Omer Themes (9)

Omer Essay WEEK #7: Unity & Integration

K'ish Echad b’Lev Echad - As One People With One Heart

Friends, our seven-week journey is nearly complete, and I sincerely hope that we as a Mussar community, and you as an individual within our community, are better for having taken this journey. Something struck me in the days of Pesach this year, shaping how I wanted to think about my own Omer challenge of authentically showing up for the benefit of community. I had been feeling a stronger-than-ever sense of responsibility as a Jew when I came across a passage in which Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (z’’l) considered what the sin of the wicked son in the Haggadah might have been. R. Sacks quotes Maimonides, who wrote that the rebellious child “separates himself from the community… shows himself indifferent when they are in distress… goes on his own way as if he were one of the nations and did not belong to the Jewish people.” (Hilchot Teshuva 3:11)


This, and the Passover Seder itself, reminded me that Judaism is a collective faith community. Each individual needs to identify as a Jew and with the Jewish people as a collective. The pain I have been feeling in the last 240+ days in realizing that we are a divided people is a symptom of allowing our disagreements to supersede our love and sense of belonging for one another. Just as the wicked son failed to identify with his people, there are individuals today who are having difficulty transcending differences and aligning their heart with every other Jew in the world. Yes, our current time brings an array of challenges, but it also brings the potential for a strong sense of achdut/unity.


To me, surrendering into that unity feels like a relief, and proudly standing up for it feels right. Knowing that I am simply one drop in a larger ocean causes a feeling of peace to envelop me, recognizing that I do not carry these burdens and responsibilities alone. In connecting to past generations, and in working to close the gap between what is and what could be, I feel more connected to the Jewish people than ever before.


We are at an historical turning point. I think that it is in times of chaos that we are most receptive to direction, as our people heard the word of God amidst thunderous cacophony and trembling at Mt. Sinai. Some among us may have chosen a path of division, but most of us have transcended this and have now embraced a higher plane of oneness. We have witnessed the unprecedented mobilization of Jewish communities and the extraordinary national spirit of a people working together to overcome the many forces working against us. Just as our people received the Torah at Mt. Sinai as k'ish echad b'lev echad, as one people with one heart, so too must we continue to embrace this sense of belonging and community today.


Rav Dessler taught that:


“If I give to someone, I feel close to them; I have a share in their being. It follows that if I were to start bestowing good upon everyone I come into contact with, I would soon feel that they are all my relatives, all my loved ones. I now have a share in them all; my being has extended into all of them.”

(Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Strive for Truth!)


More recently, Rabbi Shai Held wrote:


“The kind of love that Judaism speaks about is an existential posture, a life orientation, a way of holding ourselves in the world; it’s a way of life.... It is a disposition to feel certain things and act in certain ways.”

(Rabbi Shai Held, Judaism is About Love, p.9)


The Torah serves as our ethical and moral to-do list. It propels us forward as a way of living each day with commitment and integrity. Our Mussar Omer challenge has been an invitation to take baby steps toward actualizing your personal potential, and in doing so as a collective, we have participated in the process of building a stronger Jewish people by embracing our values despite our trembling and fear of the unknown at the foot of the mountain. We abandoned what was familiar and bravely journeyed toward something new. We began by understanding kavod/honor for ourselves and for others. We embraced our individual and collective achrayut/responsibility. We fortified ourselves with gevurah/strength and boundaries. And now we integrate all of it by realizing our accomplishments and fostering achdut/unity in our collective rootedness to each other -- in our Mussar community, in our larger Jewish story, and in our interconnectedness to all of humanity.


The Jewish nation approached Mt. Sinai as a single being -- as one person, with one heart. We are not and never were strangers to each other. Together, we embrace thousands of years of Jewish thought as we struggle to understand who we are, what is expected of us, and how to utilize our tradition in current times. Together, we hold the dissonance of current events at the same time that we hold the hope of living up to an eternal spiritual commitment. Our trust in each other, in our glorious tradition and in the One Above radiates hope that we will reach our goals. As we approach the holiday of Shavuot, I feel a sense of homecoming. With humility and with joy, I embrace my past stumbling blocks because I have realized during this journey that they were actually stepping stones for profound growth.


I’m looking forward to sharing more about my own journey at our final webinar together on Sunday, June 9 at 2pm ET. Please join us to hear from a few members of our community about how they have utilized this Omer challenge. Rabbi Eric Gurvis will offer a Shavuot and Omer teaching, and Gali Ettner Levkovitz will lead us in a centering meditation.


Blessings for the journey,


Naomi Wittlin attributes her renewed interest in Jewish learning to studying Mussar with The Mussar Institute for almost ten years. She is a Manchim Program graduate, completed the Advanced Facilitator cohort with Julie Dean, and co-facilitates a va’ad in Houston, TX. She traveled to Israel four years ago with TMI. Naomi recently completed her Masters in Jewish Studies at Gratz College and is currently a rabbinical student at the Academy for Jewish Religion in New York. She is a writer, mother, and mixed-media artist and incorporates themes of Jewish texts into her artwork. She has an amazing 15-year-old daughter and a supportive husband of 22 years.  She is a dedicated student and facilitator of Mussar whose passion is watching people grow toward their spiritual potential and make lasting transformations in their lives. You can find her spiritual reflections, artwork, and monthly book reviews at

thank you

Special Dedication:

The Boston Mussar Community is honored to dedicate the final week of Omer on the theme of Achdut/Unity to this year's Omer program leaders, Naomi Wittlin and Helaine Sheias, as well as to the dedicated TMI staff for all they do to bring the Mussar tradition to our world.