Counting The Omer –
A Jewish End of Life Doula Perspective

Counting The Omer – A Jewish End of Life Doula’s Perspective
by Zoë Goldblatt
(Delivered to a national group of Jewish Doulas over Zoom on behalf of Shomer Collective, May 2, 2023)

We are in the period between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot where there’s a tradition called Counting the Omer. As a quick Hebrew lesson, the word Shavuot is the plural of Shavua, which means week. So “Shavuot” gives us a sense of time being parsed and measured. I’d like you to reflect on your work as a Doula through every part of this teaching.

Here, we might reflect on the days and weeks that are counted between diagnosis and prognosis, or between cancer treatments, or reflect on how families ask, “How much time does he have?”

The word “Omer” means “sheaf” as in a sheaf of grain. We were an agricultural people! At Passover, in ancient Israel, there was a harvest of Barley, and at Shavuot, there was a harvest of Wheat. So in ancient days, our people would count the weeks between the two harvests. Here again was a sense of marking the passing of time, by noticing how one crop ripens and withers, and another crop ripens in turn.

Seven weeks was the time period between the two harvests, 49 days. Supposedly, and perhaps conveniently, this was also the time period between the Liberation from Egypt and the Revelation of Torah at Mount Sinai. The Jewish people have continued to make meaning of this time period, even when we are so far away from harvesting grain and making offerings at the Temple. We’ve turned it into a meditative, spiritual practice.

Let’s continue relating this to our work as Doulas, and how the Counting of the Omer can be a spiritual practice for us. Each of the 49 days has symbolism attached to it; it’s a journey that we can take together.

How do we do this? Many Jews still follow a tradition that began with the 17th century Kabbalists. They took the seven weeks between Passover

and Shavuot as an opportunity to refine their study of the Sefirot –attributes of Godliness. They chose Seven of the Ten Sefirot to work with, because, you know, seven times seven is powerful. Attributes, qualities, emanations –all of these words are used synonymously for the Sefirot. What qualities, or attributes, do you bring to the work as a Doula?

This week’s Attribute is NETZACH. And for the seven days of this week, we examine the facets, or edges of NETZACH by seeing it through the lens of all seven sefirot, one for each day. Netzach is often translated as Eternal…Endurance…Perpetuity…Forever…Unchanging…but it also has some linguistic nuances that are quite fascinating: such as…the power to overcome. The power to defeat. Victory. That’s kind of weird, isn’t it?

Well, there’s something about Endurance that results in Triumph. Think of a trickle of water that eventually, over millenia, carves a channel through solid granite and becomes a waterfall. Think of a goal that seemed unattainable but you kept working at it until you claimed Victory. That’s what some people say about NETZACH. As Doulas, it makes me think of how at first, no one ever heard of an End of Life Doula. And now, suddenly it’s in every media outlet, a torrent of publicity and recognition.

Now listen to two more perspectives on Netzach: one is from Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi, of blessed memory, and this story was told by Reb Nadya Gross, who could not join us today. She gave me permission to share it with you. Reb Nadya says:

Netzach literally means perpetuity or everlastingness. I remember a conversation with Reb Zalman, where I expressed my judgment about the practice of naming spaces and whole buildings after donors, wondering aloud if they would give as much if they weren’t rewarded in that way. Reb Zalman looked at me with such loving concern and asked: “why would you want to inhibit their Netzach energy?”

That chastened me, Nadya says. At one time or another, don’t we all imagine living on in perpetuity? Netzach motivates authors, artists, civic and spiritual leaders, and so many other roles.

Thank you, Nadya.

Her story might remind you of some of your clients. We talk often about Legacy Projects. That is Netzach energy. The desire to Endure, to be Eternal, to Live on Forever in our deeds, our accomplishments. That’s what an Ethical Will is about! It’s about what we have overcome, and how we have triumphed, how we have endured.

Now, one more story about Netzach before we finish by Counting The Omer together. This story was told to me by my husband, Rabbi Dan Goldblatt. He said that when he was a young boy, his father taught him how to play chess. Game after game, week after week, month after month, his father beat him at chess. They continued to play and his father patiently explained the game, the strategies, and why and how he had won against Danny. Eventually, and inevitably, there came a day when little Danny won against his father. His father smiled, looked up at Heaven and declared, “Now I shall live forever.”

The moment that the child, or the student, outpaces their teacher, the teacher is guaranteed eternal life through the continuation of their wisdom in the next generation. This, too, relates to our work as Doulas. We acknowledge for our clients that there is a part of them that lives on past their death in all those whose lives they’ve touched. But we, too, acknowledge our place in becoming part of a lineage of Doulas reaching back to our ancient tribes. Our work is sacred, and nuanced, with many complex layers of meaning. Many qualities, Many attributes.

Let’s count the Omer for today together. Today, Tuesday, we are sitting in the contemplation of HOD sh’b’Netzach. This means, the Splendor, the

Glory of what is Eternal. So beautiful. We as Doulas know this better than anyone!


Let’s recite together:

“Today is twenty-six days, which is three weeks and five days of the Omer.”

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