We are currently in the period in the Jewish calendar, referred to as Sefiras haOmer. This is where we count the days from the bringing of the Omer offering in the Holy Temple on the second day of Pesach (Passover) until we bring the offering from the new grain on Shavuos, forty nine days later. On another level, this is the time in which we mourn the loss of the 24,000 students of Rabbi Akiva who died in a plague because they did not show respect for one another. Sefiras HaOmer thus becomes a time period of personal growth to rectify their sin by working on our character traits in preparation for receiving the Torah on Shavuos.
An Animal Offering
Nothing in Judaism is coincidental, and there is a very deep connection between the offerings and the personal growth that takes place during this period. The Omer offering is unique in that is made of barley, which was considered to be animal food. Just as the Sotah, the woman suspected of adultery, must bring a barley offering because she acted in an animalistic way (Mishna Sota 2:1), so too the Jewish people bring a barley offering on the second day of Pesach. What did we do to deserve an animal food offering?
When we were in Mitzrayim (Egypt) we were on such a low spiritual level that if G-d had not taken us out when He did, we would have been spiritually lost. The Kabbalists explain that when we were in Mitzrayim (Egypt), consciousness (da’as) was in exile. Consciousness, da’as, gives us the ability to make distinctions and thus have choice. This ability to have free choice is what makes us human, distinguishing us from animals. The Exodus from Egypt whose end goal was the receiving of the Torah, marked the journey from animal to human, from one who reacts to one who consciously chooses. This is why on the second day of Pesach we bring the Omer offering of barley, yet on Shavuos, the end of a process of shining consciousness into all of our emotional facets, do we bring the new offering of wheat, which is considered human food.
To React or not to React
One of the biggest challenges of interpersonal relationships is the ability to choose how we react. Are we controlled by our knee-jerk emotions, by our animal instincts to protect ourselves or can we reach a place where we can consciously choose our response? This task may be one of the hardest things you will ever do but when you do it you will breathe a sigh of relief. As long as your emotions and reactions are controlled by others, you are but a slave to your surroundings. The moment you begin to choose, you become a truly free person.
My clients have experienced this shift by working hard to control their reactivity through the Imago Dialogue process. They put their reactions aside and empty themselves as they enter and experience their partner’s world. They are not allowed to respond or react, rather they mirror their spouse’s experience, repeating back their words and getting curious if there is more to be shared. After a while, they don’t even feel the need to react because they discover that it is usually not very much about them in the first place. When we are able to make ourselves safe and trust and move beyond the initial instinct for self-preservation, we are able to experience the other amidst neutrality and even compassion.
This is a concrete way to accomplish our job during this time period of Sefiras Omer, to transform ourselves from animal to human. The word for human is adam. In Hebrew the word adam has the same numerical value as the word mah which literally means “what” but is used as an expression of humility as in (Shemos 16:7) “and what are we? (v’nachnu mah)” (The Kabbalists also explain that when we make the brocha (blessing) for counting the Omer we should have in mind the Divine name that has the same numerical value as mah) The secret to becoming human, adam, is mah the negation of the ego. When we put the ego aside, we become empowered to choose and truly become free. May we all take advantage of this special opportunity that Sefiras haOmer provides.