What in the world is Counting the Omer?
Counting what? Judaism has several times a year where we pay attention to our soul’s growth. You may be familiar with the time between Rosh Hoshanah (Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur: 10 days were you “get your house in order spiritually.” In the spring, there is a time between Passover and Shavuot. Shavuot, a not-very-well-known holiday to many Jews is when tradition tells us that the Divine energy/God gave Torah (teaching, wisdom) to the people on Mt. Sinai. This “event” is most commonly known as the giving of the 10 Commandments.
Passover stands for liberation: freedom from whatever oppresses us. While we remember the exodus from Egypt and the cruelty of Pharoah a long time ago, we also are encouraged each and every year to tell our own personal story. Where are we not free? To what are we enslaved? What does freedom mean in our own time, in our own lives?
After we leave Egypt (which literally means “narrow place”) we wander in the desert for 49 days. 7 weeks or 7 days each. We arrive at the foot of Mt. Sinai, ready to receive. To receive wisdom and truth. In the most broad sense, this is what is given at Sinai. Jewish tradition understands that Torah is all wisdom. That’s a really big deal! And tradition also says that ALL of us – each one – whoever was there on that day, and all future generations – were at Sinai for this experience.
And yet – “revelation” of Truth is not a one-time experience. We come to know from a place of not-knowing, of being lost, of wandering.
This is the experience of the 49 days of Counting the Omer. We count 49 days, each day looking at a unique aspect of our soul. And in so doing, we refine ourselves and examine our behavior and ready ourselves for the moment Torah/Truth/Wisdom is revealed.
Of course, this period of time was originally rooted in the spring harvest. An omer is a measure of grain.
Spiritually, the way we count the Omer – and the way it can matter in our own lives is based on a complicated system developed in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism.)
Simply, we focus on a particular aspect each week. And then, within each week, we hone in on a blend of the different aspects working together.
Here’s an example:
Tonight and tomorrow (April 10) begins week 3 of the Omer where we focus on the quality of Tiferet (balance, harmony, beauty). In the Kabbalistic tree of life, Tiferet sits between loving-kindness (Chesed) and strength (Gevurah). Tiferet is a unique place of balance between the aspect of open-flowing-generosity and restraint and boundaries. What a narrow bridge! However, on this day, day15 of the Omer counting, we especially bring our attention to the quality of kindness within beauty. This is a day to notice where and when and to whom our hearts open. To notice the hummingbirds and the butterflies and the buds opening. To appreciate how the beauty of nature helps us open our hearts.
If you want to join a community of people around the world by receiving a daily Omer email during the 49 days:
1) Click this link: http://eepurl.com/SoOWD
2) “Like” the Jewish Mindfulness Network page on Facebook for updates
3) download an app for your smartphone. I recommend: OmerCount and MyOmer. Both available at the Apple app store. Definitely works for iphones (not sure about android)
Please feel free to ask questions, or write your experiences. Let’s have a discussion!