Personal overhaul 101
“So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” – Psalm 90:12
We have good ideas and good intentions sometimes that are contrary to the path we are meant to take, a path we sometimes stubbornly refuse. And free will gives us the ability to make that choice, but how much greater our peace when our feet are on the right track, our faces pointed towards the light, than to choose a path of rebellion?
I learned something very important about myself in the past week – a week that went from a day in hospital, to working physically hard while on leave, to a revelation about my ability to listen to the still, small voice inside me and in the heartbeat of the universe. It’s not something I can expand on in depth here, but it showed me something important about misconceptions… how even well-intentioned ‘spiritual’ goals can sometimes take you away from your true path, a line as fine as a knife edge.
Two years ago, on the Upper West Side of New York, I bought a little book by a Rabbi Simon Jacobson – The Counting of the Omer. On my spiritual journey I have never gone much for tradition, seeking a closer, more authentic relationship to the divine than the dictates of men and custom provide. I pursue it in the sciences, nature, history, meditation, reflection and study. But, on an intellectual level (and because I am quite sentimental), tradition as part of shaping our individual and collective identities interests me, and this little book instantly attracted me as a practical guide to “49 steps to personal refinement according to the Jewish tradition”. Last year this time was too hectic and undisciplined, but this year I want to make my counting of the Omer count (pardon the pun).
Here is an extract from the introduction to the book to give you an idea:
“In Leviticus (the third book of the Torah) 23:15, the verse states, “You shall count… from the day that you brought the omer as a wave offering.” The omer was a measure of barley (approximately two quarts) that the Jews brought as the mincha or afternoon offering on the second day of Passover. This was followed by the counting of the omer where the Jews counted every day for seven weeks – forty-nine days in total – leading up to the festival of Shavuot on the fiftieth day which also celebrates the receiving of the Torah at Sinai.
What is the significance of counting for forty-nine days and how does it relate to the anticipation of and preparation for receiving the Torah? What relevance does this counting have for us today and how does this apply to the exploration of the inner dimensions of our soul?
The answer to these questions lies in a deeper understanding of the exodus of the Jewish nation from Egypt. The word “mitzrayim” (Egypt in Hebrew) means limitations and boundaries, and represents all forms of conformity and definition that restrain, inhibit or hamper our free movement and expression. Thus, leaving Egypt means freedom from constraints. After leaving Egypt, the Jews spent the next forty-nine days in the desert preparing themselves spiritually for the most monumental experience of all time: the giving of the Torah to Moses and the Jewish people at Mount Sinai.
This forty-nine day period was one of intense character refinement. For forty-nine days the Jews climbed one step at a time up the emotional ladder towards a higher purity. This period of character refinement has just as much relevance to our lives today as it did over 3000 years ago. Just as we were slaves in Egypt, we can also be slaves to our personalities, driven by forces over which we often seem to have no control.
The counting of sefirah that followed the exodus from Egypt is a process that we must continuously recreate in our lives in order to achieve personal freedom.
The Hebrew word “sefirah” has several meanings. The famous Kabbalist, the RaMak (R Moshe Kordevero, d. 1570), in his monumental work the Pardes, writes that “sefirah” means both “mispar”, meaning number and “sipur”, as in telling a story. A third root of “sefirah” is “sapir”, a sapphire stone, which is a translucent crystal that shines brightly.
Counting sefirah illuminates the different aspects of our emotional lives. The days of sefirah tells us a story – the story of our souls.
The seven emotional attributes:
Chesed – Lovingkindness, benevolence
Gevurah – Justice, discipline, restraint, awe
Tiferet – Beauty, harmony, compassion
Netzach – Endurance, fortitude, ambition
Hod – Humility, splendour
Yesod – Bonding, foundation
Malchut – Nobility, sovereignty, leadership
The forty-nine-day period of sefirah is counted in days and weeks. The seven days of each of the seven weeks constitutes the forty-nine days. Each week is represented by a specific attribute, and each day within that week is represented by an aspect of that attribute. Since a fully functional emotion is multi-dimensional, it includes within itself a blend of all seven attributes.
This day by day analysis will give you the ability to stand back and take an objective look at your subjective emotions. Seeing their strong and weak points will in turn enable you to apply yourself to the development and perfection of these feelings as you grow towards emotional and spiritual maturity.”
They even have an app now (a condensed version of the book, and it’s free!) What a wonderful age we live in… Check it out here:
We’re on day 10 already… this is my meditation for the next few weeks. It is necessary. My spiritual feet have been itching, and also in honour of my friend, Jamie, who is leaving for a self-exploratory mission of epic proportions – walking the Camino in Spain. A time of self-reflection, examination and diligence in awareness… shaking off the dust and old skin to emerge, perhaps a bit raw, but new and fresh and better than before.