Counting the omer and our (rabbinical) blessings

Counting the omer and our (rabbinical) blessings

During these seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot, Jewish tradition has us count each day, recalling the daily offering of an omer of barley (about four liters) in the Temple.

In recent years, a kabbalistic interpretation of the omer count has come to the fore, in which each day and each week corresponds to one of seven different Sefirot, God’s mystical aspects. In this interpretation, each attribute – even apparently opposites such as chesed, kindness, and gevurah, severity – has its place.

One doesn’t have to be a full-fledged kabbalist to find wisdom in this approach, which can even be applied to American Jewry’s newest springtime numerical ritual: the list of 50 “top” rabbis drawn up, since 2007, by Newsweek.

Heading the chart is Rabbi Yehuda Krinsky of Chabad for representing “the fastest-growing denomination of Judaism.” The list provides brief portraits of rabbis, some well known to readers of this paper, others not.

(The full list is at; to look further and explore the works of those who have published books, visit

We’ve read the objections to the rankings over the years. That the list is arbitrary goes without saying and the implied claim of numeric exactitude is of course absurd. One can argue with the stated goal of the list – “influence” – and the rough algorithm by which it is calculated. And certainly it was irresponsible for Newsweek not to link to its own reporting that Yehuda Berg of the Kabbalah Centre (#37) is not only a celebrity magnet but a fraudster.

Many of these arguments, though, are inherent to the linear structure of lists themselves.

We prefer to take a more nuanced, and dare we say kabbalistic, view.

Each of these 50 rabbis – including Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a columnist for this newspaper – illuminate our American Jewish community. They do so in different ways, through different paths, and with different beliefs. Some are our personal teachers, or our teachers’ teachers; others lead paths we have firmly rejected. Some have battled each other over which interpretation of Torah is correct.

But each, and this we believe strongly, has something to teach us. In the words of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, “All opposites come from a common root in the divine light.” In presenting 50 different refractions of what it is to be an influential rabbi – Krinsky of Chabad and Orthodox newcomer Rabbi Herschel Schachter, Rabbis David Wolpe, Richard Jacobs, and Arthur Green of the liberal streams, and their 45 fellows – Newsweek has given us something to think about during these numbered days.

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