Av is the Moon of Endings & Beginnings (July/August)
Av is a month for us to tear down our walls, both physical and emotional, challenge what we believe we need to thrive, and get ready to do the work of beginning again.
Middah & Netivah
- Ometz Lev (עמץ לב) Courage/Strong Heart
- Chachamah (חכמה) Wise Woman
- Shazor (שזור) Interconnection/interwoven
- Anavah (ענוה) humility
- Sh’vat (Jan/Feb)
- Ahavah (אהבה) Love
- Ohevet (אוהבת) Lover
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Ometz Lev (אמץ לב) Courage
Av is the Moon of Beginnings and Endings in my naming of the moons. This is the month where we have our communal day of mourning on the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av) that commemorates the fall of the Temple and a variety of other moments of painful cataclysmic changes to the Jewish people over several millennia. After a few days of healing, we are presented with the holiday of Tu B’Av which celebrates the ancient grape harvest and was a time when young women would wear borrowed white dresses and dance, frolic, and partner up with young men or desired partner of any gender.
In the teachings of Kohenet, Av is the month of the Chochamah (חכמה) Wise Woman netivah – archetype or pathway of the Divine. At times of great change we both need to be open to wisdom and they are times where we have the opportunity to gain wisdom. It both takes courage to be wise and open to wisdom of others and being courageous also requires wisdom. You have to know when to be afraid and when to not let that fear stop you. And love – well that is total courage because you are opening your heart to someone and risking being hurt.
Proverbs 8:1-4 & 14
הֲלֹֽא־חָכְמָ֥ה תִקְרָ֑א וּ֝תְבוּנָ֗ה תִּתֵּ֥ן קוֹלָֽהּ׃בְּרֹאשׁ־מְרוֹמִ֥ים עֲלֵי־דָ֑רֶךְ בֵּ֖ית נְתִיב֣וֹת נִצָּֽבָה׃לְיַד־שְׁעָרִ֥ים לְפִי־קָ֑רֶת מְב֖וֹא פְתָחִ֣ים תָּרֹֽנָּהאֲלֵיכֶ֣ם אִישִׁ֣ים אֶקְרָ֑א וְ֝קוֹלִ֗י אֶל־בְּנֵ֥י אָדָֽם׃לִֽי־עֵ֭צָה וְתוּשִׁיָּ֑ה אֲנִ֥י בִ֝ינָ֗ה לִ֣י גְבוּרָֽה׃
It is Wisdom calling, Understanding raising her voice.She takes her stand at the topmost heights, By the wayside, at the crossroads, near the gates at the city entrance; At the entryways, she shouts, O men, I call to you; My cry is to all mankind…Mine are counsel and resourcefulness; I am understanding; courage is mine.
Bringing the wise into your home takes courage, for they will challenge all you hold dear. (R’Rami Shapiro commentary on Pirkei Avot 1:4)
You’ll read everywhere that the heart in Jewish thought is not just a seat of emotion, but also wisdom. Ometz Lev isn’t about the absence of fear, it’s about doing what needs to be done – even when you are afraid. Having a strong heart might be the point of all mussar practice. We practice, so that when the time comes we have the strength. The heart is a muscle, so by strengthening it both physically and spiritually we are ready for what comes.
What stands in the way of doing the right thing? It’s not fear – it’s a weak heart. We’re all afraid of something. If you’re not then you might want to work on anavah (ענוה) humility. Being fearless isn’t something to praise – if you are fearless then there’s no behirah (choice)moment – remember those? Behirah moments are when you find out how much you’ve grown spiritually – when you are confronted with a difficult moment and have to actually make a choice.
Never backward – always forward. Forward. Always. (Luke Cage, Marvel Comics)
A teaching I love is that being courageous, having a strong heart, being willing to move forward through your fear, actually increases individual and collective options. In Mussar Yoga: Blending an Ancient Jewish Spiritual Practice with Yoga to Transform Body and Soul, Edith Brotman reminds us about the midrash (story between the lines) told about the Exodus; that the sea didn’t part until one man, Nachshon showed ometz lev and stepped into the sea up to his neck. Seeing his options, maybe he just figured it was worth checking how deep the water really was, instead of just standing on the shore waiting for the Egyptian army to come. His action didn’t just save himself, either, it expanded the options for everyone.
Another example that isn’t cited often — but I think should be — are the Daughters of Tzelafchad: Mahlah, Noa, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah. These five women are named three times in the Torah (Numbers 26:33, 27:1 & 36:11) and again in the book of Joshua (17:3). Think about how few woman are named even one time. These sisters did not have any brothers so couldn’t inherit any land. They had the courage to stand before Moses and say this isn’t right, and the law was changed by Divine decree.
Courage expands possibilities in the face of seemingly limited options. (Edith Brotman, as found in Mussar Yoga)
Neither the Mussar teachers (or I) are encouraging reckless behavior, but sometimes we need to push through fear to do what’s right – to create new options for ourselves and others. Just think about how many people use fear to limit our options and control us. Imagine what might happen in more people acted with ometz lev. And remember, sometimes the most courageous action is to stand still. Maybe rushing in is the right action, but maybe standing witness is your way of practicing ometz lev.
We shall be known by the company we keep, by the ones who circle round tend these fires. (MaMuse)
As we explore the soul-trait of ometz lev it is also important to explore who we choose surround ourselves with. Do the people in your life help strengthen your heart? Do the people in your life help you act with ometz lev? Do you listen to people who expand possibilities for yourself and others? Does the art and popular culture that you take in inspire you to be bold and push through fear?
You are not alone in all of this, and behirah moment here — are you willing to walk away or speak up when those around you act out of fear and limit you or others? This is not about recklessness. Sometimes limits are helpful, but do they help you find new possibilities while helping you see those limits or just shut you down? Surround yourself with people who are truly going to help you be the best person you can be. As it is taught in Pirkei Avot 1:4: “Make your home a meeting place for the wise; sit in the dust of their feet; and drink in their wisdom thirstily.” (Translation, Rami Shapiro – Ethics of the Sages)
True courage consists of seizing the hand of one about to fall or lifting someone who has already fallen. (Rabbi Marc Margolis)
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At this moment in time:
- What parts of you feel weak and/or vulnerable? (Mental, physical, financial, etc)
- What are you afraid of? (Seriously, go for it – what scares you)
- What are risks worth taking?
- When have you taken a risk and it worked out?
- When have you not taken the risk? What happened?
- Who/what helps you feel and behave with ometz lev?
- Who/what triggers you to feel and behave without ometz lev?
- What tools/skills/supports can you build to help you live a more courageous life?
- Which Netivah would you work with to be more courageous?
- Mine are counsel and resourcefulness; I am understanding; courage is mine. (Proverbs 8:14)
- Bringing the wise into your home takes courage, for they will challenge all you hold dear. (R’Rami Shapiro commentary on Pirkei Avot 1:4)
- Courage expands possibilities in the face of seemingly limited options. (Edith Brotman, as found in Mussar Yoga)
- Cultivating ometz lev means applying our energy to protect and stand up for those who are at risk, including ourselves. We practice ometz lev whenever we leave our comfort zone, take an unpopular stand, expose our vulnerabilities, speak the truth, confront others, risk embarrassment or personal loss, or intervene on behalf of those unable to do so for themselves. (Rabbi Marc Margolis)
- Shekinah, may all of us find the courage to stop doing and to just be. May we find strength to trust in love, rather than rely on production. May You gently drape Your healing wings over all who suffer, in body, mind, or spirit in this time of turmoil and pandemic. May our stillness be a channel of being between You and us. Amen. (Kohenet Claudia Hall)
- The wise-woman-priestess meets us at the crossroads and illuminates the way. She shepherds us through initiations in which we begin familiar to ourselves, we enter the mystery and we emerge transformed. (The Hebrew Priestess by Rav Kohenet Rabbi Jill Hammer and Rav Kohenet Taya Ma)
- Courage Expands Possibilities.
- Illuminate the Way.
- Serve and Guide the Sacred.
- Learn and Teach Ancestral Wisdom.
from the Eht/Aht: a netivot wisdom oracle
- Explore twisting postures and how to find ease and expansion in them as you breath – even when your lungs may feel constricted.
- Notice any moments in your day/week/month where you find yourself making decisions out of fear and pause to see if you can push through — nothing reckless — just where you can find the courage to push through fear and expand an opportunity for yourself or others.
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