You could be forgiven for thinking that ‘self-improvement’ and ‘self-help’ and ‘self-development’ is a fairly recent phenomenon inspired by Tony Robbins and other ‘self-help’ gurus.
But the truth is that the first ‘self-development’ program was introduced in the Torah more than 3,300 years’ ago, when God gave us the commandment of counting the Omer for the 49 days between Pesach and Shavuot.
We all like the idea of changing and transforming a lot, but to actually go ahead and do it? That’s something else entirely. Most of us are just SO jaded from hearing how to change, transform and revamp ourselves, our lives and our relationships.
But then the Torah pops up to tell us that true transformation happens when we take every process, every journey, every big change, just one step at a time. All we have really is today – and when you start to look at things that way, even the most amazing changes stop looking and feeling so scary and overwhelming, and start to feel somehow do-able, instead.
That’s the whole idea behind counting the Omer: it’s really a process of transforming our souls, and refining our character traits, working on a different area every single day for 49 days, or seven weeks. The Kabbalah teaches that there are seven main areas, or ‘traits’, that each of us has to work on in order to perfect our spiritual dimension and character traits, and each week of counting the Omer is dominated by the ‘energy’ of a particular trait.
There are various opinions as to what these seven traits specifically translate to, but my take on what we should be working on each week of counting the Omer is as follows:
- WEEK 1: CHESED – Love and relationships
- WEEK 2: GEVURAH – Self-improvement
- WEEK 3: TIFERET – Truth
- WEEK 4: NEZACH – Seeing the good (specialness)
- WEEK 5: HOD – Gratitude
- WEEK 6: YESOD – Sense of purpose
- WEEK 7: MALCHUT – The spiritual dimension
The idea is that you take one trait or area a week, and then work to improve it across all seven of these areas. (The picture for this post shows Day 1, focusing on Love & relationships within Love & relationships, or chesed she be chesed).
And so on and so forth, until by the end of the 7th week, we should have seen some major movement and improvement in just about every one of these areas.
Now, you can do this sort of self-development work any time you want, but the Kabbalah also tells us that the single best time to begin this journey is the period of time called ‘Counting the Omer’.
As of writing this post, we’re now approaching the end of Week 1 on this journey of self-development, or the week of love and relationships.
This is the week where we really start to see what our relationships are made of, and if we’re really as good a friend, parent, child and neighbor as we think we are. Every day of this week, God will send us more insights and challenges in the areas of our relationships so that we can see exactly where the ‘gaps’ are, and what we still might need to work on.
I know, that sounds kind of scary, doesn’t it?
But here’s the thing: that spiritual energy for transformation and change is coming down in every single one of these seven weeks of counting the Omer. Even if we don’t know what’s happening, even if we don’t prepare ourselves to learn what trait is coming into focus each week, or what that might mean for us, Hashem is going to continue to give us those transformational nudges and clues every single day until Shavuot.
But we can’t expect changes to happen in our life if we’re not prepared to follow through on the clues we’re getting from Upstairs about what might need fixing. Changes don’t normally happen by themselves, unless we make space to encourage them and nurture them.
So that’s really the work of these seven weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, and how we’re going to be ready, spiritually and emotionally, to receive the Torah anew on the festival of Shavuot.
Rivka Levy is a writer, journalist, and blogger. She’s the author of several books on God-based holistic health with a Jewish twist, including: ’49 Days: An interactive journal of self-development’. Levy made aliya from the UK in 2005, and now lives in Jerusalem.