04/17/2012 11:37 am ET Updated Jun 17, 2012

Why Count the Omer in Sadness?

After the joyful Seders and family gatherings have ended and we have entered more deeply into the Passover holiday, I often feel jarred by the Counting of the Omer.

Traditional Jews mark this time before Shavuot through abstinence: foregoing weddings, cutting one's hair and even listening to music. Instead, they devote themselves to internal work and spiritual preparation for the commemoration of receiving the Torah on Shavuot.

While Talmudic passages attempt to justify this sternness by relating it to challenging historical events and narratives (notably those related to the great rabbinical sage Rabbi Akiva), I remain perplexed and surprised by it.

Believing in a living, vibrant tradition, I struggle to understand the idea that preparations for receiving the Torah -- even symbolically -- must be somber.

Torah is something that brings wholeness to my life and joy to many of its moments. Likewise do feelings of fulfillment, wholeness and happiness often make me more receptive to the Torah and its sacred lessons. And I suspect that I am not alone in feeling eager to study and engage spiritually when I am joyful.

How are we to engage with a practice that links a somber countenance to readiness to receive the Torah -- especially if being somber does not always further our spiritual trajectories?

I would suggest that there we may be conflating serious reflection and feeling serious. There exist many ways in which serious reflection (and introspection) and serious joy can go hand-in-hand. They are not in tension and may in fact be complementary.

Perhaps we should not eschew our joy for the sake of earnest thought but rather remain aware that we can think in earnest in many kinds of moments, including those of joy.

This year, I will be counting the Omer and working to prepare myself for Shavuot. But I will harness, rather than abstain from, the joy that inspires so many of my reflections.

I hope that you likewise will find meaning in this tradition -- along with others that at times leave us perplexed but are worthy of careful study and mindful engagement.

Join the community and conversation by visiting the Omer liveblog on HuffPost Religion, which features blogs, prayers, art and reflections for all 49 days of spiritual reflection between Passover and Shavuot.