The month of Iyar is filled with rich ideas focusing on time, making time count and improving who we are.
The first mitzvah given to the Jewish people when they left Egypt was that of rosh hodesh, to set the calendar when each new month appeared. This date was established by the first sighting of the new moon. This seems like an arbitrary first mitzvah. But looking closely, we see that it was the beginning of the transition from slavery to freedom.
A slave does not own his time. He is told when he will work, when he will rest and what time to show up. He has no responsibilities and does not own his time. By commanding the Jews to set the calendar, God was essentially telling us then (and now) that as free people we own our time. We get to choose how we will spend that time. This of course brought (and brings) with it a lot of responsibility.
It’s easy to connect to this idea now, especially during the coronavirus pandemic when we are all globally in lockdown. We have had a range of physical freedoms taken away from us, but the big realization is that we are still in control of our time, and how we choose to use it.
The seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot are called the omer period. The bulk of this period takes place over the month of Iyar. From the second day of Passover, we count the omer each night at the start of the Jewish day. During this time we are preparing ourselves for the receiving of the Torah, which took place on Shavuot. These seven weeks are the bridge from Passover, our “physical” freedom to our “spiritual” freedom with the receiving of the Torah. It’s a time for personal growth when we can overcome physical dependencies, addictions and bad habits and move toward self-improvement and growth.
This is an opportunity for each of us to “walk” through our own desert toward freedom, not just of the body but a more spiritual freedom with a deeper purpose as well. Being in lockdown has given us the chance to take a look and evaluate our lives as a whole – how we spend our time, daily interactions, connecting with people and generally to decipher what is really important, and perhaps what we took for granted. Because we are counting each day for 49 days, we have an opportunity to reflect on this personal growth on a daily basis to see how the story of our lives is unfolding.
All stories have a beginning, middle and end. Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller relates that the Hebrew word for story is “sipur,” which is a collection of ideas, proofs and examples that together become a message. We count the omer by number, which in Hebrew is “mispar,” similar to “sipur.” Our personal lives tell a story that is made up of a collection of days and weeks. By addressing the content, meaning and the details of how we spend our time each day, we will have an impact on our weeks, months and years. There is an interesting symbolism of the egg on the Seder plate. An egg has two parts to it. First it is laid, then after a while it is hatched. At the time of Passover, we got our physical freedom, which connects to the idea of being “laid,” a new start, a beginning. As the story evolved, with time and growth toward Shavuot, we got hatched.
Looking back at what took place biblically, the sacrifice that was brought to the Temple at Passover time was barley, and the sacrifice brought at Shavuot time was wheat. What’s the connection? Barley is food that was used to feed animals, and wheat is something that can be used to make bread, which only man can produce through hard work and creativity. Again we see a progression in the story and a message for us. Coming out of Egypt just gave us physical freedom. If we don’t use the gift of our days and time correctly then that is what we will stay, purely physical, but this time of the omer is offering us so much more. It is offering us a chance to write our story and to evolve out of just physicality and eating barley, to being spiritually free and being able to bake and eat bread.
One thing that separates us from animals is the ability to be creative, to connect spiritually and to thrive as opposed to merely surviving. An animal doesn’t contemplate how it is spending its time, it just exists. We have the gift of contemplation and the freedom of choice to decide how we will spend our time.
Any time we have growth, we have to be prepared to leave something behind, and with spiritual growth it is no different. Before a seed is planted into the ground, it is just a seed and will remain that way unless it is taken out of its “comfort zone.” Once planted, it undergoes change, which involves a rotting process before it can begin to grow into a seedling then into a sapling and eventually a tree. When the tree is grown, there is no sign of the initial seed. We have to be able to get rid of that which is in our comfort zone to be able to step into the new. The same applies to a caterpillar that emerges as a butterfly. Each week is set up to help us achieve this developing process towards personal growth.
Kabbalistically, each week of the omer is broken up into themes for us to concentrate on for our personal growth:
1. Chesed: Love/kindness,
2. Gevurah: Strength/discipline,
3. Tiferet: Compassion/harmony,
4. Netzach: Endurance/determination,
5. Hod: Humility/devotion,
6. Yesod: Foundations/connections, and
7. Malchut: Majesty/dignity.
Looking deeper into the month of Iyar, Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh shares that the zodiac sign is the ox, an animal with immense strength. The zodiac sign of the previous month of Nissan (Passover time) is the sheep. Sheep are followers; they go with the flow and follow the group. The ox exhibits strength and is a leader; the sheep exhibits collectiveness and is a follower. The zodiac sign of the month of Sivan, which follows Iyar, is Gemini – twins, which has a dual purpose. We need to be able to incorporate “sheep” and “ox” qualities to be able to grow and develop individually to make our days count.
As such, the omer period is about counting individual days, which turn into weeks with themes that become our story. We have to focus on these specific days, made up of minutes and seconds in order to make the time meaningful. This is a process of self-growth that never really ends, it just helps us on the journey through our lives as we evolve to become our best selves. Enjoy the journey.
The writer runs an integrative Wellness clinic and is an international motivational speaker. www.dkwellness.co.il, firstname.lastname@example.org