The matrix of Jewish festivals can enhance our lives on all levels. From the second day of Pesach, we begin a seven-week journey into self-transformation, the Omer. For thousands of years, counting the 49 days from second-day Pesach to Shavuot has been practised. Why? It’s a commandment that comes from the Torah – Leviticus 23:15. “You shall count … from the day that you brought the omer as an offering …” What is an omer? It’s a measure of about 1.5 kg. In Temple times, the Israelites brought an omer of barley as a sacrifice on Pesach and after that counted 49 days with a blessing till Shavuot, a time of harvest. This is the agricultural aspect of the festival.
Even after the destruction of the Second Temple, the counting of the Omer continued in a symbolic way. In the 16th century in the city of Tzfat in the Galilee, the Omer period was given a new dimension of religious and spiritual practice. Each day of the Omer was seen as being connected to a different aspect of our personality and as an opportunity for self-improvement. According to this kabbalistic practice, each week is dedicated to a particular attribute or aspect of our lives: chesed (lovingkindness), gevurah (boundary setting), tiferet (compassion), netzach (endurance), hod (humility), yesod (vitality) and malchut (leadership). The names for the seven attributes are derived from a verse in the Tanach and each one describes an aspect of the personality that is hopefully improved and refined during the Omer.
These attributes are connected to the holy spark within each person. With each week we draw close to being ready to receive the inspiration of revelation that is the festival of Shavuot – each year in a new way. The Chassidic sages developed this practice too. Each day of the 49-day Omer points to a specific aspect of our life and is an opportunity for reflection and change. There are many resources connecting the Omer period with wellbeing. I offer a daily email during this inspiring time, so feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Wishing you an inspiring Pesach and Omer period. Rabbi Dr Orna Triguboff is spiritual director at Sydney’s Neshama Life Organisation.