As a student in ALEPH’s Spiritual Direction program — Hashpa’ah — I am learning about the incredible wealth of resources within our tradition to develop a compelling connection to God.
I lately find myself ‘experiencing’ God, even more than ‘believing in’ God, as that phraseology better expresses our relationship. Yes, our relationship. I have a relationship with God!
Never thought about it that way. Pretty amazing.
And right now, I find Counting the Omer, a very supportive tool in strengthening that relationship.
So what’s it all about?
The Omer is simply an ancient measure of grain. There are two citations in the Torah for it:
- Lev. 23: 15-16 – “(15) And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of elevation offering – the day after the sabbath – you shall count off seven full weeks: (16) You must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord.”
- Deut. 16:9-10 – “(9) You shall count off seven weeks; start to count the seven weeks when the sickle is first put to the standing grain. (10) Then you shall observe the Feast of Weeks for the LORD your God, offering your freewill contribution according as the LORD your God has blessed you.”
OK – this clearly marks a key period of time in the agricultural world of our ancestors.
But in the Rabbinic and post-Rabbinic era, the holiday of Shavuot and the period leading up to it took on new metaphysical meaning.
Maimonides said, in his Guide for the Perplexed:
The Feast of Weeks (holiday of the First Fruits – and the end of grain harvest) is the anniversary of the Revelation on Mount Sinai. In order to raise the importance of this day, we count the days that pass since the preceding festival, just as one who expects his most intimate friend on a certain day counts the days and even the hours. This is the reason why we count the days that pass since the offering of the Omer, between the anniversary of our departure from Egypt and the anniversary of the Lawgiving. The latter was the aim and the object of the exodus from Egypt…
In her book, Journey Through the Wilderness, Rabbi Yael Levy notes that the Kabbalists, the Jewish mystics of the 16th and 17th centuries, went a step further. “The Counting of the Omer became a time of spiritual exploration and cleansing, a way for us to prepare our souls to receive the divine guidance that comes to us each year on Shavuot,” she writes.
“Counting the Omer can be a 49-day mindfulness practice aimed at helping us pay attention to the movement of our lives, to notice the subtle shifts, the big changes, the yearnings, the strivings, the disappointments, the fears, hopes and joys. It is an opportunity for deep introspections, a call to notice our inclinations, our default responses, our reactions to shifting emotions and circumstances. The invitation is to count each day, and as we do, to meditate and reflect on the spiritual qualities.”
The Kabbalists aligned seven Sefirot with the seven weeks, assigning a Sefira to each one:
Week One: Chesed – Loving-Kindness
Week Two: Gevurah – Restraint/Strength
Week Three: Tiferet – Harmony/Balance
Week Four: Netzach – Perseverance/Eternity
Week Five: Hod – Gratitude/Acknowledgment
Week Six: Yesod – Bonding/Foundation
Week Seven: Malchut – Majesty/Divine Presence
Then – they cross tabbed them (!) – to give EACH of the 49 days a particular focus:
|Chesed||Day 1||Day 2||Day 3||Day 4||Day 5||Day 6*||Day 7|
|Gevurah||Day 8||Day 9||Day 10||Day 11||Day 12||Day 13||Day 14|
|Tiferet||Day 15||Day 16||Day 17||Day 18||Day 19||Day 20||Day 21|
|Netzach||Day 22||Day 23||Day 24||Day 25||Day 26||Day 27||Day 28|
|Hod||Day 29||Day 30||Day 31||Day 32||Day 33||Day 34||Day 35|
|Yesod||Day 36||Day 37||Day 38||Day 39||Day 40||Day 41||Day 42|
|Malkhut||Day 43||Day 44||Day 45||Day 46||Day 47||Day 48||Day 49|
*For example: the 6th day is ‘Yesod in Chesed’/ Foundational Loving-Kindness. A great day to remember where you learned about Loving-Kindness in the first place. In a small session I taught earlier that day, we all took a moment to think of our dear family and friends, who taught us about Loving-Kindness.
What an amazing framework to use to strengthen my experience of God in my life.
You know, it’s just a template – but what a template! And what an opportunity to ‘con-template’ (template together?) my relationship with God, in particular, respecting the Divine Spark that is within me, and within my fellow creatures, and my obligation to make the most of my time here.
Did I say time?
Yes, counting the Omer is marking time, a very important passage in the days of the lives of our ancestors and still so very relevant today.
Well, no surprise – Torah has a great teaching here in Ps. 90:12:
לִמְנ֣וֹת יָ֭מֵינוּ כֵּ֣ן הוֹדַ֑ע וְ֝נָבִ֗א לְבַ֣ב חׇכְמָֽה׃״ “
“Teach us to count our days rightly,
that we may obtain a heart of wisdom.”
So, who’s counting? I am.
Maybe you too?
Phyllis Savar Levy is a nationally respected developer, acquirer, and marketer of new products and services. Her career spans over 30 years as both an executive within, and as a consultant to, Fortune 500 firms in the food, pharmaceutical, and general consumer world. She and her teams developed and grew multiple successful new products for several prominent companies such as J&J, Campbell Soup, Aramark, NutriSystem, GlaxoSmithKline, and most recently, Rita’s Italian Ices. She now directs her own company, as CEO/Founder of GrowingPoints, LLC, a new products consultancy.
Over the past two decades, Phyllis has enjoyed teaching positions and consulting faculty roles at The Wharton School, her alma mater.
Phyllis is co-chair of the Cherry Hill chapter of the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, and serves on the National Board of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. She has enjoyed prior positions on the National Board of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, the Board of Advisors for Hillel at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Board of the South Jersey Jewish Community Relations Council.
Currently, Phyllis is a student in the Hashpa’ah (Spiritual Direction) program with ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal. She is preparing herself to bring her marketing and new products expertise to the Jewish world, in her next career move.
Most importantly, she and her husband, Michael, have two adult children, their spouses, and four grandchildren who are all the lights of her life!