Counting the Omer: Personal Growth is What Counts!

There is a practice to count the days between the Jewish holidays of Passover and Shavuos. One of the primary reasons is that we are working on ourselves in preparation for receiving the Torah, which is what the holiday of Shavuos is about. This period in which we count is called the Omer. In my experience, counting the Omer has always took on an aura of pressure. If you miss one day of counting, you can no longer say a bracha (blessing), since this would be considered saying G-d’s name in vain.

The years when I genuinely tried to count every day, I would end up feeling quite discouraged and disappointed in myself when I realized I missed a day (which happened all too frequently). This is in large part why in recent years I simply do not even try to count!

Then, this year, inspired by the birth of our first child, I decided to give it a go again! After all, the days don’t go as fast as they used to, and I am awake more hours of the day, so I should have more opportunities to count.

I was therefore very frustrated when I forgot to count Day 9. Of course, it had popped into my mind earlier that day, but I didn’t act on it then, and so here I was, on Day 10, realizing I forgot Day 9. The thing is, the way I learned it, the actual mitzvah (commandment) is to count with a specific prescribed phrase, and in Hebrew! Had I been able to just say, “Today is Day 9.” I surely would have been able to satisfy the requirement on time. But it’s hard to memorize the actual Hebrew phrase, which, translated into English, is: “Today is nine days, which are one week and two days, of the Omer.”

When I realized I had forgotten to count Day 9, I entered a shame cycle; repeatedly thinking over how I could have remembered, but regrettably forgot. Judaism actually teaches that going into a downward shame spiral is in fact worse than the performance of the sin itself; and that the shame cycle is in fact spurred on by the yetzer hara (evil inclination).

So I am faced with a quandary: don’t try to do the mitzvah, or try and then get caught up in this shame cycle if/when I fail.

But the 7 weeks of the Omer is supposed to be about character trait development and personal improvement, not obsession and guilt tripping oneself over messing up the count. There is a Kabbalistic symbolism behind each week and each day of the Omer which leads us to understand how we can work on our character development in a unique way each day. In fact, I have a book about this that is currently in the mail in transit from my childhood home to my current place of residence.

How can we focus more on the meaning behind the count and obsess less over the logistics of the count itself?

Indeed this question applies to many other Jewish practices, but I think the counting of the Omer, with its focus on character refinement and personal growth is a great place to start!

omer pic

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