Poetry Place

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By Jennifer Rudick Zunikoff

Lag B’Omer is behind us, yet Sinai still seems so far away. We taste yesterday’s bitterness even as we attempt to shed our enslavement, even as we begin to breathe in our freedom. We count the days, 49 in all; seven days a week for seven weeks. Each day is another step from liberation to revelation as we trod through the wilderness within our own souls.


Each evening we hold an omer (a measure) of grain in our hands. We know this grain grew from the earth. Holding it and counting it grounds us. Counting each omer reminds us that we are moving forward, just a bit, every day.

In Joyce Wolpert’s poem, she refers to the sephirot, mystical emanations of God, that we discover on our journey. She mentions two of these specifically: chesed (loving kindness) and gevurah (strength), emanations we seek and fear. Each day when we count the omer, we are ascending toward Sinai. With each step, we struggle to find balance at this particular place in our journey. As you read this poem, we invite you to feel the grain in your hands as we take another step forward, and count another day.

Counting the Omer
By Joyce Wolpert

First footfalls forward
we slough off
our weighty ties
our rough edges,
Our outer bondage lays behind
in Mitzrayim,
Now we have 49 days — 7 times 7 —
that mystical number,
the emanations of the Sephirot,
7 weeks to cast off and to ascend.
We lift the stalks,
delicate barley leaves,
That the soft wind could
easily blow asunder,
We marvel how each day’s
quiet harvest
adds to our bounty.
We feel the press of our being,
the loom and the weight
on our hearts,
Our breath is caught,
we are barely able
to intake, “Yud,”
We who still smart
from the red welts
of our binding
are stymied
to stretch out, “Hay,”
We whose small selves
have been locked
in the darkest corners of our minds
cringe from saying
“I,” much less, “Thou.”
The pile begins to mount
Our steps take us deeper in,
Can we who have come
from the darkest of endings
learn to embrace the Ain Sof?
One measure per day,
uncounted steps in the abyss.
The moon gives birth
to our becoming,
Golden stalks reflect
their powerful quietude,
They begin to be woven
into a yet mysterious fabric.
We fear the Gevurah
which judges
with every measure,
We yearn for Chesed
to embrace us
for missing the mark.
Dare we trust the
now subtle urging
that senses
a power transcending?
What do we make
of a force
verging on magnetic
that draws us
to its fulcrum?
We are but shepherds
and brick haulers,
The earth is our heritage
not the stars,
We eat our twice daily supplement
never marveling at its origin,
We still see with our eyes,
do not yet hear with our hearts.
But our steps catch more rhythm,
our flock assembles
with increasing purpose.
The grain has now changed
from pale barley stalks
to sun-baked wheat sheaves.
How do they come from a source
not yet named
to a harvest
our rough hands
can touch?
We take care
to measure
even more precisely,
Every count, every step,
We are being pulled,
even as we pull back,
Our feet reach higher
before thudding down,
Our jangled hearts
beat steadier,
Our smell senses
a sudden sweetness,
Our ears hear murmuring
beyond the sound
of our voices,
Our minds’ eyes
see inward and outward,
Our dreams begin to weave
with the golden sheaves
into an arching bond
between the Infinite
and the multitude,
We go with all
the hope and fear
we could ever imagine
Toward the Ineffable …

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