by Rivka Levy
Hands up: who’s excited about counting the Omer this year?
Hands up again: Who even knows what counting the Omer is?
If you’re like most people in the Jewish world, particularly the not-so-religious English-speaking Jewish world, the chances are high that you’ve never even heard about counting the Omer.
And if you have heard about it, chances are pretty high that it’s about as exciting to you as the thought of eating a big bowl of cold porridge. I know that when I lived in London, this is what I knew about counting the Omer:
It’s almost impossible to remember to do it, if you’re not praying with a minyan every day.
It’s got something to do with the time between the barley and the wheat festival (I mean, how exciting is that?)
It’s not something that’s really all that relevant to Jews in 2016.
Before I tell you what changed, let me just quickly explain what Counting the Omer actually is. On the second day after Pesach, we start counting 49 days that takes us all the way up to Shavuot, which is when the Torah was given.
Like I said, if you don’t know what’s really going on with it all, it can be really hard to get excited about it. In my case, it’s only when I moved to Israel that I started to understand the deeper reasons for counting the Omer – and even then, it still took quite a while.
My relationship to counting the Omer really only changed around five years’ ago, when I started getting hit by one crazy, super-strange, dramatic occurrence after another, beginning the week after Passover.
It was like I’d taken a wrong turn and ended up on the set of The Twilight Zone, or something, except it was my actual real life.
After a few days of mounting madness, I suddenly had a light bulb go off in my head that maybe, all the weird stuff I was experiencing was connected to counting the Omer, in some way? I cracked open my copy of ‘Advice’, which is a shortened, English version of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev’s magnum opus called Likutey Moharan, and this is what I read:
“Each day of the Omer period is associated with a different aspect of the Sefirot. [I’ll explain what Sefirot are in a minute.] And on that day everything which everyone in the whole world is talking about is purely an expression of the particular aspect with which that day is associated.”
(In case you’re wondering what the Sefirot are, you can explain them simply like this: God created the world via 10 ‘worlds’ or spheres of energy, that are commonly referred to in the Jewish mystical tradition, (a.k.a. Kabbalah) as Sefirot.)
According to the Kabbalah, these 10 Sefirot are split into three higher ones, and seven lower
ones – and the seven lower ones are associated with a whole bunch of different things, including the main ‘attributes’, or character traits, that us human beings are meant to work on and perfect throughout the course of our lives.
The main point of Counting the Omer is to work on ourselves, and particularly our negative character traits, so we’re ready to get the Torah when Shavuot rolls around (see, it’s already sounding more interesting than cold porridge, isn’t it?)
The Omer lasts for seven weeks, and each week we’re meant to work on some other key area, as follows:
Week 1: Chesed – often translated as love, or kindness
Week 2: Gevurah – often translated as strength, or self-control
Week 3: Tiferet – often translated as truth, beauty or splendor
Week 4: Netzach – often translated as referring to eternity, or being victorious, in some way
Week 5: Hod – often translated as humility, or gratitude
Week 6: Yesod – literally translated as ‘foundation’
Week 7: Malkhut – literally translated as royalty, or kingship
The trouble with Counting the Omer is that if you’re not a native Hebrew speaker (as I wasn’t), you kind of lose 98% of the meaning of these words, and then you have no idea what inner work you’re actually meant to be doing on what particular day.
For example, in the week of self-improvement, I guarantee that you’re going to get tested with some big, rage-inducing challenge, to show you what stuff you actually still need to work on. If you didn’t know in advance that’s what’s going on, it can feel like a really heavy, crazy time.
So now, here’s the good news: To help you figure out what might be coming down the spiritual pipe throughout the seven weeks of the Omer, I’ve put together an interactive journal of self-development called ’49 Days’, that will spell out what particular character traits are coming into focus on each particular day.
Like, if I’d known all those years’ ago that I got that really disturbing email from a work colleague because it was the day of ‘Truth focusing on Self-improvement’ – and not because they’d actually gone completely bonkers – then it probably wouldn’t have floored me in the same way.
(Well, I can dream…)
In the meantime, here’s my take on the seven main areas we need to work on over the seven week period of Counting the Omer:
Week 1: Love & relationships
Week 2: Self-improvement
Week 3: Truth
Week 4: Seeing the good / specialness
Week 5: Gratitude
Week 6: Sense of Purpose
Week 7: The Spiritual Dimension
Counting the Omer is one thing; but if you really want to make the Omer count this year, then a little bit more help might be required.
You can get a sneak peek of Rivka Levy’s new book: 49 Days: An Interactive Journal of Self-Development, and download a free PDF version at the following link: http://www.emunaroma.com/blog/49-days-an-interactive-journal-of-self-development-just-in-time-for-counting-the-omer