Seven channels for personal development
A detailed model of personal development – yes, there is one in Judaism. This process is more familiar in Jewish tradition by the name of the “Omer period,” which is the period from Passover to Shavuot. What is the essential character of this period of the year? How does this mechanism work exactly? And what are the seven main features that will turn us into the best version of ourselves?
Despite the fact that the Omer period extends over fully one-seventh of the Jewish year, there is still great confusion about its essence. The Rishonim (early rabbinical sages 11th-15th centuries) see it as a period of mourning for the death of 24,000 disciples of Rabbi Akiva. And since there is also a prohibition to shave and hold public celebrations during this time, they concluded that this is 2 24 a time of great sadness. However, this well-known explanation is problematic for several reasons.
1. Sefirat HaOmer – Counting the Omer
First, since the students of Rabbi Akiva did not die of a sudden plague but rather in several battles against the Romans, as can be seen from the Jewish source (Igeret Shri’ra Gaon, paragraph 11) and from the Roman historian Dio Cassius (Historia Romana, LXIX, 12:1). Regarding the prohibition against public celebration and shaving, we eschew these in order to avoid the prohibition against mingling one celebration with another (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Mo’ed Katan, page 9). Our conclusion for now: The 50 days of the Omer are not days of mourning, but days of joy.
Another meaning of the Omer period is the nature of the crop and the abundance of grains. Indeed, the Omer is mentioned in the Bible by the expression “the waving of the Omer “ which means “ Empowerment Period”; this expresses the wish for the abundance of grain and wheat that can be harvested during the spring, the period between Passover and Shavuot. At the end of the process, our forefathers would bring to the Temple a mixture of
wheat semolina and barley as a sign of this season of fruitfulness (Lev. 23:15). If so, the period of the Omer is only a period of agricultural growth mentioned in the Bible. One problem: There is no Temple today, and therefore it is difficult to connect to the economic significance of the idea.
Therefore, the main reason left to explain fortynine days of the Omer, which is also the most relevant reason for us, is a process of self-improvement and development that occurs every year throughout this period. According to the Midrash, more than 3,000 years ago the Children of Israel experienced a period of growth after reaching a spiritual nadir, known metaphorically as sinking to the level of “the 49 gates of impurity” (Lev. Rabbah 32,5), after they had been slaves in Egypt for more than 200 years. Every year these days of the Omer period invite the nation and each person individually to prepare for the day of the giving of the Torah (Deut. 16:9). In other words, the counting of the Omer has always essentially been the days and weeks devoted to the correction of one’s personal traits. And we have our own model for this.
2. A tool for personal development
The Sefirot is the Jewish apparatus that was chosen for the period of correction. In 1998 a new science called Positive Psychology emerged. Its founder, Martin Seligman, classified into six main categories what he identified as 24 human traits or character strengths. Under wisdom there are qualities such as: creativity, love of learning, and intellectual openness. Under courage: Ability to perform, honesty, authenticity. Under humanity, traits such as: Emotional intelligence and love.
Under justice: Leadership, fairness, and loyalty. Moderation is expressed in: modesty, prudence, and self-control. And under Transcendence: Excellence, gratitude, hope and spirituality. What are your top ten character strengths? Fine. A nice exercise is to undertake as a project to improve one trait every month out of those 24 excellent traits that are listed above. Another possibility is to adopt a more systematic plan developed 3,000 years ago: a mechanism for personal growth through the Sefirot represented in each of the various days of the Omer.
In Judaism there are seven main virtues: generosity (hesed), self-discipline (gevura), harmony (tiferet), perseverance (netzach), humility (hod), basic values (yesod) and leadership (malkhut). This assemblage originates in the Jewish Kabbalah under the name “Sefirot”, which are the same as channels that allow a person to reach new spiritual heights. ** Mathematically, one can imagine the movement of our lives as a function that constantly rises toward a high ceiling without touching it (a kind of asymptote that symbolizes the Divine Presence).
How is this mechanism structured? In a simple way. One trait for each week between Pesach and Shavuot.
3. Omer Growth Format
For the first week, generosity, the second week, self-discipline, and so on. And since a week is made up of seven days, a specific quality is also applied for each day of the week. It follows that the 13th day, for example, is the sixth day of the second week, which means this is the day when there is a focus on yesod- Basic Values (the sixth quality as against the sixth day) in Gevura – self-discipline (second trait as against the second week). The task of that day can be to introduce “value-based behavior” (e.g., dedicating valuable time to daily activity with our children) into “self-discipline” (while monitoring with discipline their development).
Is it more comprehensive?
Another example is the 32nd day of the Omer, which falls on the fourth day netzach / persistence) of the fifth week (modesty / malkhut). A suitable template for contemplation of a day of “persistence based on modesty”
can look like this:
Into this format are listed all the projects to which I have totally devoted myself in recent years. For each of them is itemized what was the purpose, what did I learn on the way, what obstacles did I encounter, what were the suc-cesses, and who are the people I met along the way. Thus, mistakes and successes of the past can be examined with humility and as a result of this examination, 29 one can prepare an organized and well-thought out plan, which through persistence can be improved and further developed. This is one way – in mini-format – to assimilate the message of that day. And that is how the mechanism works for the forty-nine days where we have the opportunity to leverage ourselves forward, every year.
It follows that we can measure the personal progress of each and every one of us using a chart made up of the forty-nine qualities that advance us toward the best version of ourselves. In a table of 7 by 7, it is easy to understand the nature of each day (see illustration above). For example: the 44th day of the Omer is the day of “gevura in malkhut” or using contemporary terms “discipline within leadership.” In other words, not only is determining our vision (leadership) of supreme importance, but in order to achieve this vision, we must set the milestones and be measured by clear criteria (self-discipline). That is how discipline in leadership is expressed. So, each of us should itemize on a page for the coming year (month by month) what are the goals that will lead you to fulfill your vision in the meantime.
The 27th day is the day of “yesod in gevura.” In other words, how does each of us put the really important elements (the basic values) into his organized schedule (self-discipline)? Everyone has priorities in life; the 30 courage that is required is to instill these basic values into our daily lives. My personal formula – I have drawn up an acronym where each letter refers to an item in my program for growth: Family: educational activity with the children, Experience sharing (from business workshops to cultural trips). Business goal (big, deliverable that makes you advance your career). Network (maintaining and developing relationships). Legacy (Writing daily to leave a long-term legacy). In
addition, learning (one chapter of a book daily) and health (sports). For every single day, for months and years, there is a box and, – thankfully – a √ in all of these categories. That way, too, one can fulfil the meaning of the 27th day and not just mark it. For example, the last line in the figure below defines the number of chapters that I must complete each month for the purpose of writing a book of 613 chapters for my children which extends over 12 years of writing...
So, this is the main message of this topic article. The goal is not only to count the Omer but also to uphold it. That is, carry out the personal development process which this period offers to the person. Or as the original term “waving of the Omer“ signifies, to leverage ourselves every year and re-empower its potential.
4. A comprehensive Jewish way