Holidays An Introduction: Caring for One Another

By Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld
leadership, learning, love banner

teacher sitting in a chairI’m Rabbi Sharon Cohen Anisfeld, president of Hebrew College, and I’m so pleased to share with you this second installment in our spring series on
Leadership, Learning, and Love.

The focus of this week’s installment is hesed, or loving kindness. We’ve chosen this theme in honor of the first week of the period of the Counting of the Omer, and in honor of the many ways in which members of our community are responding to the profound challenges of this moment with large and small acts of loving kindness.

I’ve been thinking recently about a vivid memory from when I was in labor with my first child: I don’t remember exactly what stage we were at, but, unexpectedly, through a haze of pain and fear, I remember my midwife saying to me: “Don’t forget to be kind to your husband.”

My first reaction was indignation. Wait, what?!? I should be kind to him? Have you noticed that I am the one writhing in pain here? Might this be an appropriate time for us to focus on me?

My next reaction was as surprising as it was swift. An enormous sense of relief came over me. I suddenly felt anchored, steadied by this claim being made upon me, even as I was tossed about on the chaotic waves of pain that kept overtaking my body.

Immediately, I understood. Even then. She is focused on me. She’s not telling me this for my husband’s sake; she’s telling me for my own. I can still her voice, gently reminding me: you are still here, with us, in the same moral universe, with the same obligations to be decent and kind to the people around you, especially to those closest to you.

It is there, in our most intimate relationships after all, that the small unkindnesses can come so easily, and can exact the greatest toll. I don’t think there was anything she could have said in that moment that would have done more to help orient and calm me.

I think back to that moment now. As we start our journey from Passover to Shavuot, from Egypt to Sinai. As we begin the daily practice of counting the Omer. As we take our first steps into the wilderness, into the uncertain and unknown expanse before us.

This year especially, it is not hard to imagine how frightened our ancestors must have been, how profoundly unmoored they must have felt. Perhaps that is why our tradition tells us to start this journey in hesed, in kindness, in love. With so much that feels chaotic and uncertain all around and ahead of us perhaps we can hear the Omer beckoning us forward this year like a midwife’s gentle whisper: don’t forget to be kind to each other.

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