Miriam the prophetess has been considering the story of ben Zoma, lost permanently in thought, “gazing between the upper and lower waters.” She finds that the 20th Century teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel discusses ben Zoma and separated waters at some length. [Skip to blog background.Skip to tonight’s omer count. Catch up/Refresh Your Memory]
Heschel relates a teaching of ben Azzai, another of the four who entered Pardes:
Simeon ben Azzai noted this contradiction: It is written, “God made two great lights” (Gen. 1:16), and it is also written, “the greater light to dominate the day and the lesser light to dominate the night” (ibid)! The moon [protests and is ordered by God: “Go and diminish yourself”…] God said to her: “Go [knowing that] Israel will calculate their days and years according to you.” …Her feelings were still not assuaged. Said the Holy and Blessed One: “Make atonement for Me, for My having diminished the moon.”
…Ben Azzai is questioning God’s attribute of justice. The moon pleads its cause before the divine Throne of Justice and, in his exposition, Ben Azzai vindicates its claim that the verdict is not a just one…
— Heschel, Heavenly Torah, p.121-22
Heshchel relates another element in the water story Miriam recalled earlier:
…Said the waters: We shall not descend! Thus did they brazenly confront their Creator….What did the Holy and Blessed One do? God extended His little finger, and they tore into two parts, and God took half of them down against their will. Thus it is written: ‘God said let there be an expanse (raki’a)’ Genesis 1:6) — do not read ‘expanse’ (raki’a), but ‘tear'(keri’a).
— Heschel, Heavenly Torah, quoting Otzar Midrashim
He then concludes that entering Pardes was an effort to understand “the problem of evil”:
Four entered the Pardes: Rabbi Akiva, Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, and Elisha ben Abuyah. It seems to me that not only Ben Azzai, but Ben Zoma and Rabbi Akiva as well, struggled with this problem concerning sin and effect in the work of creation. [Elisha ben Abuyah’s case is discussed separately.]…
The common element in all these legends is this: the idea that the sin of the first human being was not the first of the sins; prior to his sin, some of the forces of nature had already been corrupted. It would seem that the problem of evil should not be forced entirely into the human realm alone. There is a defect in the work of creation.
— Heschel, Heavenly Torah, pp.125-125
Miriam finds a lot of new images — including the word play of raki’a/expanse and keri’a/tear — to wrap into her understanding….
Counting the Omer with Fabrangen 5773
Counting the days and weeks of the Omer is one 49-day-long experience, extending from the second night of Passover to the night before Shavuot — the “Feast of Weeks.” Counting each day, within the sequence, is another experience. Pursuing the “continuous thread of revelation” in our lives, beyond Shavuot, is something else again.
Count the Omer with Fabrangen Havurah in Washington, DC by subscribing to this blog. This year’s count will follow the evolving midrash begun here. Share your thoughts along the way by contacting songeveryday at gmail and/or posting a comment.
Tonight’s Count and Blessing
During evening prayers, add:
A) (Standard, male address for God:) Barukh ata YHVH, eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al sefirat ha-omer.
We praise You, Adonai, Our God, Master of time and space whose commandments add holiness to our lives, Who commanded us to count the omer.
B) (Alternatively, address God as feminine:) Beruchah at yah, eloheinu ruach haolam, asher kidshatnu bemitzvoteha vetzivatnu al sefirat ha’omer.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.
Ha-yom chamishah asar yom, shehem sh’nei sh’vuot v’yom echad la’omer.
Today is day fifteen, making two weeks and one day of the omer.
[This translation and transliteration were borrowed from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and from Jill Hammer’s Omer Calendar of Biblical Women at RitualWell.org. For additional text to accompany the counting, see Five Steps.]