Passover, one of the major festivals of Judaism, is a Spring holiday that commemorates the Hebrew slaves’ exodus from Egypt. The festival is a seven or eight day holiday that begins with a ritualized meal known as the Seder (order) and is marked by not eating any foods containing leavening agents.
The Seder is the star of the Passover celebration. This ritual includes the retelling of the exodus story along with ritual foods and items used to help in the retelling. A meal is shared, wine is drank, and everyone comes together to remember. But, while the remembering is of the exodus from Egyptian slavery, we also take the time to remember other forms of slavery and oppression that our people, and others, have experienced throughout history, or are experiencing today. Modern Seders often include newer ritual items, including Miriam’s cup to honor the contributions of women, oranges (for LGBTQ issues), potatoes (immigration), and many others You can read about several modern additions to the Seder plate here.
Once the Seder is over, Passover has just begun. We continue to substitute matzah for bread to remember that our ancestors had to flee Egypt in such a hurry that they didn’t have time to wait for their bread to rise. Metaphysically speaking, leavening represents aras in our life that we need to work on. Some people refer to this as our sinful nature, but I think it is best to see it as our Shadow side- not something that must be eradicated, but darker aspects of our personality that need to be incorporated. We don’t abstain from bread and leavened food indefinitely (complete eradication), but for a time in order to better see what our life can and should be. We then incorporate these foods (our shadow) back into our full selves for a better, and more complete picture of who we truly are.
So, the Seder is the time of remembering and celebrating our liberation from slavery. But, after being enslaved we are living with a slave mentality. That way of thinking colors every aspect of ourselves and doesn’t go away overnight simply by being liberated. Like the Hebrews in the exodus story, we need a period of retraining our brains and embracing a new way of thinking. Enter the Counting of the Omer. Traditionally this was a time to count the forty nine days between the barley and wheat offerings in the Tabernacle/Temple. The omer measure of barley was offered on the second day of Passover and the omer measure of wheat was offered fifty days later on Shavuot (thus the counting of 49 days or seven weeks).
This seven week period offered a time for the Hebrews to prepare themselves for becoming a nation. G-d gave the law to the Hebrews at Mt. Sinai on Shavuot. This is when they became a unified nation. The seven week period in between their liberation (Passover) and becoming nation (Shavuot) was the time that they changed spiritually. They had to see themselves not as slaves, but as a free people in order to become a nation. If they had remained in a slave mentality they would have remained an enslaved people- albeit no longer physically enslaved
Like the Hebrews, we need a time of inner transformation after our liberation. The seven weeks of the Omer offers us a time to examine seven different aspects of our lives. According to Kabbalah there are ten emanations in which the Divine reveals itself. The counting of the Omer takes seven of these emanations and assigns one to each of the seven weeks of the count. During that week we thoroughly examine every meaning of that aspect of Divinity and how to incorporate it into our lives.
By celebrating Passover and Counting the Omer we are able to commemorate our liberation from a literal slavery as well as a spiritual slavery. We then are able to take the time needed for inner transformation and shadow work to prepare in order to be truly free. Passover and the Omer are my favorite time of the year because I am able to remember that I am free from the enslavement of the expectations of others. I am free and able to live my life according to my own spiritual understanding. I am free to to embrace my Jewitchy self. And, I have a time each year in order to incorporate the memories from my past into my current and future self. As a result, I am a more complete and awake spiritual being. May the day come when I am truly a being of light.