The omer count: a ‘forgotten’ tool for personal development? An article for jewish young professionals
Personal development is at the top of the agenda of young professionals, especially generation Y (between 20 and 40 years old). Investments in yoga retreats, male/female leadership weekends and coaching (often paid for by their employer) has become commonplace.
Many people, however, are unware that one of the oldest ways for personal development was given to us thousands of years ago, within our own Jewish traditions. At one time I thought the Counting of the Omer and growing your beard during the Omer period were the only visible results, but there is more to it than meets the eye.
As a Career Coach and teacher of Organizational Behaviour, I get excited about ‘models’ for transformation and increasing our personal power. With this article I hope to show you the richness of the Counting of the Omer and what it has to offer you.
Why is personal development so important?
Amongst young professionals I see a tendency to invest in personal development in order to become more effective/competent and to get their needs met. In concrete terms, this means that If I want something and I become more effective, then I am able to obtain it and satisfy my needs. So – in the beginning of our careers – our needs define our ‘personal development’, for example:
- I want to increase my status at work: getting a degree or a job title
- More money: investing in investment skills
- Getting better results: investing in time management
- Getting piece of mind: investing in yoga
As we get older, the need arises to seek a deeper purpose in our lives and find ways for building stronger and more genuine relations with ourselves and others. Therefore, a shift may occur from personal development to self-actualization. Let me explain this to you: In personal development, the focus is on the persona – the role we play in the outer world. Don’t get me wrong. We need a strong role, but if we only develop the role we play, we miss the essence: the development of our inner selves. Here we find meaning, purpose and a stronger bonding with others.
Our innerselves, our souls. Judaism states that every human being has a soul in a body. I always struggle with the concept, because of its challenge to make the soul tangible, like in the movie 21 Grams. There the message is that the soul weighs 21 grams, and it can be measured by the body losing 21 grams at the moment of passing away. Although I do believe that we are not our mind, our emotions or our body. There is a deeper essence to all of us, that’s what I believe.
The Counting of the Omer introduces us to the powers of the soul. A field of power that gives us love, strength, discipline, relations and tangible results. It shows us how to transform ourselves and put these ‘powers’ to a good use. A rabbi once told me: I cannot teach only the instrument without the deeper purpose, it becomes too instrumental. One shouldn’t forget that the aim – from a theological perspective – is to build a better world, a divine place.
What is the Counting of the Omer?
The process of receiving the Torah at Sinai, which we celebrate at Shavuot, actually begins 49 days earlier. These 49 days are called the ‘Omer’. The Midrash says: ‘’if you bring an omer of barley for me, I will give you your whole harvest.’’ The Torah commands that immediately following the first day of Pesach a measure of barley, an omer, was to be harvested and brought to the Temple with the aim of refining it and offering it on the Temple altar.
During the Counting of the Omer, each day we reflect upon the powers of the soul and transcend our current limits. According to the Kabbalah, the soul has 10 powers – called the 10 sefirot – which together form the Tree of Life (see picture underneath). During the Counting of the Omer, each day we focus on one of the 7 emotional and behavioristic powers, and we relate them to each other (and to themselves), covering the entire period of 49 days.
How does it work?
Each week there is a focus on 1 sefira and its relation to itself or to the other sefirot. Each day we reflect upon the sefira, the role it plays in our lives and what are our current limitations. This usually deepens our understanding of self and seeing the world a bit more through the perspective of the sefira – and the power it has on the world. The reflection is usually ended with a new action, to take one step in actualizing ourselves – and expanding our inner power.
For example: day 1 – Chesed (lovingkindness)
The concept of love
In the spiritual guide to the Counting of the Omer, love is the single most powerful and necessary component in life. Love is the origin and foundation of all human interactions. It’s both giving and receiving. It allows us to reach above and beyond ourselves, to experience another person and to allow that person to experience us. It’s the tool by which we learn to experience the highest reality – G’d.
- What is my capacity to love another person?
- Do I have problems giving?
- Is it difficult for me to let someone into my life?
- Am I afraid of my vulnerability, of opening up and getting hurt?
Actualizing (taking an action)
- Find a new way to express your love to your loved ones.
A cool and easy way to follow and have the reflection questions and actions is to download the app of the meaningful life centre:
Why is the Counting of the Omer (so) powerful?
Someone once said we spend more time thinking about where we shall go next year on vacation than about a career change. The truth in this, is that daily life and the time and energy it consumes wields an enormous influence on us. So, to focus – or strive to focus – during a period of 49 days helps us to transcend the hustle and bustle of daily life and focus on our inner life.
Reflecting upon our inner lives – and seeing our current limits or resistance is a powerful way to become even more self-aware. Once we know our limitations, we can set proper goals. A Hebrew saying shows us this effect: yediat ha machala chatzi refua (in English: “A proper diagnosis is half the cure”).
Most people believe in compounded interest when talking about investments. That means interest on top of interest will give you a much higher result in the end. An example: 100 euro @ 5% interest for 20 years becomes… It’s the same with personal development: every year we build layer upon layer and the total result is like compounded interest. Action upon action upon … A bit like the French dessert mille-feuille (the thousand layers); adding a thin layer every year makes a great cake.
Wishing you all a Chag Sameach,
Profile Tom Oor
Tom Oor is a Career Coach from The Netherlands and part-time teacher at a busines school specializing in Business Administration/Organizational Behaviour. In his private time he used to study the tree of life together with a rabbi and a learning group.