Counting the Omer: 49-Day Program for Change
Every small step we take to become better has an effect on everyone around us.
How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?
Only one. But the light bulb has to really want to change.
Lots of people hate change. Actually, they love change, but only if it is others who are changing to make life more comfortable for the person who doesn’t want to change. Many of us want our boss to change, our spouse to change, our kids to change, our teachers to change… the only one we don’t think needs to change is us!
The entire reason we are here is to change.
As a psychologist, part of my job is to help people to realize that the only person they can definitely change to be the way they want is themselves. Judaism teaches us that the entire reason we are here is to change! The Almighty created all of us imperfect and our job is to change to become better and better. If we want the world to be a better place, it starts with us. Every small step we take to become better has an effect on everyone around us.
Every year, we get an incredible step-by-step program for how to change our lives during the seven weeks between the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. We all have good and bad character traits that continually affect us and those around us. Kabbalah tells us that there are seven main character traits and we have the ability to develop them in ourselves. Each day between Passover and Shavuot, we count another day of the Omer. Each day has a special spiritual energy that enables us to work on one important aspect of our character that is especially accessible to us that day. We take a few minutes each day putting one angle of a trait into practice with ourselves, with other people, and in our relationship with God.
Altogether, we do 49 steps with each emphasizing a different trait that can help us to become kinder, to be more self-disciplined and have proper boundaries, and to live life more meaningfully. At the end of those 49 days, we are on our way to being noticeably better people.
The first character trait that we work on is kindness. The first day of the Omer we can devote time to doing something kind for ourselves. For example, lots of people think negatively about themselves. During the course of a day they might think, “I’m not pretty,” or “I’m not smart,” or “I can’t do that,” or “People don’t like me.” You can start to change your life for the better by being kind to yourself. Notice when you are having negative thoughts and substitute them with positive ones instead. For example, instead of “Things never work out the way I want,” you can think, “I am good at _____. When I put my energy and effort into that, things usually work out well.” Or, when you think “Nobody cares about me,” substitute, “These people do care about me...”
Next, think about a kind deed that you would like to do for others and do it! Simply having nice thoughts about what you would like to do does not make you into a kind person. Actually doing things does! Give someone a compliment, visit a sick person in the hospital, make a phone call or visit someone who is lonely, help a child with his homework, spend a few hours working in a soup kitchen. Judaism teaches us that each kind deed that we do transforms us into a kinder person and can make a difference in someone else’s life.
Finally, do one kind deed for your Creator. He doesn’t need anything from us, but the entire purpose for which He created the world is to be good to us. When we live meaningfully, it gives Him the greatest pleasure, so to speak. Choose one thing that He would like you to do. For example, make a gratitude list and tell Him that you appreciate the talents, friends, opportunities, or gifts that He has given you. Noticing that you have received good things instead of only expecting what you don’t have is something that research on happiness has shown will make you a happier person. Showing appreciation to the One who makes it all possible and verbalizing thanks to Him is a great way to do this.
It is said, “The journey of 1,000 miles starts with one small step.” During the Omer, you can take 49 meaningful steps on a journey that can change your life for the better.