Fifty Ways to Meet Your Lover (Sefirat HaOmer)

Mystical writings make this time period analogous to a woman preparing for union with her lover. She purifies herself for seven days. Seven is also the number of types of impurity that must be eliminated, and in our case linked to seven weeks, the time period between Passover and the Biblical holiday of Shavuot, forty-nine days called Sefirat HaOmer, “Counting the Omer”. God reveals all wisdom that there is to know on the fiftieth day, Shavuot, symbolized by the consummation of a marriage. In other words, to learn wisdom is to become one with the Infinite.

Therefore “spiritual purification” is a theme of these fifty days. Each day is designated for us to pray for and work towards a small piece of spirituality.

Don’t get me wrong, anyone who wants God’s wisdom can have it. He loves everyone and wants to give to them. But the more we are equipped to deal with it the more useful it will be.

There’s an old story of a person who seeks to speak with a wise Zen master.

As the proposed disciple sits before the master, the disciple begins to expound on his own knowledge to impress the master. The master stays quiet and begins to pour tea into a cup for the visitor. After the cup is full the master continues to pour until the tea is pouring over the sides causing the disciple to jump up and yell “Stop, the cup is full and can hold no more!”

The wise Zen master replies, “And what about you? Are you full of wisdom? If so, there is no more room for me to teach you anything.”

Wisdom is being poured out from above, but we have to be ready to receive it. Are we humble enough to know how little we know about marriage, parenting, happiness, and meaning? If so we will hit the jackpot.


Step by Step

We are commanded to count each and every day between Passover and Shavuot. This implies that spiritual growth is best achieved step by step, one day at a time. Our soul wants to soar straight to the Infinite. Our body also wants to become holy overnight so it doesn’t have to work. The real path, though, is to fire up a burning desire for purity every single day, working step by step to make progress on the ladder to the Heavens.

Seven Shepherds

One path the sages recommend to grab this opportunity is to emulate the Seven Shepherds. Each week is designated for a different holy one to try to be like.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David each represents a different character trait. The first week is dedicated to Abraham, the second to Isaac, and so on. There are seven kabbalistic terms in Hebrew that do not lend themselves to an English translation so I will describe an aspect of them instead.

1st Week:
Abraham exemplifies the quality of Chesed, a trait evidenced in his extreme love of mankind. This first week, in order to purify yourself and tap into the flow of Divine assistance, we can look for the positive things in others that bring to the surface that natural love in our hearts for all humanity. If the Almighty can love all His children, so can we.

2nd Week:
Isaac exemplifies Gevura, a trait of discipline and inner strength. He never wavered from whatever he deemed the will of God. To imitate him we can focus our attention on things we are doing that we know are not God’s will and eradicate them.

3rd Week:
Jacob is Tiferet, the ability to be in harmony with all forces. Sometimes he fought, sometimes he bowed. He knew how to handle every single person that came his way. He even had two names which showed his flexibility. He blessed each of his children, showing that he spent time considering the nature of each child, trying to give each one what he needed, encouragement, rebuke, insight, etc. We can do this too by thinking deeply about each of our close family and friends and think about what each person needs.

4th Week:
Moses is Netzach, the Torah’s eternal conduit. We can emulate him by studying the insights of the Torah and try to remove any of our own personal influence on the insights, looking for the pure unadulterated truth.

5th Week:
Aaron is Hod, a trait which made him beloved by all who knew him. He loved peace and did everything he could to bring peace into the world at every opportunity. We all want people to get along, but how many of us are doing anything about it? This fifth week we can emulate Aaron by doing something practical and specific that brings more peace in the world.

6th Week:
Joseph is Yesod, similar to Jacob’s ability to relate to all people, Joseph’s ability was to be able to bond with, join, and become a part of each and every person he met. He easily and successfully became a trusted assistant wherever he went, whether with Jacob, Potiphar (an Egyptian official), the jailer of the dungeon, or to Pharaoh himself. He was immediately trusted because he truly felt the pain of each person he met. We can imitate him by trying to become one with the people we know and their challenges to the point they truly trust us.

7th Week:
David is Malchut, a trait that allowed him to connect his own royal power and tie it to the Almighty. Power corrupts unless you constantly remind yourself that your power is only the Divine putting you in a position like a marionette puppet. When all others were afraid of Goliath, David said, “Are you going to let this guy curse the Almighty? HaShem will help you defeat him.” David knew that the Almighty runs the show at all times. “To You are the greatness, the strength, the harmony, the permanence, and the glory….” We can look at all of our abilities or power roles this week and see how we are merely a conduit for the Almighty.

If you try to emulate each character trait for one week of the seven week period you will experience a new type of enlightenment at the end. This is a simple straightforward approach to the Sefirah period. A more complicated approach uses all seven traits each week. Because each trait is incomplete without all the other six. You can’t have real love like Abraham if you don’t include Isaac’s awe of God. Otherwise you’ll transgress God’s laws to fulfill your love. You’ll spoil your children and become a doormat to your spouse. Each trait properly includes all the others. So a complicated approach to the 50 days has a different combination of two traits each day.

Our tradition says that the Israelites accomplished this when they left Egypt and fifty days later received the Torah.

Riding the Escalator of Life

Sometimes we get a special gift. When you work on spirituality in a consistent way the Almighty opens up a gate for you that you might not have imagined. If you look for reminders of what you are working on you will also notice on a daily basis how the Almighty is guiding and directing your efforts at self-growth. This daily testament to His role in our daily life is comforting and keeps us connected. But when we get that special gift, sometimes a whole new world opens up.

Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch) had an angel come to him and teach him many secrets because of his consistent study of the Mishna, the Oral Tradition. We are not all going to have such a special and holy event happen to us like that but each on our own individual level will receive a boost.

Kind of like that way someone gets “discovered” after plugging away for many years at something. Kimya Dawson was a relatively unknown recording a performing artist for years until one day an actress in a movie called “Juno” recommended her recording with the Moldy Peaches for the soundtrack which became a chartbuster. Now Kimya Dawson is “suddenly” a recognized star. Suddenly….after years of continuous effort. In the spiritual world it happens too.

Whatever area of growth we want to grab a hold of, consistency and continuity will be helpful, and sometimes they will be the cause of a major leap that propels us into a higher level. Our small path of steps just might be turn into a springboard. Now is the time to take the first step.

First Published on May 14, 2008

15 comments on “Fifty Ways to Meet Your Lover (Sefirat HaOmer)

  1. I am a long time and very close talmid of Reb Shlomo Carlebach זצ”ל and what I say here is in my own name:

    Whichever rung of Yaakov Aveynu’s ladder we are standing at any moment , whichever step of our path, we are not meant to stay there forever; if we refuse to be aware, just because we are striving to climb up, that more Jews are standing on lower rungs no matter why, our ascent will be prevented by ourselves, unless we make RESPECTFUL space for them in our quest for intellectual and/or spiritual progress.

    In other words, at least as I see my own path, all the People of Israel are guarantors for each other, or, to put is Shlomo did: “To pull someone out of the mud you must be prepared to get dirty.”. I can’t forgo acquiring (kosher) knowledge from those who possess more of it than me, but I am also obligated to pass it on, even if transliterated, to those who possess less of it than me and this is precisely my calling as a Jew and my main job as an Earthling: to learn in order to teach!!!

    If I try to teach English to a Chinese peasant who has never heard of it, or of Western people I must first establish in h(is/er) mind that I am a human species colleague and not a devil (conversely, calling a – Northern/Southern. Vietnamese a “gook” – sorry, I don’t know the Russian term – to more easily quell my conscience while shooting…) and find some common language to get the conversation started.

    Using secular cultural references is meant to do just that; learning Rashi alphabet before STA”M, or Times RomanH won’t go too far, because it enables a different level of content bypassing the one which is the primary basis of the relevant knowledge sought; I do not mean that one should start with racy jokes to get attention, but simply that to help someone reach the purity required for intense understanding of Torah one must claim an open communication channel, just like to purify a metal, to remove the dross, one must heat it to enable such dross to come to the surface where it may be skimmed, and it takes heat to accomplish this.

    That heat is called love, love of yor fellow(ess) Jew; if I feel superior and it brings me to despise h(im/er) instead, I have failed being a Jew no matter what external trappings I may wear, or if I immerse in a mikva my pan every morning before I fry my eggs with spiritual bacon…

    So I don’t feel guilty for using secular or alien references to make my point, and frankly, all those self-appointed G-d’s cops who wince seeing me hug a female because they think that I am titillating myself instead (and dying of envy because they think that it is all there is to touch…) whereas I, like Shlomo, look at Raba as an example, and disconnect at an inner level any kind of sexual feeling. In Shlomo’s words: “A picture is only worth a thousand words, and to say a million words it takes a hug.”.

    Halacha has different strokes for different folks, and when an Ashkenazi BT (there is worse, a Sefaradi BT who has been mekareved by an Ashkenazi of this kind who has made it to become a rabbi…) who has learned to lay Tefillin last week sees me doing it according to my Sefaradi nussach and instead of asking me why, takes for granted that he knows better and yells (it really happened to me, and more than once…) “You are doing this wrong; the real halacha is #####….” I smile and let him rant , but do not change my minhag on his account. אלא ואלא דברי ה…

    I am too busy continuing Reb Shlomo’s work: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B678n9B0TTqPZThjNmRlOTYtMGE0ZS00OGJhLTlkZTktMGY1YmVlY2EyODRj ; had I not met him I would not even have known to this day, at age 70, that I am a Jew and always was (I had not been told, converted before finding out, but the rabbi who handled the conversion passed away before providing me with a certificate; then my aunt told me the family secret but in Israel I had to convert again lehumra just to have written proof…) ; I have met hundreds of Jews and descendants of Anusim who are still in various stages of limbo while their holy sparks tug at them to take them home. For the last 38 after making Aliyah to found Moshav Modiin where I still live, I have never regretted my decision to come for a single minute, never made a real living (for that I traveled abroad a lot…) but only here I have a real, full time Jewish, life.

    So now I am gathering more Jews of the kind who like me abhor religious apartheid, to create a new Agrocommunitarian village for creative and tolerant Jews: Kerem Bnei Shlomo:
    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1SBbakRGXoU_QsiCH0lRbjADFnIepoLquqwmkM0dNya8/edit
    if this project speaks to you and you are considering Aliyah, by all means get in touch, and if you are coming to Israel come to see the land and project with your eyes. I am also seeking my next wife to help me do it better!

    For further info: Eliahu Gal-Or pizzarebbe@gmail.com +1972586272388 find me on Google, Linkedin, FB…

  2. It’s caveat emptor time. Readers have to determine to their own satisfaction if any given piece here is well enough supported by authoritative Torah sources. Unless there is a really basic problem such as a broad attack on Torah MiSinai or invective against Rabbonim (which have unfortunately surfaced here now and then), we don’t need to get too worked up.

    If a piece doesn’t speak to us because of stylistic issues or references to Zen masters, pop stars, pop Kabbalah or whatever, we can read other pieces.

  3. I do want to support the idea of having sources quoted in articles- and not only for halachic ones. Educated Jews in general, and especially BT’s must learn to look things up as much as possible and not simply accept something because a rabbi said it. Even looking up something in English translation or finding someone to help them look it up has value if people have not yet fully developed their own Hebrew skills. This must be part of good Jewish pedagogy at any age.

  4. Steve, I agree that “one can fulfill the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer on a Lchatchilah basis without saying the “Lshem Yichud” or the Kavanah associated with each day”. I, myself don’t say either of them. That doesn’t take away from the fact that sefiras haomer has a well known kabbalistic tradition. How many other areas of kabbalah do you know of that are found in basically every siddur?

    I’m not so sure, however, that “One can argue that Sefiras HaOmer is a form of Avelus … for the Talmidim of R Akiva…” since there is no connection with the deorisa (torah based) mitzva to count the omer and the tragic death of Rabbi Akiva’s students.

  5. Dear Steve,

    Yes there are many mitzvot that can be done without deeper ideas to distract us. And for many people the deeper ideas can confuse them. However, these ideas are not foriegn. They are now and have always been part and parcel of Torah observance. G-d taught them to Moses and we’ve been thinking about them ever since. Even the Artscroll Siddur felt the kabbalah of Sefirah was important enough to add to the siddur. And as you can see from my earlier comment what I wrote came mostly from Sefer HaTodaah, a standard reference on the holidays, not a kabbalah sefer.
    I do appreciate your criticism of the actual words I wrote. And the popular cultural references is definetly an issue for this site, but for those not yet on the madrega of shunning secular culture, it makes the Torah ideas more real. But your kabbalahphobia I think is misplaced. Many people like myself find deeper ideas enhance our observance, as I did from the first classes I had with Rabbi Akiva Tatz and Rabbi Aaron Feldman at Ohr Somayach 20 years ago.

  6. David Linn-WADR, there are many Poskim, who would strenuously contend that one can fulfill the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer on a Lchatchilah basis without saying the “Lshem Yichud” or the Kavanah associated with each day. One can argue that Sefiras HaOmer is a form of Avelus either for the Talmidim of R Akiva or as Zecer LaMikdash for our inability to bring the Karban HaOmer without the lofty language of the Lshem Yichud and a time for preparation for Kabalas HaTorah from Pesach to Shavuos and Tikun HaMidos on the interpersonal level without utilizing Lashon HaKabbalah in what IMO is vague and, worse, can seem like Elmer Gantrylike in its references to those elements of popular culture that I would question the propriety of in a Torah observant house.

  7. Generally speaking people don’t ask for sources so I avoid the extra work that is “wasted” on the majority to I can use the time for other work. Its a cost-benefit thing. Some people even find the sources a detriment to an easily read article. However, I am always willing to provide sources for people that ask. The core of this article you can find in Sefer HaTodah by Eliyahu Kitov in the seventh chapter for the month of Nisan called Pesach V’Omer especially the subsections starting with Sheva Midos BeSefira he quotes the “Chochmey Sod”.

    Unfortunately, there are “teachers” of kabbalah now who aren’t true to the mesora and are distorting kabbalah and Judaism. This is a shame for all concerned. However, since the topic of mysticism and spirituality is of interest to people who might otherwise not study, I have chosen to center my kiruv efforts around the topic. I’m trying to teach the more spiritual or mystical side of Judaism, not “pop-culture kabbalah” as you put it. Since my articles have been of interest to people who already are baalei teshuva but don’t find this type of material elsewhere I offer the same articles to editors of various websites who think their general readership will find them of interest.

    If you have any questions regarding any of my articles feel free to email me at MWeiman@kabbalahmadeeasy.com

  8. I’m not sure what you mean by pop culture kabbala, but I think it’s pretty clear that sefiras haomer is the one area of normative halachic practice that incorporates kabbala.

    As to sourcing material, I think, other than perhaps on a halacha piece, it might make the piece to lengthy and cumbersome. If you are interested in Rabbi Weiman’s particular sources, I would be glad to ask him to email those to you.

  9. Ok, I see that you usually note that. Anyway, the two points are 1) Does pop culture kabbala belong here on this forum? and 2) my original point that in general, I think Torah essays should not be permitted to be posted here unless they are backed up by sources and include some explanation as to where the content fits in, to help BTs try to build/organize their framework of hashgofa, and put the ideas into context. Otherwise I think it just adds to the confusion.

  10. Tzvi,

    We have noted in other pieces by Rabbi Weiman that he has a website kabalahmadeeasy.com, see for example, his last post on Tu B’Shevat and A Simple Guide to Happiness from a Mystical Perspective.

    There’s no secret here. As to cross-posting, we usually do list that but this might have slipped through the cracks. Anyway, the failure to list something as cross-posted would be a detriment not an advantage to Rabbi Weiman, so I don’t understand the point.

  11. Ron – you’re implying that this article was a special to beyondbt.com, which is not the case. It appeared on Reb Max’s self-promotional website, kabbalahmadeeasy.com. I would think that in the interest of intellectual honesty, beyondbt.com should not only note that the article appears elsewhere, but inform the beyondbt.com readership that the author, one of the “contributors” to beyondbt.com, also runs a website that promotes the pop-culturization of torah and “kabbalah”. (And as such he also appears to be affiliated with aish, which should come as no surprise ….) I thought this website was _beyond_bt.com, not btcentral.

  12. Tzvi, your request is hardly unreasonable, but you have to appreciate that you are asking for a lot of work from people who like Reb Max who are spending extra time as it is to make contributions here. I am sure, though, he can point you in the direction you’re seeking for follow-up information!

    Whereas in my case, when I write something for this blog, you can be quite sure I am absolutely just winging it.

  13. Would it be possible to provide some sources for the information here? As an aside, I would like to point out that when addressing a BT audience, it is important to mention not only sources but also enough background on those sources to help put the information into historical and hashgofic context.

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