It was a wonderful post-seder weekend. Dear friends came to visit from Montreal; we enjoyed Shabbat dinner with mutual friends, as well as shul in the morning, where we studied Pirkei Avot after kiddush, and then returned home for another traditional Shabbos activity – the afternoon nap.
One of our Sunday afternoon activities was decidedly new to them – a rowdy game of Jewish Apples To Apples. It’s a hilarious way to learn stuff (about culture and about your companions) in a whole new way!
That we were playing during Passover definitely made me think of questions: What happens when old friends do new things together? What can we learn of each other anew? When we meet again in a new place, is it different from getting together in our old stomping grounds? How do we value and sustain long-standing connections?
We actually already do play that game, we Jews, with the counting of the Omer. Having to remember, to call to mind, a date, a number – perhaps along with a middah, a behavioural quality, or a sefira, an aspect of God’s divine manifestation – brings to one’s awareness issues of past, present and future.
How do we mark time? Do we always “count our blessings?” Why does it sometimes take a bleak situation to make us aware of the goodness that surrounds us? How would it be, if we lived “as if” all of our yearnings could be manifested?
When the rabbis, drawing from Torah, instructed us “You shall count … seven full weeks …” (Leviticus 23), they were not just linking Pesach and Shavuot to the fruits of the field and the natural rhythms of the seasons. They were drawing together notions of freedom and attachment, in a sense re-weaving a people together in a conscious and sustainable way.
What do we do with this freedom/obligation paradigm? Are we totally free to re-create in every generation? Are we permanently obligated to observe as our ancestors did? And, when we are challenged by notions of mitzvot, or sacred obligations, where do we find sympathetic teachers?
Our ancestors, discussing how to live a conscious/spiritual/religious life, would say: Get yourself a teacher and find yourself a friend; say little and do much; let your house be wide open and the poor be members of your household. And these few pithy maxims are just in the first chapter of Pirkei Avot!
Just do it. Learn, seek, question, enjoy. May all our days be ones of questions, discussions, responses and good times with kindred spirits.
Happy Season of the Omer.