Rosh Chodesh Iyar spans two days, April 24-25. The acronym for Iyar is alef-yud-resh, “I am G-d your healer,” from the book of Exodus 15:26. This is Divine timing to be reminded that we are not alone. During the pandemic of COVID-19, this phrase has the potential to offer great comfort to us all, those who are healthy and praying to stay that way, those who are ill or fear becoming ill, as well as those who are grieving the loss of loved ones who have succumbed to illness. When we say, “We are all in this together,” we must remember to include the presence of Hashem.
Our task this month is to refine and purify our souls in preparation to receive the Torah on Shavuot. It’s the same theme as it is every year at this time. But is our world the same as it’s always been? Are we the same? Of course not.
Everything has changed, from the way we conduct business to how we greet one another. So where and how do we begin to rise to this task? Many are depleted and can’t think about such matters. But there has never been a more important time to transform our animalistic nature to G-dliness. When we’re at our most vulnerable, lives and hearts cracked open, is when G-d’s light has a gap through which to shine and illuminate our souls. Now is certainly that time.
During the seven weeks of the counting of the Omer, from Pesach to Shavuot, we’re provided with a structure for refining our souls through the seven middot (universal virtues or attributes of G-d). For each week on the calendar, begun at sundown on April 9, and ending at sundown May 28, we can contemplate various ways to practice and integrate each quality. If you’re starting late, do each of them on your own timeline.
The seven middot are: kindness/chesed (living in service to G-d, loving one another); severity/gevurah (being disciplined, with high expectations of self/others); harmony/tiferet (integrating kindness with severity and adding compassion); perseverance/netzach (not giving up); humility/hod (being humble); foundation/yesod (giving of time, energy, money); and royalty/malchut (serving G-d through all middot).
The process is like paint-by-numbers, with layers of light and dark creating depth, until the full picture becomes clear. We have guidance, but each of us is required to take the steps alone, toward the completed act, which is arriving at Shavuot, humbled to receive the gifts of Torah.
Since it may be daunting to add one more thing to your very full lists at this time, consider focusing on the middot while engaged in an act of self-care. In what ways are you already caring for yourself? Are you taking long baths or long walks? Are you listening to music? Are you sitting on the ground in the sun? Are you doing jigsaw puzzles? Each week meditate on the virtue while doing one of those things.
Many people are calming themselves by taking baths. Epsom salt baths help to relax muscles, allow your body to absorb the salt, which is magnesium, and to detox. Don’t soak for more than about 20 minutes or you’ll reabsorb everything you just released. Be sure to check with your doctor if you have a skin condition before adding this or essential oils to your bathwater. Long walks help keep our qi, or life force, activated, circulating our blood and releasing endorphins. Music invites our minds to rest and ride on the waves of the notes. Grounding connects us to Mother Earth, and sunshine provides direct vitamin D. Jigsaw puzzles permit us to narrow our focus. They make the large, overwhelming world, small. Things fit together and form a larger picture. We know what the completed picture looks like on the box, before we begin, unlike life right now.
Meditation Focus: Rather than viewing the changing structures in government, education, family and the economy as a “break down,” view it as an opportunity to “break through.” Elevate your spirit by mindfully practicing these seven middot.