Omer Calendar of Biblical Women
The Counting of the Omer is a ritual of counting the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot and lending meaning to each day. This is an excerpt from the Omer Calendar of Biblical Women by Rabbi Jill Hammer, in which each of the forty-nine days has a biblical woman associated with it. The entire calendar can be found at www.ritualwell.org.
The counting of the Omer, which spans the forty-nine days from Passover to Shavuot, stems from the biblical commandment to set aside one sheaf of barley on each of forty-nine days between the two spring festivals, and then to offer the barley as a sacrifice on Shavuot. After the destruction of the Temple, the command became simply to count the days sequentially: Today is one day of the Omer, today is two days of the Omer… today is one week and one day, that is eight days of the Omer, and so forth.
Over time the Omer became a period of mourning because of tragedies that occurred during that time, including the death of many of the talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva’s students. The Omer also represents the link between Passover and Shavuot— the wandering in the wilderness between freedom and revelation. The meaning of the Omer has changed, but the mystery of it is still fascinating. My own interest in the Omer began when I learned about it in college— why simply count numbers as a way to serve God? This Omer calendar of forty-nine biblical women is one way in which I have begun to answer that question.
Why associate particular women with days of the Omer? Jewish mystics imagined God as having multiple faces or attributes called sefirot, including chesed (love or expansiveness), gevurah (strength, severity, or judgment), tiferet (beauty, balance or compassion), and so forth. The mythic characters of the Bible represent these attributes— for example, Abraham represents chesed, while Rachel represents malchut (majesty, and the presence of the indwelling feminine face of God known as the Shekhinah).
Some Jews who studied the kabbalistic system, particularly Jews interested in musar or the refinement of moral character, saw the counting of the Omer as a way to meditate on seven of these sefirot and include them in one’s own life.
Each of the weeks of the Omer represents one of these seven attributes. More particularly, each day within a week represents a combination of that week’s attribute with another one. For example, the first week of the Omer represents chesed. The first day is chesed shebechesed (love within love), while the second day is gevurah shebechesed (strength within love) and the third is tiferet shebe’chesed (compassion within love) and so forth. The eighth day begins the second week, the week of gevurah, and the first day of that week is chesed shebegevurah, love within strength. The cycle continues onward through the weeks until the last week, which represents malchut— the forty-third day of the Omer is chesed shebemalchut, the forty-fourth is gevurah shebe’malchut, and the final forty-ninth day is malchut shebe’malchut.
One way to refine in oneself the qualities of the sefirot is to meditate on an individual who has those qualities. The traditional kabbalistic system assigns male biblical characters to the sefirot, but not many female characters. Yet we are all made in the image of God, male and female. One modern understanding of spirituality is that each of us embodies the Divine in a unique way. Through understanding that God appears in many different faces, we can move beyond the idea that God is only one thing—only a father, only a king, only male— and come to understand that God moves through our world in multiple ways.
This calendar offers one biblical woman for each of the forty-nine days of the omer. It is meant both to teach about the women of the Bible and to honor the Shekhinah in every woman. My prayer is that this calendar will help women recognize God in themselves and help men recognize the feminine in their lives.
The Blessing over Counting the Omer:
Baruch ata adonai, eloheinu melekh ha’olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetizvanu al sefirat ha’omer.
Beruchah at yah, eloheinu ruach haolam, asher kidshatnu bemitzvoteha vetizvatnu al sefirat ha’omer.
Blessed are You, God, Ruler/Spirit of the Universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments and commanded us to count the Omer.
First Week: Chesed/Love
1. Chesed shebeChesed
Love within Love
During the Exodus, the Shekhinah, the Divine presence, hovers above Israel in pillars of cloud and fire. Later, in the wilderness, the Shekhinah gives Israel manna to eat and water to drink, and appears on Mount Sinai to give them Torah. Throughout history the Shekhinah is Israel’s defender and nurturer, hovering over them when they pray and accompanying them when they go into exile. She appears in the renewal of the new moon, in the study of Torah, in the peace of the Sabbath. The Shekhinah is the essence of pure love and generosity, and it is proper to begin and end the counting of the Omer with her.
2. Gevurah shebeChesed
Strength within Love
Miriam (Exodus 2, 15:20-21, Num. 12, 20:1-13)
Miriam watches over her brother Moses on the shores of the Sea of Reeds, and convinces an Egyptian princess to save her brother. Legend says that Miriam is a midwife to the Hebrews, lovingly coaxing each baby’s first breath. She defies Pharaoh in order to save innocent infants. As she crosses the sea to freedom, she shows her bravery by raising her voice in song even while the sea is crashing down. According to a midrash, a well of water follows Miriam in the desert so that all may drink from it, for Miriam is a giver of life and strength.
Miriam’s chesed is tempered by gevurah: judgment and limitation. She criticizes Moses for not honoring her leadership of the people, and God punishes her with leprosy. She spends seven days and nights outside the camp, until she is healed and readmitted. Years later, Miriam dies in the wilderness, and her well disappears, but the mystics tell us that in every generation it returns to her people to heal them. When we consider Miriam, we know that to love well we must love with courage and determination. This is the meaning of gevurah shebe’chesed.
3. Tiferet shebeChesed
Compassion within Love
The Attendant to Naaman’s Wife (II Kings 5)
Some characters in the Bible pass so fleetingly that we almost miss them, like this young servant girl. In the book of Kings, an Israelite girl is captured as a slave and made to serve the wife of an Aramean commander. The enemy commander, like Miriam, is afflicted with leprosy. The Israelite girl, who is given no name, knows of a prophet, Elisha, who can perform miracles. She says to her mistress: “I wish Master could come before the prophet in Samaria and be healed!” She shows compassion for a man who has enslaved her and made war on her people.
The commander, Naaman, takes the little girl seriously and goes to the prophet Elisha, who orders him to bathe in the river. At first, Naaman refuses, but eventually he does what Elisha suggests and is cured. One can hope that Naaman shows his gratitude by freeing his slave, whose great love of human beings leads her to compassion. We feel the tiferet shebe’chesed of Naaman’s servant when we use our deep wellsprings of love to speak with compassion.
4. Netzach shebeChesed
Endurance within Love
Yocheved (Exodus 2)
Moses’ mother, Yocheved, loves her newborn son so much that she hides him from Pharaoh for three months. When she can no longer hide him, she weaves a basket and sets the baby boy afloat in the Nile. Yocheved’s love is strengthened by netzach— the faith that she can overcome any obstacle.
Her plan works. An Egyptian princess hands Yocheved her baby and tells her to nurse the child until it is older, when it will be brought to the palace. Imagine the astonishment and triumph of that moment! This is netzach shebechesed—love’s power to create extraordinary possibilities. Yocheved’s love created and nurtured what the prophet Micah calls “the three leaders of Israel”— Moses, Aaron, and Miriam. We engage in Yocheved’s netzach shebe’chesed when we believe in the power of our love.
5. Hod shebeChesed
Glory within Love
The Mother in Solomon’s Trial
Two women, prostitutes, bring a case before King Solomon. One woman tells him: “This woman and I live in the same house, and I gave birth to a child while she was in the house… This woman also gave birth to a child… During the night this woman lay on her child and it died. She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I was sleeping, and laid him in her bosom, and she laid her dead son in my bosom. When I arose in the morning to nurse my son, there he was, dead, but when I examined him in the morning light, it was not the son that I had borne.” The other woman denies the story, saying that the living child is hers. Solomon proclaims that his judgment is that both the dead child and the living one shall be divided with half of each child given to each mother. One woman— it’s not clear who— cries, “Give her the live child, and do not kill it!” The other woman callously insists, “The child shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” Solomon declares that the live child shall be given to the woman who was willing to give it up, “for she is its mother.”
Hod, glory, is sometimes explained as “yielding.” The mother in this story shows chesed toward her child because she is willing to yield it so that it may live. We act in her spirit of hod shebe’chesed when we act in the true best interest of those we love, even when it is most difficult.
6. Yesod shebeChesed
Connection within Love
Serach bat Asher
Serach is mentioned only twice in the Bible as the daughter of Jacob’s son Asher. Yet many legends were told about her. The most prominent of these was that she was granted eternal life because of her kindness to her grandfather Jacob. When the brothers of Joseph learned that Joseph was alive, they were afraid the news would kill their aging father. They asked the wise Serach to tell Jacob. Serach took a harp and sang the news to Jacob in rhyme while he was praying. Jacob exclaimed: “May the mouth that told me these words never taste death!” And so Serach, because of her chesed, lived forever.
It was Serach who confirmed for the Israelites that Moses was their redeemer, by remembering the words of promise and redemption that her father had taught her generations before. And it was Serach who, when it came time for the Exodus, showed Moses where to find Joseph’s bones, for the Israelites had promised to carry those bones out of Egypt when they were redeemed. There is a legend that in the time of the Talmud, Serach poked her head in the window of a study hall and told the Talmudic rabbis that the walls of the Sea looked like clear mirrors in which Israel saw all their generations reflected. Serach’s yesod shebe’chesed shows us how to connect one generation to another, keeping links of hope and promise alive.
7. Malchut shebe’Chesed
Majesty within Love
The Shunnamite (II Kings 4:8-37)
The Shunammite, a woman of the town of Shunem, is a benefactor of the prophet Elisha. She suggests to her husband that they build Elisha a chamber on their roof so that he has somewhere to stay. Elisha is grateful to her and asks her how he can help her, but her regal reply is: “I live among my own people.” She represents malkhut shebe’chesed— she does lovingkindness out of a sense of abundance and majesty.
Elisha knows that the Shunnamite has no child, and he prays for her to become pregnant. The child is born, but one day he is out in the field with his father and he develops sunstroke. He runs back to his mother, becomes ill, and dies on her lap. The Shunnamite runs to Elisha and bows before him, yet she does not plead for her child. She only says: “Did I not say to you: Don’t delude me?” Elisha goes to the home of the Shunammite and lies face down upon the child “until it revives. Without a word, the Shunammite bows, takes up her child, and departs.
The Shunammite‘s chesed is always full of malkhut: she never asks anything for herself, and her gratitude is dignified and calm. We take in the Shunammite’s chesed shebemalkhut when we give and receive love gracefully.
Gevurah/Strength or Judgment
8. Chesed shebe’gevurah
Love within Strength
Eve (Chava) Genesis 2-4
Eve is a new creature, dwelling in a perfect garden full of fruits of all kind, but she and her male partner have been limited in one way: they are forbidden to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. When Eve disobeys God and eats the forbidden fruit, she and Adam are punished with mortality and exile. Yet the fruit Eve picks also gives her wisdom and self-knowledge. All the humans that ever come to exist are born because of Eve’s decision to disobey God. Out of the gevurah, the judgment, that God decrees comes the chesed, the ongoing expansion of the generations that descend from Adam and Eve.
Eve’s life continues to hold limitations. She has to work hard for her living and suffers pain in childbirth. Her second-born son is murdered by her first-born son. Yet she does not give up the potential for love. She goes on to have another child, and she names him Seth, meaning foundation or gift. She is able to feel love and gratitude in spite of what she has suffered. Chesed shebe’gevurah is the knowledge that our lives are limited, finite vessels, but they are still full of love.
9. Gevurah shebeGevurah
Strength within Strength
Vashti (Esther 1)
Vashti is the queen of Persia. During a celebration, she and her husband throw separate feasts; he for the men, she for the women. The king’s feast becomes drunk and rowdy, and culminates in the king ordering Vashti to come and dance before him and his guests. One legend says that he wants her to dance wearing only her royal crown! Vashti refuses the king’s request, saying that she will not come to his feast to dance.
As a result, Vashti is deposed, and the stage is set for a Jewish girl named Esther to become queen and save her people. Vashti disappears from the story, whether because she is executed, exiled, or simply engulfed by the walls of the harem. The king then legislates that all women obey their husbands, afraid of the power of a wife who disagrees with her spouse. But Vashti’s “No” cannot simply disappear, for Vashti demonstrates the true meaning of gevurah— strength, justice, and the willingness to impose limits. She is gevurah’s essence— strength within strength, the inner will that allows us to say “no” to something that hurts or degrades.
10. Tiferet shebeGevurah
Compassion within Strength
Deborah (Devorah) (Judges 4-5)
Deborah is the only woman judge to be mentioned in the book of Judges. She sits under her palm tree and dispenses judgment to the tribes of Israel. Deborah appoints Barak general and commands him to prepare for battle against the enemy general Sisera. When he hedges, saying that he will not go to war unless Deborah goes with him, her answer is severe: “I will go with you, but there will be no glory (tiferet) for you in the path you are walking, for God will deliver Sisera into the hands of a woman.” The glory will not be Barak’s— it will belong to Deborah, and to her counterpart Yael, a nomad woman who kills Sisera with a tent peg.
When Deborah sings her song of triumph over Sisera, she tells the story of the mother of Sisera, who waits behind her window for her son to come home.
Deborah embodies tiferet shebe’gevurah— compassion and balance even in the midst of judgment. We are most like her when we show strength but also empathy, allowing ourselves to see others’ point of view in addition to our own.
11. Netzach shebeGevurah
Endurance within Strength
Dinah (Genesis 30:21; 34)
Dinah, daughter of Jacob and Leah, is named “judgment.” Dinah is born into a world of limitation, of gevurah, simply because she is a girl. When Dinah grows up, the severity of her world becomes even more apparent. She is raped by a local prince, and her brothers slaughter an entire town to avenge her rape. One ancient midrash even claims that Dinah is forced to give up the child she bears as a result of the rape (see Asnat, day 19).
The Bible does not give Dinah a voice to tell of her experience. Yet Dinah’s spirit has somehow survived. Though Jacob gives Dinah no blessing and Moses gives her descendants no tribe, Jewish women can acknowledge one another as Dinah’s lost tribe. We ourselves can give Dinah a voice. We can imagine that Dinah found the persevering strength, the netzach shebe’gevurah, to go past her victimhood and become truly free. We are most like Dinah when we find a voice to speak of our tragedies, and transcend them.
12. Hod shebeGevurah
Glory within Strength
Yemima, Ketziah, and Keren-happuch, Job’s daughters (Book of Job 42:14-15)
Job is afflicted with troubles, including the loss of his seven sons and three daughters. He cries out to God, demanding to know the reason for his suffering. Finally, God answers, telling Job that God’s knowledge is too great for him to understand. Yet because of Job’s questioning, God rewards him with riches and health, as well as seven new sons and three new daughters called Yemima (Bright Day), Ketziah (Cassia Tree), and Keren-happuch (Horn of Eyeshadow). Unlike other daughters in the Bible, who have no inheritance if they have brothers, Yemima, Ketziah, and Keren-happuch receive land from their father equally with their brothers.
While they cannot replace Job’s children who died, Job’s daughters are a sign that new life is possible. The land they receive from their father is a sign of their ability to pursue their own destinies. This day of the Omer is Yom haShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, and Yemima, Ketziah, and Keren-happuch bring new hope to this day of mourning. We most embody the hod shebe’gevurah, the beauty within harshness, of Yemima, Ketziah, and Keren-happuch when we are able to begin again after tragedy.
13. Yesod she beGevurah
Connectivity Within Strength
She’ilah/Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11)
A rash and foolish judge of Israel, Jephthah, eager to win a battle against his enemies, promises that he will sacrifice to God the first creature that comes from his doorway to greet him when he arrives home after the battle. But the one who greets him at his doorway is his daughter, dancing and playing the timbrel to celebrate his victory. “You have become my troubler!” Jephthah wails at her, failing to acknowledge that it is he, her father, who has become her troubler.
Jephthah does sacrifice his daughter. Yet before he does so, she extracts a promise from him that she may go to the hills for three months to mourn with her friends. Even after her sacrifice, her friends continue to gather for four days in the year to sing songs in memory of her. The rabbis of the Talmud call Jephthah’s daughter She’ilah (questioner) and depict her as a brilliant woman who makes many arguments as to why she should be saved, all to no avail. Yet she is able to reach out to women in her life who love her, friends who understand the pain she feels. She’ilah represents yesod shebe’gevurah— she connects even in spite of harsh judgment. She creates relationships that surpass the limitations of her own life. We can remember She’ilah in our own lives when we establish families and friendships that remain strong even in hard times.
14. Malchut shebeGevurah
Majesty within Strength
Leah/Jacob’s Wife (Genesis 29-32)
Leah is the elder of two daughters of the shepherd Laban. Her younger sister Rachel is more beautiful than she— Rachel is lovely of form and appearance, while Leah has soft, weak eyes. The young shepherd Jacob falls in love with Rachel and serves seven years as payment for her hand. But on their wedding night, Laban tricks Jacob and substitutes Leah as the bride. Jacob is outraged and demands Rachel as well, but the deed is done. Leah remains Jacob’s wife.
Though Leah is unloved, she is not without resources. She is fertile and bears many children. As she bears children she names them and expresses her feelings through the names. In some names Leah expresses her desire for love. For example, when her first son Reuven is born, she says: “The Lord has seen my affliction; now my husband will love me.” Yet as Leah grows older, she finds contentment and pride in her own life. When her concubines’ son Asher is born, she says: “Women will call me happy.” Leah becomes, in the words of a traditional midrash, “a master of praise,” who finds goodness in her life and does good for others. In the Zohar, Leah represents the “upper mother,” Binah, the divine womb from which life and understanding flow.
In spite of the painful reality of living with a jealous sister and a man who does not love her, Leah finds the dignity of gratitude and independence. We demonstrate Leah’s malkhut shebe’gevurah, her majesty of strength, when we learn to live not only for those we want to love us, but for the goodness and godliness within ourselves.
Tiferet— Compassion, Balance, Beauty, Truth
15. Chesed shebeTiferet
Love within Compassion
Shifrah and Puah
Shifrah and Puah are two hardworking midwives who help Hebrew slaves deliver babies in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh commands them to kill every Hebrew baby boy they deliver, while letting the girls live. Shifrah and Puah show compassion to the Hebrew mothers and their children, and they do not kill the male babies. Because of the compassion they show, God rewards them. The book of exodus says: “God built them houses.” This may mean they bore many children. Or, one modern interpretation of this verse is that God made schools of midwifery for them so that they could pass on their heroic values!
Some traditional legends say that Shifrah and Puah are Yocheved and Miriam, the mother and sister of Moses. Other sources, both ancient and modern, imagine Shifrah and Puah as Egyptian women who believe in righteousness and who act to preserve the lives of others because it is the right thing to do. They are truly exemplars of chesed shebe’tiferet, and we are like them when they do acts of love born from compassion. The day of chesed shebe’tiferet is also Rosh Chodesh, the new moon. The new moon is a symbol of rebirth— appropriate to two midwives who help to birth the Hebrew slaves into a free people.
16. Gevurah shebeTiferet
Strength within Compassion
Idit/Lot's wife (Genesis 19)
Abraham's nephew, Lot, lives with his wife in the city of Sodom. They have four daughters -- two are married and living with their husbands, and two still live at home. Lot has chosen Sodom as a place to live because it is rich and fertile, but Sodom is known for its evil ways. God decides to destroy Sodom, and sends two angels to save Lot and his family. A mob gathers around Lot's house, threatening to sexually attack Lot's visitors. Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the mob as a substitute. The angels save the girls, and demand that Lot and his family leave the city immediately without looking back. As Lot, his wife, and his two remaining daughters leave Sodom, Lot's wife looks back toward the burning city and is turned into a pillar of salt.
Why does Lot's wife turn to salt? One ancient interpretation suggests she looked back in order to see if her married daughters were following her. Her looking back was not an act of disobedience but of compassion. Rabbi Cynthia A. Culpepper in The Women's Torah Commentary adds that in the Bible, a pillar is often a memorial. By turning back, Lot's wife makes herself a memorial pillar to her two daughters who have died, and a witness of the past to her living daughters. The midrashic name given to Lot's wife is Idit, which means “witness.” We bring Idit into our lives when we have the courageous compassion, the gevurah shebetiferet, to bear witness to the pain of others.
17. Tiferet shebeTiferet
Compassion within Compassion
Hannah (I Sam. 1-2)
Hannah is barren. Although her husband loves her, her husband's second wife torments her because of her infertility. Hannah goes to the shrine of the Tabernacle and prays for a son, promising that if she becomes pregnant with a son she will dedicate him to the Tabernacle. The priest Eli observes her lips move and thinks she is a drunkard. She protests that she is not drunk; she is a troubled woman who is speaking to God in her heart. Eli blesses her, and soon afterward she gives birth to a son, Samuel, whom she dedicates to the Tabernacle as soon as he is weaned. Every year from then on, Hannah makes a pilgrimage and brings Samuel a new coat that she has made.
Tiferet is the sefirah of the heart, and Hannah speaks to God in her heart, telling God of her desire to have a child. When confronted by someone who does not value her prayer because it is not public, she defends herself, knowing that God hears even the most private of prayers. It is appropriate that Hannah represent tiferet shebetiferet, the essence of compassion, the depths of the heart. We embody Hannah when we express the true desires of our heart, asking for the compassion of the Divine and of human beings.
18. Netzach shebeTiferet
Endurance within Compassion
Widow of a Prophet (II Kings 4:1-7)
One Elisha story in the book of Kings tells of the widow of a certain "son of the prophets." According to rabbinic midrash, she is the wife of Obadiah, who saved the lives of many prophets of God. This widow comes to Elisha to tell him that a creditor is about to seize her children as slaves. Elisha's first question is: "What do you have in the house?" She informs him that she has nothing but a jug of oil. He tells her to borrow many vessels from her neighbors. Then she is to shut herself and her children in her home and pour the oil into these vessels until they are all filled. The widow does this, and miraculously, she has enough oil to fill all the vessels (this is clearly a precursor to the Chanukah story)! She sells the oil to pays her bills, and she and her children live on the rest of the money.
Obadiah's widow trusts in the prophet Elisha, but he tells her that the miracle is in her own hands. She cannot save her children unless she is willing to ask for help from her neighbors, willing to keep pouring as long as there is an empty vessel. The miracle of compassion occurs as a result of her own perseverance. We best imitate Obadiah's widow and her sefirah of netzach shebetiferet when we are willing to work to bring about miracles.
19. Hod shebeTiferet
The Glory Within Compassion
Asnat (Gen. 41:44-52)
Asnat, the wife of Joseph, is the daughter of the Egyptian priest of On. According to one midrash, Asnat is the daughter of Dinah (see day 11), conceived when Dinah is raped, and Dinah's brothers want to kill her. Jacob puts an amulet around Asnat's neck that says “Holy to the Lord.” The angel Gabriel comes and takes her to Egypt. When Joseph is sold into slavery, he ends up in the house where Asnat has been raised. In one midrash, while Egyptian women are throwing jewelry at Joseph in honor of his beauty, Asnat throws Joseph her amulet, and he recognizes her secret identity. When Joseph becomes Pharaoh's advisor, he asks for Asnat as his wife. Later, one legend says, it is Asnat who asks Joseph to bring her two children, Ephraim and Manasseh, to be blessed by Jacob, knowing how important it is that they understand where they came from.
Asnat is hidden in Potiphar's home to save her life. She receives this compassion because although she was born from a cruel act, she is a pure soul. Later, in spite of the secrecy around her birth, she discovers ways of honoring all the pieces of her identity. Hod can signify hiddenness, and tiferet can mean truth. Asnat is hod shebetiferet – hidden truth. We are most like Asnat when we open to the secrets of our past and allow our truth to be revealed.
20. Yesod shebeTiferet
The Connectivity Within Compassion
Batya/Pharaoh's daughter (Exodus 2)
The Pharaoh who enslaves the Hebrews is the epitome of all that is cruel. Yet his daughter, while bathing in the Nile, chooses to save a baby Hebrew. Pharaoh's daughter takes the child she finds in a reed basket and raises him as a Egyptian prince. She names him Moses, “drawn out.” Batya is able to reach across lines of class and nationality and show compassion for others.
Without Pharaoh's daughter, whom the Rabbis name Batya, “daughter of God,” there would be no Exodus. Batya represents yesod shebetiferet, the connection of compassion. We can follow in Batya's footsteps by reaching out to those who are unlike us and connecting with them in a kind and caring way.
The day of yesod shebetiferet is also Yom ha'Atzma'ut -- Israeli Independence Day. Batya symbolizes all those who take tremendous risks to help the Jewish people, and also those who work across national and religious lines to create peace and justice for all those who dwell in the land of Israel.
21. Malchut shebeTiferet
Majesty within Compassion
The Witch of Endor (I Sam. 28)
King Saul's monarchy is collapsing. His prophet, Samuel, tells him that God no longer wants him to be king. His rival, David, is gaining power, and Saul's own children support David. When Samuel dies, Saul is desperate. He goes to a woman in Endor who is known as a medium, and asks her to raise Samuel from the dead. The woman of Endor raises Samuel from the dead, envisioning him as a god-like man cloaked in a robe. Samuel's message is a cruel one -- the next day, Saul and his sons will die in battle. Saul sinks onto the ground, miserable, as Samuel disappears. The witch speaks to Saul and encourages him to eat and lie down. She is one of the only people to show Saul compassion in the days before his demise. An old woman whose profession is despised by the Israelite religion, she performs the work of midwiving Saul into death.
The witch of Endor, though she may be a controversial figure, represents malkhut shebetiferet, the dignity of compassion. She gives Saul respect and care on the last night of his life. We are most like the witch of Endor when we honor the transitions of life, both beginnings and endings.
For the rest of the Omer Calendar, see www.ritualwell.org and click on the link of the Omer Calendar of Biblical Women.
Rabbi Jill Hammer is the director of Tel Shemesh and the author of Sisters at Sinai: New Tales of Biblical Women and The Jewish Book of Days: A Companion for All Seasons.
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