— by Aviva Perlo
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 tribe’s members move through the wilderness, in hopes for a better life.
You get hot, and then cold, and then hungry, and then tired. Shelter comes and goes. Everything appears to be 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 using specific measurements and 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.”
More after the jump.
Vulnerable to environmental and situational conditions: desert storms, the winds, the sun, we start to doubt if we will ever get there, and 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 it’s easier than facing what is actually happening. Beneath the surface, massive changes are tugging at our hearts, as our identity, security and reality are being forced to change. Tension emerges as we wonder who we are, and where we are going.
This is the story of the Jewish people in the wilderness, as they prepared for revelation. This is also the narrative of what sometimes happens to individuals and families who undergo traumatic experiences of illness, injury and loss. Shift happens, and it’s not easy.
On the Jewish calendar, writes Jewish educator Dr. Erica Brown:
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.
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 a new ground, and letting go of our former identity and memories as slaves. The earth provides us with her bountiful harvest, which allows us to survive. Physically and psychically, we are tested.
Life also tests us. When tragedies, illnesses and accidents occur, our worldview morphs immediately. Its 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 nurture and sustainin 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:
- 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 amidst murky waters.
- Small steps count, and can be a source of blessing. Although grandiosity has its allure, short blessings enable us to get to the next day.
- Each step prepares us for what comes next. We cannot just jump from one big milestone to another. There is an invisible journey that we undergo in order to restore our energy and prepare for what may follow. Quiet time and a restful space are required. We cannot dictate the pace. We can cultivate support systems, count our blessings each day, and develop relationships with compassionate mentors and friends.
Transformative experiences involve a combination of pain, growth and wisdom. May we learn to mitigate the pain and be able to receive more of the fruits.