There are two major holiday seasons in Judaism, the High Holidays in the Fall and Passover/Shavuot in the Spring. Passover, the celebration of freedom from slavery is connected to Shavuot, the celebration of God’s gift of Torah on Mount Sinai by the Omer, the 49 day period between them during which we are invited to consider again our spiritual lives within the context of our history.
How do we understand the changes that must be made when we move from the mindset of being a slave to being a person who is responsible for their lives.
Of course we are encouraged to consider our spiritual lives every day, but with jobs, laundry, and taking care of the family, the time for spiritual pursuits typically is hard to find. The Jewish calendar, however, puts it on our “to do” list, using the Omer period in particular for making the spiritual path clearer and easier to follow.
The calendar shows that there are forty-nine days between Passover and Shavuot, equaling seven weeks. Each week is assigned a main character trait that is matched with the six subordinate traits of that week. (The model found on the map of sefirot above uses only the lower seven traits for our purposes). During Week 1, day 1 we examine Chesed within Chesed; on day 2 we examine Gevurah within Chesed, day 3 is Tiferet within Chesed, and continue with Netzach, Hod, Yesod, and Malchut. Week 2 examines Gevurah, so that on week 2, day 1 we examine Chesed within Gevurah, week 2, day 2 is Gevurah within Gevurah, etc. When this article is published, it will be on Omer day 26,Hod within Netzach, or contemplating “Humility within Endurance”.
Endurance, the character trait for this week, is the trait that has us persisting in an endeavor. It’s the urge to learn a new skill, to maintain yourself and your loved ones, to work for a social or political ideal. The Hod, or humility aspect of endurance asks if we are capable of recognizing when we should maintain endurance and when we should yield. Is this the time to be an oak, unbending and solid, or to be more like a reed bending to accommodate a hurricane. Hodalso asks how we are presenting our endurance to others, whether we quietly go about our work or loudly announce with a sigh that we are once again going to volunteer.
The practice of counting the Omer can help us learn more about our own character and more sensitive to the passage of time. It encourages loving and compassionate self-reflection so that we can be a better person and continue to improve the world as we improve ourselves.