Just last week, we waved goodbye to Passover, the holiday of Jewish freedom and redemption. But after all this talk of freedom, I feel like I’m still eating matzah. And I’m not just talking about leftover matzah brei.
The slave mentality is deviously persistent and many of us are still bogged down by those destructive relationships, negative character traits, spiritual blocks, suffocating job situations—you name it. And that’s okay… G-d isn’t expecting a 180-degree turnaround in eight days.
The fact that Passover came and went but that the “situation” is still lingering is normal. The Israelites themselves — the ones who had seen the hand of G-d, the ones who witnessed miracles with their very own eyes — were still complaining as Moses was leading them out from Egypt to receive the Torah. They looked back longingly at their bondage back in Egypt. “Maybe we should turn back…”
People can get used to just about anything. And as terrible as slavery was, the Israelites had simply grown used to their shackles. The looming threat was change.
But change is what it’s all about. G-d took us out of Egypt to be free, but freedom doesn’t mean being able to do whatever we want. Judaism teaches us that freedom is the ability to engage in spiritual growth, to refine oneself as an individual, friend, partner, child, sibling. On Passover we were freed, but now is where the real work begins.
From the second day of Passover, the Torah commands us to count the 49 days until Shavuot, the holiday celebrating the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. The 49-day count is referred to as Sefirat Ha’Omer, or the “Counting of the Omer,” the Omer being the sacrificial offering of barley meal unique to Shavuot. Kabbalah explains that each day of the Omer corresponds to the 49 traits of the heart — kindness, strength, beauty, just to name a few. Each day, the mitzvah is pushing us to engage in self-reflection and spiritual refinement of the day’s particular trait. We are being forced to recognize our potential and re-sensitize ourselves to the beauty of freedom.
The mitzvah of Counting the Omer teaches us that
change must be small and incremental, but consistent. The beauty of freedom is we
are in control. That destructive relationship or bad temper, that spiritual
block — that’s exactly why we are here. To learn from it. To fix it, between Passover and Shavuot. And only then can one be truly free.