Have you ever noticed that the Omer period contains the defining peaks and troughs of the Jewish people? We travel from slavery, to liberation, to nationhood. The Seder is the microcosm, something like a film trailer, that sets us off on this seven-week journey, during which we encounter the waymarkers of mourning (Holocaust Awareness Day), remembrance (Yom Hazikaron) and, ultimately, celebration (Yom Ha’atzmaut).
Like the 10 days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, the Omer is a built-in period for self-reflection and growth. The kickoff is Passover, where amongst the communal experience of slavery and liberation, we can reflect on changes we’d like to make to our lives. Is there a career change we’ve been scared to make? A relationship that need work? A project we haven’t had the courage to undertake?
From that initial spark, comes the necessary time needed to delve and develop, the seven weeks leading to Shavuot, when the Jewish nation became something real, when we gathered as a people and received the Torah. Again, let’s take the universal and make it personal. Receiving the Torah represents crossing the finish line and achieving whatever goal you set for yourself.
Consequently, many Jewish thinkers, particularly kabbalists, have redefined the Omer as a period for personal growth and self-exploration. A particularly good resource is Simon Jacobson’s spiritual guide cum workbook, where each day presents a new task corresponding with a theme, such as love or self-discipline. The context is the kabbalistic concept of metaphysical spheres.
It takes a lot of hard work and commitment, but remember there’s a payoff waiting at the end: a dense, smooth slice of cold cheesecake. Of course you can have that anyway, but maybe this way that first bite will be all the more satisfying.