Counting the Omer has Relevance Today

Nadia Siritsky-tnThe period between Passover and Shavuot is an important time for the Jewish people. While Passover marked the start of liberation, the Torah describes the journey from bondage to freedom as a lengthy process: the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.

Rabbinic tradition understands these years as a necessary time of transition and preparation – one of discarding old beliefs and shedding old habits. The years of bondage had taught a culture of blame, fear and resentment. It would take years to shift to trust, accountability and compassion. The underlying message is that beliefs and habits can enslave us or free us; they are often unconscious, but they hold tremendous power.

This is also an important reminder that change does not happen overnight. We are often impatient when change does not happen as quickly as we expect, and we begin to believe that it won’t happen. But change happens in stages, and every stage is an important step that can lead us to true transformation.

For many, the next several weeks is a time to reflect on old habits – to let go of those that do not help us and work on building new ones. The period between Passover and Shavuot, corresponds to the seven weeks between the exodus from Egypt and the giving of revelation on Mt. Sinai. During this time, many Jews engage in a process called “counting the Omer” which has an ancient Biblical and agricultural basis, but also a spiritual one. It is a time to reflect on the habits and beliefs that keep us from being our best selves.

We frequently speak about the devastating consequences of unhealthy habits such as smoking or addiction. But beliefs can be just as powerful, and like any habit, they can be learned or unlearned. The tendency to find the negative or the positive in any situation is one such “cognition habit.” Can we develop a habit of gratitude? What about our self-talk? Is it compassionate? How often do we tell ourselves: “I am so stupid!” if we make a mistake? What would it look like if we embraced our mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow?

One powerful way to reframe old beliefs, and to acquire a more positive and compassionate outlook, is to venture outside of our comfort zone in order to connect with someone else. Compassion is a habit that our world desperately needs. This month, our mayor has encouraged us as a city to practice compassion by participating in a week of service.

Jewish Hospital was given the opportunity to join the mayor in two exciting initiatives that are part of his Week of Service initiative. As part of KentuckyOne Health, we had the opportunity to partner with two wonderful local organizations that do tremendously sacred work, and that share our mission and core values.

Surgery on Sunday, Inc., is a nonprofit, volunteer organization that was started in Lexington, but that, thanks to the leadership and vision of Dr. Erica Sutton and her dedicated board members and volunteers, has been able to expand its services into the Louisville market, creating a network of partnering hospitals working together to provide essential outpatient surgical services to low-income patients. Patients are referred from other existing organizations in the community, and all services and supplies are provided at no charge to the patient.

Supplies Over Seas is a Louisville-based nonprofit organization that meets critical health care needs in medically impoverished communities around the world by collecting and distributing surplus medical supplies and equipment. By partnering with this organization, we at KentuckyOne Health and Jewish Hospital are able to fulfill our mandate of bringing healing, not only into our local community, but throughout the world. This is truly tikkun olam (the healing of the universe).

May this period of time between Passover and Shavuot usher in a time for us to be filled with more kindness toward ourselves and each other. May our beliefs and habits help us, not hinder us. May we find new ways each day to become ever more compassionate and may the knowledge that our community is striving to do the same give us hope and courage.

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