Last weekend brought us the beginning of Pesach and also marked the first day of the Counting of the Omer, an incredibly potent and transformative period of 49 days during and following Passover. I like to refer to this process as a spiritual marathon; it is an acceleration of growth through focused self-work.
The kabbalist Rav Avraham Azulai wrote, “when the world was created, there was also a creation of 50 Gates of Purity and elevation, which are controlled by the Angel Michael and all of the angels that support him. So, too, were 50 gates of impurity (Tumah) and darkness created, which are controlled by the most negative of angels, the Samech-Mem.”
This principle runs parallel to a spiritual and existential truth about our lives: we are always in motion, either progressing or regressing. Nothing is static. Beyond that, there is also the ever-present principle of duality; a balancing and rebalancing between good and evil, positive and negative, light and dark. We are either moving toward negativity, or we are working toward positivity. I say ‘working toward’ because it is always up to us whether we are elevating through gates of purity or falling through gates of impurity.
The difference between the two is that elevation requires work, falling does not. This may sound daunting, but it is also where the real power of Counting the Omer arises.
The Arvei Nachal explains that to move through the next gate we must complete an eight-day cycle of transformation. Let’s say a person begins her spiritual process and she is between the 50 Gates of Purity and the 50 Gates of Impurity. She sets an intention to grow and, if she does her work of spiritually connecting and transforming for eight days straight, she will have completed the process necessary to elevate into the next gate of purity.
The process of the Counting of the Omer allows us to elevate through a gate in one second.
It not only shortens the time in which we pass through the next gate, but it also enhances the quality of our spiritual growth. When we connect with this spiritual tool, we are thrown through an entire gate—eight days’ worth of pure work—in an instant!
As written in The Arvei Nachal, this system of the Counting of the Omer is one of the more magnificent gifts we are given by the Creator. Not only do we have the ability to stop the process of falling (which is the purpose of Passover), but the Creator also gave us a rocket booster into the process of elevating through the 50 Gates of Purity.
So how do we do it?
Kabbalah teaches that the Creator interacts with the human world through seven channels, or sefirot, and these channels are reflected in us through 49 aspects of our personality. The seven channels are the seven basic human traits which make up the foundation of the human experience. At the root of all suffering is a misalignment of one or more of these traits. It is through the Counting of the Omer that we are able to realign ourselves, as we bring our focus to that week’s specific trait and the corresponding aspect of humanity. The Counting of the Omer takes approximately five to ten minutes each night for the 49 nights between Passover and Shavuot.
In practical terms, one week will focus on the emotion, and each day of that week is dedicated to one way in which we work with that emotion. For example, week one focuses on love. The second day of that week focuses on love and restriction. By engaging in the practice, we are brought to thoughts, words, actions, and circumstances that help us to cleanse and grow through all of these specific traits and emotions. Below is an outline of the consciousness for each week of the Omer.
Week 1: Chesed ~ Loving-Kindness: This week focuses on the ways we love, how we give love, and how we receive love. It is the pure energy of our being and the foundation of our lives.
Week 2: Gevurah ~ Justice & Discipline: This week looks to all of the ways we reveal our love through logic, discipline, and discernment. Love requires direction and focus, and they are found through restriction.
Week 3: Tiferet ~ Harmony & Compassion: This week builds upon Chesed and Gevurah; exploring how we focus and reveal love through compassion, honesty, and selflessness.
Week 4: Netzach ~ Endurance: This week turns the focus on the self; examining our ambition, drive, and tenacity and how we balance those traits with patience and determination.
Week 5: Hod ~ Humility: This week we focus on our humility. During Netzach, we look to what we wish to accomplish; this week is about bringing modesty to our pursuits. We look at all of our strengths, remembering they come not from us, but from the Creator.
Week 6: Yesod ~ Bonding: Building upon the first five weeks, which deal primarily with the self, we now take a look at the ways we connect and the quality of those connections; examining the bonds of each relationship in our life and how those bonds are nurtured.
Week 7: Malchut ~ Sovereignty & Leadership: Finally, we arrive at Malchut; the state of being when all six states of being are aligned. This week, we focus on all the ways in which we embody leadership and look to examine our independence and confidence.
By practicing and connecting to this tool, we are able to condense the work of 400 days into forty-nine. As Rav Berg said about Kabbalah, it is simple but not easy. The Counting of the Omer is simple, but not necessarily easy. As we move through the Omer, we will be doing the work. We will be given opportunities in our lives to grow, and our lives will shift in marvelous ways, right before our eyes. It may not always be comfortable, but your discomfort will be an indicator that you are on the right path.
As we Count the Omer, there will be tremendous pressure on our soul. But, as I have spoken about before, the level of opposition we experienced is equal to the level of blessings we will bring about. The question is whether we use this pressure as fuel to propel ourselves through the 49 Gates of Purity — or not. The pressure is what these 49 days are all about. There is no other time, no other period of days throughout the year, where we can accomplish what we are able to accomplish in these 49 days.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
I encourage you to be gentle with yourself during this time, to practice certainty and trust, and to connect back to the Light every time you feel strained, stressed, or unsure. And remember, this gift of transformation is one that we give ourselves and the entire world.