Shechinah: Goal of the Omer

Shechinah: Goal of the Omer
Painting of a mother goddess emanating light from her womb, illustrating a post about Shechinah.

Are you a fan of Shechinah, the ideal mother and close divine presence? Do you count—or want to count—the Omer? Did you say “yes” to both questions?

Then you’re in sync with the Zohar, classic book of Kabbalah. The Zohar says: the omer count is a search for Shechinah within.

What is the Zohar?

The Zohar is a mystical novel about the adventures of 2nd century Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his students. They wander the countryside, teaching Torah. But they have a particular slant. For them, the Torah explains the deep metaphysical structure of the universe. The stories and laws teach about the sefirot. The sefirot are forms that divine energy takes as it flows out of Eyn Sof. We know them as basic spiritual concepts: potential, wisdom, understanding, love, judgment, beauty, eternity, splendour, grounding, and presence (Shechinah). The sefirot weave together into a spiritual map of reality. They sparkle with creative and procreative energy. Some are more motherly; others are fatherly. They come together in the Great Parent of the universe. The Great Parent has a changing balance of male and female qualities. It births and sustains everything that is.

What is the Omer?

The Torah’s descriptions of holiday rituals—says the Zohar—also tell stories about the sefirot.

For example, the Torah describes Passover in great detail. It’s a seven day celebration of the Exodus. But it’s also the beginning of a seven-week agricultural ritual. On the second day of Passover, farmers brings a sheaf (omer) of new grain to a priest. Then, the priest lifts it up “in the presence of God.” Next, the community counts (sefar) seven weeks (shavuot). Finally, on the 50th day, farmers celebrate the harvest with freshly baked breads.

Talmudic sages added new meaning to Shavuot. First, they figured out on what date God spoke the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. It was exactly seven weeks after the Exodus! Thus, they gave a new meaning to the seven weeks of intensive spring farming. It wasn’t just a time for grain to ripen. It was also a time for souls to ripen, on a seven-week journey from liberation to revelation. Thus, the omer became a countdown to revelation.

Shechinah at Shavuot

Here, the Zohar sees a story about Shechinah. She is the tenth sefirah. Her presence brings divine energy especially close to us. She stays with the Israelites during their enslavement in Egypt. There, she is a kind of loving protector. When God frees the Israelites Shechinah, too, is freed. She is present for the parting of the Red Sea. The Israelites, wowed by the miracle, feel Shechinah’s close presence. But the first weeks in the wilderness are stressful. So, the Israelites lose heart. And their spiritual level falls. They cannot feel Shechinah’s presence.

But, Shechinah isn’t really far away. Instead, she is busy doing her own thing, now that she is free. She is preparing to reconnect with her partner, the fatherly Tiferet. When these two sefirot unite, something new will be born. That something will be both metaphysical and tangible. In fact, it will connect these two dimensions of reality. Thus, humans will experience it as a revelation of the divine. So, the two sefirot unite exactly as the Israelites stand at Mt. Sinai. On Shavuot.

A Tikkun for Shechinah

The Torah says that humans are created in the image of God. So, Kabbalists believe that the sefirot move in our psyche, too. Sixteenth century Kabbalists made this explicit. For them, each sefirah is an inner spiritual potential. A well-developed soul holds a good balance of the sefirot. So, when a soul is out of balance, it must correct (tikkun) its relationship with the sefirot. For example, you might worry about your limited ability to love. But by drawing energy from the sefirah of divine love (chesed), you could correct your weakness. And, when you correct the sefirah within you, then you improve the spiritual balance of the whole world.

Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), created a special tikkun program for the omer season. You work on the inner level, correcting your own psyche. In the first week, you strengthen seven facets of love. Then, for the next five weeks, you strengthen five more sefirot. During the last week, you strengthen Shechinah. On the 49th and final day, you strengthen Shechinah within Shechinah. Once you do that, you are strong enough to open your heart to new revelation.

So why count the Omer?

What’s at stake in reconnecting with Shechinah? That depends on how she appears to you. Is Shechinah the ideal mother you never had? Maybe you would like to heal a relationship with your own mother or grandmother. Or with the “mother” inside you, so you can care for others more freely. Maybe you would you like to help our society improve its treatment of mothers, so that fewer parents and children suffer. The omer journey can help you move forward.

Is Shechinah a sense of close divine presence? Maybe you feel her presence only when you’re in the woods. Or only when you listen to music. But maybe you would like to feel Shechinah’s presence whenever you need it. The omer journey can help you figure out how.

Sources: Shechinah’s Omer journey: Zohar 3:262a:10; Pinchas Giller, Kabbalists of Beit El, 87. Luria’s Omer program: Vital, Pri Etz Chayim, Sha’ar Sefirat Ha’Omer, chapter 2. Thanks to Rabbis Pinchas Giller, Justin Goldstein, T’mimah Ickovitz, Eugene Fleischman Sotirescu.

One Comment
  1. So wonderful that we have this tradition to come to ourselves so that we can be there for others with …. and just that to just show up. Thank you Reb Laura,
    Mary

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