The Hebrew word for flower is “Perach”, based on the root word of “bursting forth”, “blossoming”, flowering as the verb: That which flourishes and bursts forward into a bright, beautiful display of natural bounty.
Flowers are the ultimate lens through which to view nature; her magical ways; and how we as humans follow in Mother Nature’s footsteps, blossoming and blooming as people.
This Biblical saying reminds us that we can find all the answers we need by watching nature; and seeing how the rhythms of nature and her cycles represent our own natural rhythms as people.
The cycle of Jewish holidays are agricultural festivals, representing moments of key triumphs and successes for a pastoral people. Yet they were originally established by the people during their sojourn in the desert – a place of stark, barren wilderness, far removed from the lush landscape of the Land of Israel which the people entered 40 years after their exodus from Egypt.
The Exodus from Egypt, which we celebrated seven weeks ago with the Passover holiday, is all about shaking off the dust and leaving our self-imposed mindsets of slavery and constriction into expansion.
But just because someone is being shaken awake and dragged out of prison, it doesn’t mean they’re immediately ready to reenter society. They need a shower and a shave; a hot meal and a good night’s sleep – and more likely, beyond that, they’ll need some rehabilitation and integration. Time to get used to living in the real world, to pick up the skills and communication means to live alongside others as a free wo/man.
On an environmental level, nature follows a similar pattern.
On Passover, we celebrate spring: The leaves are coming back to the trees; the buds are poking their tongues out; and the blossoms are starting to flower. But on the second night of Shavuot, when we go out into the field to cut the first sheaf of the harvest, the “Omer” that we begin to count for 49 days, we acknowledge that we aren’t completely there yet: We celebrate spring, but our first harvest will come seven weeks later, on the eve of Shavuot holiday; when we bring the First Fruits of our harvest and the loaves made from the sheaves of the first barley harvest.
We’ve gotten out of prison and the buds have bloomed, but in order to fully receive the revelation of all the abundance that’s out there, we have seven weeks to go: And so, we count the Omer.
The Omer is a seven week period from Passover to Shavuot; represented by forty nine days of counting that prepares us for revelation of receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai; seven weeks after leaving the prison of Egypt.
On Passover, we’ve escaped imprisonment but Stockholm syndrome is still there. On Shavuot, we’ve been through a process of budding, blooming and blossoming so that we are ready to flower and receive the ultimate in Divine revelation.
The Omer process is more than just counting 49 days. Kabbalistically, there are seven distinct energies, or attributes, upon which the spiritual world is formed (and consequently, the physical world in its manifestation). They form the “Tree of Life”, the Ten Sefirot (the first three, of the intellectual nature, aren’t included in the seven we refer to here, but the total comprises ten).
The seven primary emotional sefirot, from Chesed (Love, Benevolence and Effusion) to Malchut (Manifestation, Communication, Sovereignty and Actualization) interact with one another to create forty nine permutations of every type of emotion, energy and behavior; from compassion to resentment to boundaries to co-creation.
Over the seven weeks, we move through each part of our body and soul to reach the ultimate state of integration between body and soul:
It begins with the heart:
From Chesed, opening the heart with effusion and benevolence...
To creating a boundary with Gevurah; allowing all the benevolence to be contained with discipline in order to manifest ultimate power...
Then fusing the two in harmony and balance with Tiferet; creating the ultimate in beauty by using compassion as the perfect medicine....
And then moves into the body:
From Netzach, digging deep to find personal triumphs and victories to achieve true stamina, endurance and everlasting steadfastness, on the right side....
To Hod, searching outside oneself with humility to acknowledge limitations and ask for help with gratitude, building glory and splendor with help from others on the left...
To fusing the two with Yesod; establishing a strong foundation that is unwavering and solid; bound and connected with others yet with its own independent sense of self; enabling the divine energy to channel forth with bonding and connection...
And finally, reaching true manifestation and actualization with Malchut, the regal nobility of an energy that is able to bestow, give and create outside of itself, communicating and manifesting to others the joys and bounty that has been created within...
Over this seven week period, every day brings new insights, new opportunities and new abilities to blossom, flower and grow as a person and among others in our communities.
And so we move from the Omer that we count into the Omer that we harvest; taking the fruits of the trees and bringing them to Jerusalem, as was traditional in ancient times and as we do today; by taking the fruits of our labours that hang on the trees and bring them to the Jerusalem of our hearts and minds; connecting to others and celebrating our victory to honor our efforts.
Perach: Blossom; flower; bloom. One letter different from the word for Passover, “Pesach”, yet infinitely different: While Pesach implies “passing over”, rising above what’s there in transcendence, the word Perach is about blooming, blossoming outward – transforming what’s already there.
The Jewish people journeyed 49 days to reach Mount Sinai, a mountain in the desert that was nondescript aside from its relative small size compared to the other mountains of the region. Yet our Sages tell us that the mountain blossomed and bloomed with beautiful flowers and lush greenery to give honor to the mountaintop that was soon to be the ultimate conduit for divine revelation on this planet earth.
Our relationship with earth as we blossom and flower is a somewhat challenging one. The Sages tell us the story of how during the ultimate revelation at Mount Sinai, as every soul and body in existence stood at the foot of the mountain; the Divine presence – God himself, not in manifestation but in real perception – came forward and lifted the mountain high in the sky, in a very dramatic Old Testament way announcing to the people, “Accept this teaching, or I will bury you here, under this mountain, today.”
Scholars of Torah grapple with the idea that it was possible for the people to accept the Torah without hesitation – after all, they LITERALLY had a mountain hanging over their heads! The idea of “Na’aseh V’Nishma”, “We will do, and we will listen”, the ultimate in acceptance of the Divine will, is somewhat lessened when we consider it was done under duress.
Yet I offer another explanation, one which answers to the way that revelation of Divinity at Mount Sinai was so tied up with the condition that it be revealed on this physical plane, on this earth.
You see, there are legends that teach of Moses first encounter with the angels when he ascended to the heavens in order to bring the Torah back down to the people on Mount Sinai, and the negative feedback he had from the locals over there.
“Moses is a mere mortal, how can he convey the ultimate in spiritual and natural teachings to a people who dwell below, in a desert – people who just a few short weeks ago were slaves steeped in the ultimate physical technological society? How can they digest these teachings, how dare they be the custodians?” the angels cried.
Moses was a man, and for the time he was up on Mount Sinai, he transcended mortality in order to be like the angels: No food, drink or human requirements. Yet by his presence, he reminded the angels: The Torah is not for the heavens. Divinity and revelation is not for the supernal realms, where all is already present and revealed: Divinity is for revelation in the lowest realms, it’s for going down to where the people sit, and giving them a chance to taste the lights of consciousness down below.
When the people stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, they felt the ultimate in Divine perceptive reality. They saw the thunder and heard the lightning – the text says – and so it was; genuinely perceiving every vibration that keeps this universe in existence, truly understanding the natural laws of this universe and the Divine force that propels it all.
So of course, being given the option of receiving a Book filled with the teachings of nature and harmony and spirituality seemed like a nice deal. Give us the instruction manual! They swooned. We get it! We want it!
But then came the mountain over their heads. God – the Divine – telling the people, “Listen, you guys. You want it? You’re going to have to earn it. And sometimes, there’s gonna be a mountain over your heads.”
“A lot of the time, you’re not going to feel so divine. You’re going to feel downright human, just like this here mountain. You’re going to feel the earth under your feet and you’re going to feel the breeze in your hair but you’re not going to recognize nature as the ultimate power and perceive your true consciousness: Instead, the earthiness of this reality is going to creep up on you and your televisions and horse races and fashion trends are going to mean a lot more to you than remembering that you are a Divine soul filled with love and light in this universe.”
“So are you up for it, people of Israel? Are you sure you can handle harnessing the Light that I’m showing you today, the Divinity and spirit that pervades this universe and bring it into the earthiness below? Can you make your materiality holy; can you infuse the sacred into the mundane?”
“After all, I’m showing you how today – you’ve felt what it’s like to have Divinity come down into physicality; but now the job is up to you – you’re going to have to bring the mundane all the way up to into Divinity.
I know you can do it, because I’ve paved the way to you today. But from here on, the job is yours. The mountain is over your heads – will you accept it?”
The answer is evident when we look at the world we live in, today. When we see those who do grapple with the mountain and choose to elevate it, those who have made conscious decisions to infuse every action with love, light and consciousness, rather than remain buried under the earthiness of the mountain.
Those who choose to blossom and flower, to undergo the journey of transformation and bear fruit like the tree of the field, who are harvesting the first fruits, today, as we greet the holiday of Shavuot.
Those who have taken even the most challenging of situations, the darkest of modern technological reality, and build light-filled movements and activities out of it, by redeeming the world with acts of goodness, kindness and love, healing the earth with beauty and compassion.
It’s these acts that remind us why we said “Na’aseh V’Nishma” “We will do, and we will hear”, all those years ago. That reminds us that by doing, by infusing, by co-creating, we can bring that Divinity back in here, and we can bring ourselves up to the highest plains of revelation and light.