advocate.
33. Hod shebehod (18 Iyyar/April 27-28)
The little hand with which I blocked the sky
Is at my side. The self-important I
Is on vacation, and I contemplate
My humble self and its appropriate fate
As one amid the living hosts that star
This world of worlds, this miracle we are.
34. Yesod shebehod (19 Iyyar/April 28-29)
From choice of pride and pride of choice derives
Much that is brief and shallow in our lives;
But when we acknowledge an affinity
That was not sought, that appears just to be,
Our edifice is founded without flaw
On G-d’s deep secret and most hidden law.
35. Malkhut shebehod (20 Iyyar/April 29-30)
As from some old books bound in sober hues
That do not seem to beg the eye to choose,
When they are opened, princely words step forth,
So should the outer cloak of inner worth
Be plain and unassuming – for the glow
Of true nobility outshines all show.
36. Chesed shebeyesod (21 Iyyar/April 30-May 1)
There are those in the world of whom I feel
Their presence helps me know that I am real.
I am not I without them, they not they,
If from the world-sum I were taken away.
Help me to treat them kindly and with care
To show my love, even though they know it’s there.
37. Gevurah shebeyesod (22 Iyyar/May 1-2)
Needful of soul-connection, yet beware
Of thriftless joinings, casting anchor where
There is no shelter from the tide and wind:
The seaweed of another’s turbulent mind
Can drag you down. And being joined, take heed
To shield your friend from the vastness of your need.
38. Tiferet shebeyesod (23 Iyyar/May 2-3)
To those whose lives a Providence has joined
With mine, grant that my clinging be not blind,
That in my dealings with them I may see
What they are, not just what they are to me,
And for the sake of what they are sustain
What surge may flow from them to me of pain.
39. Netsach shebeyesod (23 Iyyar/May 3-4)
When once my soul with other souls is bound
I know the powers of this world will sound
The depth and strength of union. Surge and gust
And also inward-working worm and rust,
Will do their worst, as I will do my best:
True friends must hold together through time’s test.
40. Hod shebeyesod (25 Iyar/May 4-5)
Pinched in the confines of my mortal sphere,
Yet all too prone to swell, can I adhere
To other self, as claimful and as small?
Through You alone, G-d, do we leap self’s wall,
You who must join, You being all in one,
Us scattered selves; each by itself is none.
41. Yesod shebeyesod (26 Iyar/May 5-6)
Let me not choose, dear G-d, to live alone,
My heart self-rounded or, like tumbled stone,
By others smoothed, yet windowless and blind.
Help me, dear G-d, to recognize my kind,
Grant me to draw them close and to be held
By Your cohering hands which the world weld.
42. Malkhut shebeyesod (27 Iyyar/May 6-7)
If souls and destinies should intertwine
To such extent that yours is mine and mine
Is yours, let neither one of us subsume
The other, but let each have leave and room
To stand as whole and regal in the right
Of all who bear the stamp of the Worldwright.
43. Chesed shebemalkhut (28 Iyyar/May 7-8)
At ease in mastery of that domain
Wherein I have been deputized to reign,
May I hold dear all those beneath my sway –
Whose lives I can affect in any way –
To help them feel at home in this Creation
Where everyone has their own place and station.
44. Gevurah shebemalkhut (29 Iyyar/May 8-9)
You, by whose leave I rule my little sphere,
Grant I may always see its boundaries clear
And firmly check each impulse to transgress
Those lines, the sovereign Other to oppress.
Beyond my competence let my decree
Not stretch; so may I keep authority.
45. Tiferet shebemalkhut (1 Sivan/May 9-10)
Wherever I must exercise control
Over the fortunes of another soul,
May it be done with sympathetic grace,
And likewise where I supervise, the pace
Of work be measured, detail so assigned
That efforts be harmoniously combined.
46. Netsach shebemalkhut (2 Sivan/May 10-11)
Not to let down all that which counts on me,
The standard of our human dignity,
The rightful kingdom and its perfect laws,
All goodly customs, every just cause –
May I draw strength, wherever I am posted,
That to maintain which to me is entrusted.
47. Hod shebemalkhut (3 Sivan/11-12)
This existential plot on which I stand
With all these faculties at my command
For to enjoy the world and to hold sway,
My inner thoughts’ unlimited display,
All I control, and my control are due,
Controller of the universe, to You.
48. Yesod shebemalkhut (4 Sivan/May 12-13)
Amid the pattern of community
One figure surely will stand out for me,
My sovereign who crowns me, whom I too
Elect, and in our clasp of hands renew
The firm and everlasting covenant
On which the earth rests, and the firmament.
49. Malkhut shebemalkhut (5 Sivan/May 13-14)
The I of this minute and fleeting state
Is meant to model and reflect the great,
The eternal. Then may I and all complete
Ourselves so that tomorrow we may meet
With the one Ruler by whom we are made,
And measured, and in royal ranks arrayed.
CHAG SHAVUOT SAMEACH!!!