The Counting of The Omer according to Jewish Tradition
It is written in the Torah to count the Omer (Leviticus 23, vs. 15-17). That means the Counting of The Omer is the tradition of counting 49 days, starting the day after Passover. After The Counting is over, arrives the Biblical holiday of Shavuot, which is known also as Mount Sinai Revelation. It is customary during this time (The Counting of The Omer), to observe mourning restrictions, since this is the time during which many disasters happened, specifically, the death of 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva’s students (2nd Century C.E.).
The Counting of The Omer according to Kabbalah
The Counting of The Omer, starting the day after the holiday of Passover, comes on the heels of The Exodus, and symbolizes the exodus of the Israelites quest for spiritual freedom: The freedom from 49 gates/levels of impurity that they were in, while they were slaves in Egypt.
49 Gates of Impurity
The 49 Gates of Impurity, define the 49 levels of impurity that a person can fall to, but still be able to arise and correct his soul. However, falling to the 50th gate is irreversible, at least in the same incarnation. The Israelites were in Egypt at the 49th gate, at the lowest before soul correction became impossible. In order to prevent them falling to the 50th gate, there was a need for a miracle, the type and magnitude of a miracle, that had never happened in the history of mankind. This miracle had to reveal a light of such greatness that it would create a change in consciousness and a massive exodus; emotional, spiritual, perceptual and a change in existence from slavery to freedom. Rabbi Ashlag teaches us that the strength of that miracle was strong enough to get the Israelites out of their level of selfishness and egotism that they were enslaved in and surrounded by. The 49 days of The Counting of The Omer, gives us the opportunity to get out of our own 49 gates of impurity. This will be further explained later.
Days of Katnut (smallness)
The spiritual definition of “small” and the spiritual definition of “slave” are very similar and it relates to the state in which a person is incapable of manifesting one’s birthright, from the time of creation, which is to be a Creator. The Jewish law defines “small” (Katan) as someone who did not arrive at the age of Bar Mitsvah for boys or Bat Mitsvah for girls. However, according to the Ari, the word “small” defines a person who is in a state of Katnut, meaning he has no ability to control his urges, exactly like a little child who is totally controlled by his desires, emotions, whims, etc. The Israelites were slaves in Egypt, since that place reflected their spiritual level of “smallness” and their slavery to the evil inclination. In order to get out of this state, they had to experience a great miracle. However, receiving that miracle was in direct contradiction to the Laws of Creation. The purpose of Creation for every human being is to become a Creator. If somebody takes you out of bondage and does it for you, you are not a Creator. The Israelites were slaves, their ability to be Creator was challenged. So how could they receive this great miracle when they were not acting as Creator? This physical world, according to Kabbalah, the world of illusions, only shadows what really happens in the true world, the spiritual world, and when a significant, large scale event happens in the spiritual world, it leaves an impression forever after. This is why after the Israelites received on the night of Passover a huge influx of light, every year thereafter; we can receive the same great light. However, this is just borrowed light. Immediately after the holiday o Passover, the light of Passover disappears, and instead, the light of Katnut (smallness) comes in. This happens in order to prepare us to receive the Light of Redemption, as Creators (not as slaves).We will be able to receive the Light of Redemption by building Gadlut (maturity): the spiritual and mental maturity and the ability to control our destiny, independently, as defined by the Laws of the Universe. The Ari is teaching us that during the days of The Omer, we can connect to those levels, those steps, that will enable us to grow and mature. Those levels available during The Omer and are called Mohin of Katnut (the connecting forces to the different levels of Katnut). However, our exposure to those levels can make us feel sometimes defenseless, like small children. This is the reason for the mourning customs that is being followed during this time. They serve as a form of precaution and protection during this potentially unstable time. This is a time for caution and a heavy dose of, “thinking before you act”. These precautionary measures are not a result of the unfortunate events that happened far in the past (the deaths of the 24,000 student of Rabbi Akiva), but rather because the Kabbalists believe that on those days (the 49 days of Omer), our ability to make meaningful decisions, in every aspect of our live; business (buying , selling, signing contracts), family (marriage, big celebrations) or other events that demand a lot of responsibility and stability, is effected by the energy of “smallness”, prevalent during this time.
Practical Tools for Challenging Times
The seven weeks of the counting of The Omer are a special time for cleansing and re-building of our personality. Each day of the 49 days period represents another aspect of growth. Since this is a very sensitive time of growth from aspects of slavery and child-like behavior, expect moments of anger, mental discomfort and other emotions typical to immaturity. The great goal is achieving a real sense of maturity and freedom by the 50th day – Shavuot.Therefore, be very careful not to allow your moods to take over by any justification. Get yourself involved in as many acts of kindness as possible, small and big. Don’t be judgmental even when you’re sure that it is the right thing to do. Use the Mikveh meditation (immersing in water – Hesed) as many times possible in order to purify body and soul.
Lag Ba Omer: the 33rd day of The Omer
On this day we have a break from the energy of “smallness” and therefore, it is possible to get married, sign contracts, buy new houses, etc. It is also customary during the last 3 days of The Omer, to get back to the business of regular life and cease the above mentioned restrictions.
The Counting Procedure
Most Sephardic or Hassidic prayer books, have printed within, the meditations of the daily counting of The Omer. The counting of The Omer, the 49 days, is divided into 7 weeks, and each week corresponds to one of the lower seven Sefirot of the Tree of Life, which are; Hesed, Gevura, Tiferet, Netsah, Hod, Yesod, Malkhut. Each one of the Sefirot symbolizes another opportunity to repair and correct an aspect of our personality. Each one, represents a channel for bringing light to the world. Correcting that channel allows us to bring and reveal a corresponding level of light in the world. Each one of the seven weeks is also divided into seven Sefirot. On the first day we are working on Hesed of Hesed, the second day is Gevura of Hesed and so on. The deeper meditations of each day are very complex. However, when we pray every day to connect to the Sefira of that day, this will bring us to the thoughts, emotions and actions that will lead us to the opportunities to correct what is needed to be corrected that day in the corresponding Sefira.
Shavuot and the Mount Sinai Revelation: The Final Goal
The Zohar describes the 50th day, the holy day of Shavuot as the night in which the bride prepares to connect to her groom. According to Rabbi Ashlag, during the 49 days of The Omer, we are going through a miniature process, that humanity has gone through for millennia. When the Israelites arrived at Mount Sinai, at the end of the 49 days, the Bible says that, “he camped in front of the mountain.” It is important to note the words “they camped …” was not used. This is to tell us that the Israelites were camped at the base of the mountain, all in unity, as one. All of them understood that they had one common goal, this was the wedding between the bride (which is humanity) and her groom (which is the Creator). This is the love story between mankind and the Creator. We are now in a state of exile, which is a time that the Creator is like a lover, courting his bride for millennia, but the bride does not understand that she is a bride. Since she is always in a state of darkness, she cannot return love. When the bride is in the state Katnut (small) consciousness, meaning, fear, anxiety, anger, stress and darkness, she cannot reciprocate, receive or see the love the Creator wants to give her. However, during the Mount Sinai Revelation, this state of exile disappeared, 600,000 people managed to calm each other and to bring themselves to the understanding that they are the bride, that everyone is good and that everyone is here to help each other. It took them 49 days to get to that place, to overcome the 49 gates of impurity.