Life speeds past us so quickly.
Jewish practice offers multiple techniques to slow down and appreciate the passing of time, the change of the seasons, the preciousness of the days that we have. Without a reminder, a gimmick of sorts, it’s hard to remember to do this kind of inhale and exhale that can help us get a handle on our lives as they otherwise speed past.
Counting the Omer begins the second night of Passover to offer such an opportunity — both to stop and appreciate the next 49 evenings, and to continue the same kind of self-reflective work that many of us begin at the Seder when we ask ourselves: where am I stuck? How can I help myself and others become free?
As the early spring gives thaw to late spring, counting helps weave together the days that take me from the constrictions of the cold into the freedoms that warmth provides. In North America, the ice has melted. With every unexpected smell of brown earth and every song from returning birds I begin to feel more alive again; the changes in the earth and sky around me evoke deep emotional shifts. It is not suddenly ‘summer’ once I can walk outside without a heavy coat. Tracking those subtle but powerful changes of spring’s progress helps me become more aware of this return of life that impacts me physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. Increasing the count each day – and reflecting on that day’s traditional permutation of the kabbalistic Tree of Life — anchors that increased flow of the life-force around and inside of me into a tangible framework.
The Tree of Life offers a system of discovery. It is a series of seven* sephirot — clusters of symbols that describe a roadmap for the creative process. When I first began counting the Omer, I knew the names of each sephira but not much more. By the end of the first year of counting, I had come closer to understanding their meaning since each day is an opportunity to reflect on dynamics between two of the seven sephirot. Fifteen years later, the sephirot and their teachings have integrated into the way I approach life. If one is not familiar with the sephirotic system at all, counting the omer is an excellent place to begin building such an understanding.
[*There are actually 10, but for the purposes of counting the Omer, only the ‘lower seven’ are used, mapping onto the 7 weeks of the Omer process.]
The practice of considering each of these spheres of meaning encourages me to look at those regions of my life wherein I may need some improvement – how I love unconditionally (chesed), how I maintain healthy boundaries (gevurah), how I express compassion (tiferet), how I take action to change the world (netzach), how I surrender to the things I can’t change (hod), how I become a channel for something new to emerge (yesod) and how I inhabit the world (malchut).
Counting takes just a moment each evening, but that moment then connects to all the moments over the course of the 7 weeks. After such a period, our capacity for receiving insight grows, preparing us to ‘receive the Torah’ at Shavuot, the day the Omer-counting culminates. As we move through each week on this blog, we will ask friends and colleagues to each reflect on one week’s sephira and how they have encountered/understood it in their own practice of counting.
We’ll begin with Chesed, Sunday night. If you’d like to join us for each weekly post, please sign up to receive updates from our blog using the form in the upper right hand corner of this page. Your thoughts are invited too – please post them in the comments, as you see fit.