Imagine that you are walking through the desert -- for 40 years, day after day, week after week. You and 20,000 of your closest friends and tribal members move through the wilderness, in hopes of a better life.
You become hot and cold and hungry and tired. Shelter comes and goes. Everything appears wide open. The uncertainty of the wilderness seems disorienting yet exhilarating. To restore some order and structure to the wide-open landscape, you -- well, all 20,000 of you -- try to build a holy space in the desert by using specific measurements, materials and lots of detail. "Much as we may wish to make a new beginning, some part of us resists doing so as though we were making the first step towards disaster" explains English Professor Dr. William Bridges in his book "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes."
Vulnerable to desert storms, the winds, the sun, environmental and situational conditions, we begin to doubt if we will ever get there, only we don't even know where there is. After months of pitching a tent together, shlepping, hauling materials and not reaching the goal, the people around you start to get on your nerves. Complaining and blaming seem tempting because frankly it is easier than facing what is actually happening. Beneath the surface, massive changes are tugging at your hearts as your identity, security and reality are being forced to change. Tension emerges as you wonder who you are and where you are going.
This is the story of the Jewish people in the wilderness as we prepare for revelation. This is also the narrative of what sometimes happens for individuals and families who undergo traumatic experiences of illness, injury and loss. Shift happens, and it ain't easy.
On the Jewish calendar, "the transition time between leaving oppression [Passover] and arriving at the Promised Land [Shavuot] takes us to a desert that tests us and our leadership. That transition taught us a great deal about what it took to prepare and confront uncertainty and how important vision is," writes Jewish Educator Dr. Erica Brown. We count the Omer, or the wheat harvest, for 49 days. The Omer marks a major transition period for the Jewish people and for the earth. We are becoming a new people, on new ground, and letting go of our former identity and memories as slaves. The earth provides her bountiful harvest which allows us to survive. Physically and psychically, we are tested.
Life also tests us. When tragedy, illness and accidents occur, our worldview morphs immediately. Stability is shaken as reality turns upside down. We try to stop the suffering but we can't. The question emerges: What can we hold onto? What will help to nurture and sustain us? Dr. Brown explains that it is hard to "rebuild trust after authority breaks down." Yet it is possible.
The Omer offers three powerful lessons about life's transitions:
1. Go gradually. Step by step, day by day. When traveling to new lands or trying out new lifestyles, go slowly. Make life manageable by breaking it down into smaller parts, especially amid murky waters.
2. Small steps count and can be a source of blessing. The small steps are not only important but they represent the source of our blessings. Although grandiosity has its allure, short blessings count and enable us to get to the next day.
3. Each step prepares us for what comes next. We cannot just jump from one big milestone to another. Down-time is required. There is an invisible journey that we undergo to restore our energy and prepare for whatever may follow. Quiet time and restful space are required.
The Omer says we must go slowly. We cannot dictate the pace. We can cultivate support systems, count our blessings each day and develop relationships with compassionate mentors and friends. Regardless of what negativity may arise, we keep counting our blessings.
Transformative experiences involve a combination of pain, growth and wisdom. May we learn to mitigate the pain and be available for receiving more of the fruits.
For more on the Counting of the Omer, join the HuffPost Religion virtual community by visiting the liveblog, which features inspiration and teachings for all 49 days of spiritual renewal between Passover and Shavuot.