We counted 20: Division/Gathering and White Space

Miriam the prophetess has learned that Rabbi Akiva’s teachings — the ones her brother was told would explain the crowns God affixed atop the Torah’s letters — emphasize God’s compassion, even in the face of apparent injustice/defects in creation. As the third week of the omer comes to a close, Miriam comes to see how the white space, rimmed by the crowns but infinitely deep, generates those teachings. [Skip to blog background. Skip to tonight’s omer count. Catch up/Refresh Your Memory]


Days and Weeks,
Silt and Stream

Contemplating freedom — and how generations have tried to incorporate the experience of it, and of bondage, into post-Exodus lives — Miriam reached a new, unfettered vantage point. Learning to count both days and weeks, she realized how thoroughly within the white space she is, knowing how much is yet to unfold, and how keenly aware of the black ink, the millenia of finely wrought delineations creating the space/time she occupies. The “mounds and mounds of laws,” that her brother’d been told were to be understood over the years, were transformed in her vision from silt blocking a stream to an integral part of its flow.

פָּקַדְתָּ הָאָרֶץ וַתְּשֹׁקְקֶהָ,
Thou hast remembered the earth, and watered her,
רַבַּת תַּעְשְׁרֶנָּה–פֶּלֶג אֱלֹהִים, מָלֵא מָיִם;
greatly enriching her, with the river of God that is full of water…

– Psalms 65:10 (“Old JPS” translation, from mechon-mamre)

Gathered Waters

Miriam — whose life with Israel was limned by water: from the time she watched her baby brother rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter (Exodus 2:4) to the day she died and the congregation found no water (Numbers 20:1-2) — is drawn to the imagery of God as Mikveh Yisrael [hope and gathering of waters].

She has learned that the image of waters gathered and divided is at the heart of some of the deepest worries of ancient rabbis (see days 13-19): how every act of gathering, even those of the Creator, includes some element of division; how our very existence is predicated on surrendering perfection and, therefore, how Creation embodies defects in need of repair; how the division of waters suggest that God is, not unlike humans, incapable of creating without grief and is in need of salvation along with us. She has learned how treacherous is the inquiry into matters of division, how fine a line Jews have walked for thousands of years between expansion of perspective and insanity, between understanding and accusation, between empathy and rage.

Miriam had been worried that those “mounds and mounds of laws” her brother was told Rabbi Akiva would expound on the crowns of Torah letters were muddying the surrounding white space. She is deeply concerned about the ways that Torah seems to divide as well as enrich. So she is heartened by recent calls for employing divisions to unify. And she is heartened by the idea that Akiva (and Heschel after him) “affixes crowns to” God’s empathy, insisting at the most dreadful turns of history that it is better to assume God’s hands are tied than that God is cruel; better to assume that God needs us to act for our own and God’s salvation than that all is lost.

Through centuries of exploration, gatherings of waters were recognized as painful divisions, while those divisions were interpreted as gatherings full of hope…

“the river [peleg, division] of God that is full of water.”
“O Hope of Israel! [Mikveh yisrael]…
The Fount of living waters [m’kor mayim chayyim]”
“Through scholarly envy and healthy competition, the Torah will be magnified and glorified.”
— Psalms 65:10; Jeremiah 17:13; Calderon’s speech

El Mei Ha-Y’shua

Miriam and God have been exploring the future of Torah study, with God “sitting and creating intricate white spaces swirling atop the letters [of the Torah].” The white space around the crowns, Miriam sees, is the dynamic space where God and humans unite in the effort to make God’s compassion manifest in the world.

Earlier (day 11) Miriam heard voices singing 20th Century words of yearning:
“Miriam dance with us in order to increase the song of the world.
Miriam dance with us in order to repair the world….”

Now, Miriam focuses in on the final line:
Bimheirah v’yameinu hi t’vi’einu el mei ha-y’shuah
Soon she will bring us to the waters of redemption.
–“Miriam ha-Navia” Leila Gal Berner

With the many counting the days between freedom and Sinai, she wonders, “are we there yet?”

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 echad v’esrim yom, shehem shlishah sh’vuot la’omer.

Today is day twenty-one, making three weeks 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.]

About vspatz

Virginia hosts Community Under Covid at We Act Radio, podcasts at Rereading4Liberation.com, blogs on miscellaneous Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day, and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at Vspatz.wordpress.com
This entry was posted in contemporary midrash, Counting the Omer, Jewish Thought, White Space in the Torah and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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