There's something about spring. The blossoms coating the once-bare branches of the trees confront the eye with their brazenness, like a woman baring her arms after a long winter draped in coats and scarves. We fling off our outer layers and start to explore the world outside we once shunned for cozy afghans and nights in with Netflix, and we stretch our limbs like the trees outside and reach our faces towards the sun.
It's natural and instinctual for humans, like all beings, to spend time hunkered down, in the darkness, exploring the fertile richness of the dark and cold before expanding once again with the blossoms of spring. Bears do it by hibernating in caves. Groundhogs do it by burrowing deep into the earth. Plants do it by retracting the nutritional goodness that makes them who they are deep into the stems as trunks of the tree, replenishing minerals from the cold frozen earth before spring arises.
And then it happens. The days grow longer. The sun shines. And so we begin to stretch. Blossoms bud and animals venture out of their burrows. And we humans, with a few extra pounds on our waistlines, stretch out and wonder what the next season has in store.
In ancient legends, the cycle of nature entering the darkness only to burst forth and blossom was told through legends like that of Innana, who descended to the underworld only to rise again, sending her lover Dumuzi in her place who would then rise again in summer months as the return of nature. Many cultures tell these legends, incorporating the underworld not as a darkness to be feared, but one to be valued for its nurturing properties.
As 21st century humans, though, we seem to have forgotten the nourishing qualities of the darkness in winter. We moan about the cold and dark, and when we run carefree into the sunshine, we do it without a backwards look. But like the plants who take up minerals and water via their roots during the winter months, perhaps there's something to be grateful for in all we examined over the winter and are now ready to shed.
As we shake off the excess winter poundage, what sweetness are we releasing into our bodies and the rest of the universe by breaking down those cells into something new, something that can be reincorporated as fuel for our bodies and our lives?
How can we take the opaque side of the darkness and make them mirrors for showing the light that we are? How can we take the coldness and make it a freezer for our greatness, the manure into fertilizer and the blackness into mineral rich coal; fuel to our fire?
Spring is a time of rejuvenation and regeneration, a time for taking the lessons of the winter and using them as a springboard to blossom into our highest selves.
Like the caterpillar that spends a week deep in his cocoon before spreading their wings as a butterfly. Like the seeds that spurt forth from the ground after winter, like the brightness that emanates from the ground after the storm, we are ready to burst forth.
In Jewish tradition, spring is a time for reinvention and meditation. The Omer period marks 49 days between Passover - the Festival of Spring, when newborn baby lambs were sacrificed and the first barley buds were earmarked for the Temple- and the ensuing holiday of Shavuot, the Festival of the First Fruits, when the first premium harvest was presented to the priests with fanfare and ceremony. Each day is counted with excitement towards the ultimate goal, but there's work to do in between.
On every day of the Omer, we journey further into our highest selves, preparing for the final destination. Aside from being harvest holidays, pastoral celebrations for a people who lived in harmony with the land, they were remembrances that testified to historical moments in the national development of the psyche.
The first, Passover, was the traditional commemoration of the exodus from Egypt, a national moment of triumph marking the transition from slavery to freedom, from a subjugated nation to one with self-determination. In our own consciousness, this is our chance to break free of predisposed paradigms, of outdated mindsets, of a persona we once wore or a habit we once embodied that no longer serves us.
Shavuot, the harvest festival, is one of revelation. Commemorating the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, this moment represents the turning point from exile to experience. As the Israelites journey through the desert, they move from slavery and all its associated behaviors which are reactive in nature, like saving bread for later and crying bitter tears, (practices that are reenacted in the Seder ritual on Passover ), to being equipped with the ultimate power of divine manifestation through proactivity. The ability to plant fruits and harvest them, to bake the bread of the barley sacrifice, to adorn animals and prepare elaborate baskets for pilgrimage - that is the ability of human transformation and transmutation that is only possible once we are truly free. It is the ability that was passed down during the revelation on Mount Sinai, a moment of energetic outpouring from the heavens above as the worlds beyond joined the world below in a celestial dance of interconnection and cross pollination. As the Creator declared, no longer will the fire and light of Divine secrets remain cloistered in the Supernal realms, inaccessible for any except the most ascended of beings, but manifested throughout the universe in pockets of love and Light that anybody can harness if they choose to engage, with the right tools and intention.
The primary tool, presented at the grand Mount Sinai event, is the Torah, the central teaching of the Jewish tradition that encapsulates far more than simply the five books of the Pentateuch. Will tradition states that those are the Five Books of Moses that were passed down on Sinai, it is also the oral law, the hidden laws, the Talmud and Kabbalah and thousands of other conversations, traditions, customs, teachings and experiences that encapsulates the lived tradition of thousands of years.
Writing down the Oral Torah was a risk taken by Rabbi Judah the prince upon destruction of the Second Temple, fearful that it would be lost as the heart of Judaism. And in that risk, it's true that the emphasis travelled from the ongoing process of interpretation and extrapolation to a fixation on the precise meaning of the text itself. But as we travel further on this space time continuum, the light brightens and the universe shines its divine light everywhere, bringing the Torah into access in the leaves of the trees, the shape of a mountain, the face of a child or the act of cooking or dancing.
"Lo hashamayim hi!" It is not in the heavens, a heavenly voice thundered as a disagreement between rabbis demanded divine intervention during the Talmudic period. It is the same words of the Torah in Deuteronomy that urge the people not to ask another to fly up towards heaven or sail across the sea in order to obtain the Torah, but that "the matter is close to you, in your heart and in your mouth, that you may do it." That the secrets to exploring and experiencing the Torah, the true freedom from exile and the true manifestation of liberty and revelation, is in embodiment of the Divine through that which is closest to you - that which is within you.
The Torah presents the map, but it is up to us for it to be done. The Torah presents tenets that exist for millennia as its hallmarks - as the sage Hillel said, "That which is hateful to you do not do to another - that is the entire Torah, all the rest is commentary." For as a truly liberated being, as one who received the great Sinai download that made us finally feel like we have human souls in Divine bodies with a true intermingling of the two; we can rise above ego and self-interest, and become conscious of the other. We are capable of drawing in the light and shining it wherever we go, redeeming the fallen sparks and shattered shards of our underworld beings and allowing them, too, to be revitalized and rejuvenated by the light of divinity, that has been hidden within all along.
The process of journeying through from Passover to Shavuot gives us the tools to journey through every dark corner and every hidden shadow, finding the trapped light within - that which Kabbalah calls "nitzutzim", heavenly sparks, divine energies that are hidden by the thick coarse shells that conceal them, known as "Kelipot." We find them by searching within, experiencing every layer of ourselves and redeeming the trapped light, uncovering out inner shine layer by layer til we're all lit up like a December shopping mall display.
Generally, Kabbalah structures the universe as dependent on ten specific energies, the "Sefirot". These are manifestations, energies or attributes of the Divine that channel light from Infinite Source through ten “levels” that intertwine and interrelate, resulting in ten primary expressions that are also mapped on the psyche, for humans arecreated "in the image of the Divine". Three are intelligent and seven are emotional, and it’s these seven emotional attributes that represent each week of the Omer process. Each of the seven interweaves with the other seven in a full matrix of 49, resulting in every possible permutation of human emotion and existence, from unbridled love to creative communication.
And as we journey through each day, from exile to revelation, from reactivity to productivity, we count the days and examine ourselves. We explore the darkness and we let in light, transmuting the lessons of winter slavery into fuel for our sparking fire. Nourishing the growing blossoms with the crappy manure of the past.
It isn't easy to manage all this self-work in the world we live in. We're distracted. We're tired. We're stressed and anxious and overstimulated. On diets of chemicals and radio waves, how is it possible to attune ourselves to the spiritual vibrations of Divine revelation?
The Omer ritual teaches us that this is a process. It's an ongoing daily method of transmutation and it can't happen all at once. We don't arrive at Sinai, arms spread forth and watch the globe of fire dump its light on our bare heads.
Instead, we create a container for it. We prepare. We anticipate. We understand that the process of awakening is a steady one, that the word is in process not moment.
We know our souls are bright purveyors of divine light, that our bodies are simply suits of humanity we wear to enable the universe to achieve its mission of divine completion by suffusing light through even the most material realms. So, we use our body as tool and embody the divine light as we hack away at the shell that encrusts our souls and bring back the faintest spark of light.
Every day, we take on another habit, break open another pathway, sensitize ourselves to the Divine love we deserve that is ready for us to let in, and expose our souls to another layer of revelation. Through the 49 days and 49 Sefirot, we find practical habits and embodied ways of letting in a little more light, a little more love. Whether it’s by practicing Gevurah-in-Chesed through creating boundaries and the act of saying no with love; or expanding our Hod-of-Yesod by creating bonds with the deepest gratitude, we do the little things in life that allows our blossoms to flourish and our darkness to transform to light.
We leverage our anger and turn it into passion; we reign in our love and build containers for self-love; we find beauty in balance and express awe with gratitude.
The actions are simple: just once, for one day, phone a friend. Just today, say thank you. On this day, add compassion.
And as we try, and persevere, and twist and turn through the Sefirotic matrix to the final ascent at Sinai, our Soul's crust becomes chipped away, hacked to pieces. The light creeps forth first in tiny pinpricks, then a faint wash…. soon a bursting blaze of light. The buds of spring blossom forth into a shower of fragrant flowers and the harvest is ripe for the taking. The humans teach ultimate actualization and merit the heart opening expansion of revelation.
And it all happens step by step, day by day, moment by moment, instant by instant.
Through the process of transformation.
From winter to spring.
From plant to harvest.
From exile to freedom.
From darkness to light.
From potential to self-actualization.