Omer 43: Learning how to Learn

Omer 43: Learning how to Learn

Day 43: Chesed she’b’Shechinah, Love in Presence


Graduation photo of a gowned graduate smiling and enthusiastically shaking hands with a gowned academic official to illustrate a post about learning


אָבִֽינוּ הָאָב הָרַחֲמָן הַמְ֒רַחֵם רַחֵם עָלֵֽינוּ וְתֵן בְּלִבֵּֽנוּ לְהָבִין וּלְהַשְׂכִּיל לִשְׁמֹֽעַ לִלְמֹד וּלְ֒לַמֵּד לִשְׁמֹר וְלַעֲשׂוֹת וּלְקַיֵּם

Avinu, ha’av harachaman, hamerachem rachem aleynu. V’teyn bilibeinu l’havin u’l’haskil, lishmoa, lilmod, u’l’lamed, lishmor v’la’asot u’l’kayem…

Our Father, the Compassionate Principle, the Womb who births us, have compassion on us! Place into our hearts [the ability] to understand, to grasp with our minds, to listen, to learn, to teach, to hold precious, to do, and to establish…

(Shacharit morning prayer, translation mine)


Today I noticed another great resource for critical thinking in our tradition. And it is perfect for this day of the Omer, the day of Love in the Presence of Shechinah, the cosmic mother.

The resource is a short excerpt from the morning prayer service. It’s kind of a free-flowing poem called Ahavah Rabbah. “God,” it says, “You have loved us with a great love.” And then, it asks God for a specific gift of love.

Which face of God does Ahavah Rabbah address? The compassionate father-mother God. Look at the analysis! And then you’ll understand my translation above. Avinu means “our father.” But av can mean either “father” or “foundational principle.” Rechem means “womb.” Rachamim means compassion. So rachaman can mean “the compassionate one” or “the one with the womb.”

And what does Ahavah Rabbah ask of this compassionate father-mother presence? It asks for the gift of intellectual discernment. And not in a simple way! Rather, it names eight separate stages in understanding. Could it be that we don’t really know something until we’ve understood it, analyzed it, listened and learned from others about it, grasped it well enough to teach it, then to care about it, apply it in practice, and establish it as a habit of thought?

But who teaches us to do all of these things? If we’re lucky, maybe a mother or father was patient with us. A parent or an elder guided us in emotional and intellectual development. Or maybe we had to learn it ourselves. Maybe we are still learning how to learn. How to respond to changing times, people unlike ourselves, or our own difficult emotions. Maybe we are frustrated with ourselves. “Ugh,” we exclaim. “Why am I such a slow learner!?”

Maybe the author of Ahavah Rabbah was frustrated. So, maybe they wanted someone to be patient with them. To guide them to a deeper understanding. Even if that someone was just a felt Presence or an inner witness.


GOD: Do you imagine or experience God as a teacher? A guide?

FEELING: Do you feel God’s presence when you learn? If so, around what kinds of learning? And what does it feel like?

PRACTICE: When you are learning something challenging, do you find it helpful to break your learning into steps? How do you find the self-awareness to do so?

THINKING: Do you think that learning has the eight stages Ahavah Rabbah names? Can you think of a time when you went through all eight stages?

New to the Omer? Here’s a short guide to the theory and practice. And here’s a resource for counting every day.

Image: Richard Topping and Nirmalya Das at VST graduation, by LDK.

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