At the second seder we begin to count the Omer, the 49 days between Passover, when we're freed and begin our journey, and Shavuot, when we reach the journey's end and receive Torah. (Omer, in ancient days, was a measure of grain, and Shavuot a harvest holiday.) In the mystical tradition,
"...the spectrum of human experience divides into seven emotions and qualities, known in plural as sefirot. Each of these seven qualities, in turn, subdivides into seven, making a total of forty-nine." (From an excellent guide to counting the Omer, excerpted here.)
So imagine a chart with seven weeks (and attributes) on top and seven days (and those same attributes) along the side; where the columns meet are each day's combination. Today, for example, is the intersection of week one, hesed (lovingkindness, benevolence), and day three, tiferet (harmony). Today we should concentrate on how to be empathetic and compassionate in our love. Seven weeks of working on ourselves in this way will, we hope, make us worthy of receiving the Torah. (I try and remember to say the short prayer each night. In the past, I've mostly forgotten. Am hoping this year will be different.)
At services Friday night, one of the student rabbis told us about a new tradition at her seder: filling Elijah's cup with wine from the cups of each guest, and so envisioning redemption as a partnership. (He and the Messiah, according to tradition, will one day stay a lot longer than the time it takes to sip from a cup of wine). I was again struck by how so much of Judaism is about needing each other, and God needing us--an endless, nourishing circle. The acquisition of knowledge, love, compassion, and everything else for which we count the Omer is a pointless exercise if we don't apply and pass it on. Becoming rich or learned, or even religious, for its own sake, for the pride of accomplishment alone, is not a Jewish value. There can be deep and meaningful Jewish life without faith; many of us are sustained more by inquisitive and hungry doubt than comforting belief. But we would die without community.
Community, unfortunately, has been trumped in the American value scale by individuality, of which I also happen to be the universe's biggest fan and practitioner. There's room for both; joining with others does not signal weakness or lack of personal creativity. Many New Yorkers believe it does. One of our rabbis calls the idea of community, particularly at our synagogue, "countercultural;" so much of organized religion, any religion, in this country has been about following rules, fitting in, gaining status, or being scolded rather than combining souls and strengths to help the world.
I get very frustrated when I think about this, and friends of mine who choose not to reach out in any context, religious or otherwise. I try to help, but face a closed door. Maybe counting the Omer this year will teach me how to understand, and be a better friend.