The Seven Characteristics of God
Why should we Count the Omer in the days following Easter and leading up to Shavu’ot/Pentecost? Because these days are the climax of God’s expression in us!
Having prepared our hearts to know and receive God’s nature during the 49 Days of renewal and preparation that we are commanded to encounter during the Counting of the Omer (Leviticus 23:15-16), we have fulfilled the First Commandment of Loving God. Jesus as a type of First Fruits becomes the Omer offering, who is the full measure of grace having been given everything the Father offered to us, that is waved before God and taken in to be eaten by the priests of the kingdom; and He institutes the power by which we can fulfill the new commandment, which is to love one another as God has loved us. We Count the Omer that we might be fully prepared to be filled by the power of the Holy Spirit in our most abundant measure, the Father’s gift to us through Christ, and make disciples of all nations! Even the Saints encourage us in this tradition in their writings, See links below.
In the book The Book of Our Heritage, volume 2, by Eliyahu Kitov, the section on “Nisan – Pesach and the Omer,” we read the following:
“Our sages, who delved into the deeper meanings of the Torah, meanings that are hidden from ordinary understanding, have associated this period of seven weeks with seven attributes which are personified by our great ancestors. These characteristics are essential to the continued existence of the world and help mankind to rise from its lowly state, as the days which elapsed from the time of the Exodus to the giving of the Torah, enabled the Children of Israel to rise from being makers of bricks and garments of straw for Pharaoh, to become a people specially chosen by God, a nation of cohanim, kings and princes, all devoted to His service . . .
“Avraham personifies the virtue of ‘Loving Kindness’. Through his selfless love of mankind, the whole world was brought nearer to God . . .
“Itzchak personifies ‘Strength Of Character’, and from him the world learned to fear God. His whole being was devoted to the service of God and to the fear of Him. In this he neither faltered nor flagged . . .
“Yaakov was the personification of ‘Glory’. All his actions, whether towards God or towards his parents, towards Esav or Lavan, whether they concern the struggle with the Angel, his treatment of his children or his attitude to Pharaoh; all were perfect . . .
“Moshe typifies ‘Eternity’, the eternity of the Torah. All earthly possessions, those we give to others and those we accept from them, are of transient value. The Torah alone is of permanent worth . . .
“Aharon’s special characteristic was ‘Splendour’ . He loved peace and pursued peace, he loved mankind and brought them near to the Torah. Anyone who saw the splendour and sanctity of Aharon, how he absorbed the teachings of his younger brother and, free from all envy, rejoiced over his greatness, could not help but be influenced by him and his teachings . . .
Yosef typifies that virtue which lies at the ‘Foundation’ of all morality. The righteousness of Yosef’s life was such that he rose to the greatest possible heights of sanctity . . .
“King David typifies ‘Sovereignty’. It was not David’s wisdom or strength that brought him to kingship, nor did he achieve it simply by inheritance. His kingdom was granted him by the King of Kings. God took him from the sheepfolds, from tending the flocks of lambs, to tend the flock of Israel. God chose him for this task for He knew that even were he to rise to the greatest heights, in his own eyes, he would always be a humble servant. David was of lowly origin, yet all the kings from east and west, came to do him homage. He taught the world that God is the Supreme King. He taught mankind to sing songs of praise to the Master of the Universe . . .
“Each of these seven qualities is closely intertwined with the others and all are inter-dependent. None exists in isolation…Each characteristic has a light of its own which it sheds on the others even while it absorbs their light…Our sages have designated the seven weeks of counting as an opportunity for correcting the various defects of character, by stressing these seven special qualities . . .
“When we count the forty-nine days of the Omer from the second night of the festival, it reminds us that each day marks a step away from the defilement of Egypt, and a step towards spiritual purity. At the end of this period the Israelites were worthy of receiving the Torah . . .” (The Book of Our Heritage, volume 2, by Eliyahu Kitov).
Now let’s put these days in their proper order, listing each major characteristic for each week, and each day of each week. This shows us graphically what characteristic or virtue we should be working on each week, and which combination of virtues on each day of that week, until we complete the Omer count at the end of the 49 days.
For example, week 1 is “chesed” or “loving-kindness.” Day one of that week is also “chesed” (“loving-kindness”). Thus it represents “chesed” X “chesed” (“loving-kindess” multiplied), or the concentrated and emphasized quality of chesed and its wholeness. Day 2 of week one is “gevurah” (“strength”) as it relates to “chesed” (“loving-kindness”).
The last week of the count is “Malchut” (“Kingship”) and the seventh day of the last week is also “Malchut” (“Kingship”) – thus it is “malchut X malchut” (multiplied by it self) – kingship itself concentrated, emphasized and made whole. Thus we go from loving-kindness to kingship in 49 meaningful stages of spiritual growth! If you have studied the writings of the saints, you will certainly find some similarities in the progression of the soul as though through Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle or Bernard’s Holy Kiss of the Mouth and even The Bridge of Catherine of Siena.
Just as the character of God is richly multi-layered, so is the soul of man, which reflects the soul of God. If we were to try and make sense on our own and without instruction the various names of God and the revelation of his character in the scriptures it might well take us a lifetime. Even if we could find the language to understand His profundity we would still struggle to translate it to others. The beauty in Counting the Omer is that God himself foresaw this and provided us a way to not only discover the language of his nature but to also discover a language for passing it on to our children.
How do we talk to our kids about things like love and kindness, faith and courage, honesty and trust? Though these are the things we most want to communicate to them, they are the most difficult to speak about.
The task becomes even more difficult because these virtues and character traits are not consistent. They tend to be fluid and abstract. They don’t behave the same in every situation. Unrestrained kindness, while generous and flowing, is not always wise. Loyalty, while an exquisite quality, can lead our children astray when applied blindly.
But how to understand these subtleties clearly enough to begin to talk about them with our children? How, for example, to distinguish between the horror of violence and the necessity of war, the purity of honesty and the cruelty contained in speaking unnecessary truths, productive assertiveness and hostile aggressiveness?
To do so wisely requires an understanding of these qualities. And a language, a vocabulary for expressing their subtleties. The Counting of the Omer helps provide such language.
As we fulfill the mitzvah of counting the days and weeks from Passover to Shavuot, each of the seven weeks is devoted to a different attribute—one week for Kindness, another week for Discipline, another for Compassion, etc. On each of the seven days of the week we refine another of the seven aspects of the week’s attribute. For example, on the week devoted to kindness, we will devote one day to refining that aspect of kindness that requires discipline, and another day to refining that aspect of kindness that requires compassion, and so forth. During the week when we are refining beauty, we spend one day refining that aspect of beauty that requires dignity, and another day on that aspect of beauty that requires humility, until we have refined all seven aspects of beauty.
Ultimately, all character traits derive from combinations of these seven basic virtues, which are reflections of God’s very own nature given to us through the example of the seven patriarchs of Israel and reflected entirely and most completely in the Messiah. Each quality continually interacts with the others, and in so doing has the capacity to modify its expression and effect. To be whole, a character trait must incorporate all seven; a lack or overabundance of even one of the seven renders it corrupt and, in some cases, damaging. Discipline, for example, can easily become cruelty with but a slight exaggeration.
Knowing this, we can use these attributes to begin to distinguish and explain the characters and behaviors of our children and ourselves, as well as others. These attributes, which we count and refine in our forty-nine-day journey, can be used as the foundation of a new language, a Language of the Soul.
Only in this context, can we adequately address the corporal and spiritual works of mercy necessary for the world to be renewed. This is why the Counting of the Omer leads up to Shavu’ot/Pentecost. It is the climax of God’s expression. Having prepared our hearts to know and receive God’s nature during the 49 Days of renewal and preparation, we have fulfilled the First Commandment of Loving God. Jesus as a type of First Fruits then becomes the Omer offering, who is the full measure of grace having been given everything the Father offered to us, that is waved before God and taken in to be eaten by the priests of the kingdom; and He institutes the power by which we can fulfill the new commandment, which is to love one another as God has loved us. We Count the Omer that we might be prepared to be filled by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Father’s gift to us through Christ, and make disciples of all nations!
“The Last Day” – DAY 50
PENTECOST -SHAVUOT (the FEAST OF FIRST-FRUITS) and HOW TO RAISE CHILDREN (Our Fruits) IN THE OMER
“Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissentions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal.5:19-21, NRSV).
“Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10).
“By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another” (Gal.5:22-26).
Now that we have been given a language to understand the Love of God we can use this language to name and identify, and then speak in power and demonstration with our children, about qualities that are non-tangible—that cannot be touched nor seen—but can be expressed in action.
Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth. – 1 John 3:18
If we learn to talk about these inner qualities with our children in clear, specific, and concrete ways, we have the possibility of penetrating their hearts and minds and opening their own ability to communicate with us from a deeper part of themselves.
Using the seven attributes as a guide, we can speak to our children not only about what something is, but how it is that way. We cannot only define kindness, we can also describe what it looks like in action. Does it always look the same? Can the same act be kind in one situation and cruel in another? Can an act appear cruel and yet still be kind? How and why?
The expression of any of these seven attributes requires modification depending on circumstances, and results in a variety of ways in which a particular quality might be expressed differently to meet a specific situation.
If being helpful is good, then why is helping someone steal not good? If being courageous is important, then why is doing something dangerous wrong? If being loyal is meritorious, then why not go along with the crowd even when I think they are doing something harmful? If tolerance results in a more peaceful world, then why must I sometimes stand against what someone does, or make a distinction between right and wrong?
As you explore each of these seven qualities and understand how they affect each other, you begin to see that the lack or addition of any of them dramatically shifts the meaning or expression of the others. If we are not careful, we can do this with our understanding of God, as well, and the meaning of His words can become less than their full expression as He intended.
Though the essence of “love” is giving, would a child be loving if he gave a book of matches to a young seven-year-old friend, or if she gave away—without asking—a toy that belongs to her brother or sister, or if he or she told a lie in order to prevent a friend from getting into trouble?
If you spend time reflecting on each of these seven—kindness, discipline, compassion, endurance, humility, connection and dignity—and how they interact with each other, you can use them like a checklist to see which, if any, of these qualities is missing or in overabundance in any given situation. This will allow you to more easily talk about them with your children.
Let’s look at assertiveness as an example. Many of us wish to encourage this trait in our children. It is an inner quality necessary for accomplishment and for independence (going against the crowd). Yet we know that assertiveness borders on aggressiveness, and can easily become a quality that is misused or overused, resulting in some potentially nasty character traits. But how to explain this distinction to our children? Let’s try to apply our seven-attribute checklist.
For example, what would assertiveness look like if it lacked the attribute of love or discipline? How often have you met someone who proclaims to be assertive, yet reeks of hostility? Can your child be both assertive and compassionate (understanding and considerate of the needs of others) at the same time?
On the one hand, being assertive can help your child to be independent and not follow the crowd. It may prevent him or her from being bullied. But without instilling humility and compassion in your child, how can you be assured that he or she will not become the next bully on the block? Without humility, even though your child’s assertiveness may bring him success, might it also result in arrogance and pridefulness?
How effective will your child’s assertiveness be if it lacks endurance? Why do some very assertive people—passionately dedicated to their very worthwhile goal—still lack the ability to accomplish much? Could it be that with all their strength and enthusiasm, they lack endurance and discipline?
And how often have we met assertive, disciplined, committed people who lack openness to new ideas or the flexibility to respond to changing situations? Could it be that they lack a sense of connectedness to a large and ever-changing world? Do they fail to see that their actions affect this world in ways larger than themselves, and that the world to which they are connected is constantly affecting them and their goals? Or, lacking this quality, do they tend towards a self-centered approach to life that may move them towards their individual goals at the expense of others, and without a positive effect on the world around them?
And finally, upon acquiring assertiveness, your child should have a sense of dignity—a sense of self-respect and of being worthy of the respect of others. When you think about it, would this not be achieved unless your child was able to be assertive in a loving, disciplined and compassionate manner, exercising endurance and humility, and realizing the consequences of his or her actions to both themselves and others? Don’t we all know assertive people who lack one of these qualities and consequently don’t garner our respect? Doesn’t your child have a schoolmate who seems to always get what he or she wants, yet is neither liked nor respected by the other children? Could you identify one or more of the seven attributes that this child is lacking? Can you see how a lack in any one of the basic seven attributes can quickly turn a positive quality into a negative one? Can you explain this to your child?
God’s commands are not without wisdom. Though we are free under the Law because of Christ’s offering, we are still called to imitate him in fullness and measure. Let us then use this opportunity in wisdom of “counting the Omer” to reflect on the nature of our Father as the Son once did and having overcome the flesh, become like him, having found first our own victory in mastering the language of God’s love for ourselves, so that we might continue to grow in grace and reach the fullness of maturity that Christ offers us all by his own Counting of the Omer. He who grew in measure became the fullness of that measure and the first fruit of his kind. Let us prepare our hearts to become like him, and having been waved before our Father be filled by his Spirit to renew the face of the earth.
For further reading on the attributes of God’s character and the Fruits of the Holy Spirit, check out our article on “Becoming an Overcomer in the Omer.”
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A Spiritual Guide to Counting the Omer by Simon Jacobson
Ten Keys for Understanding Human Nature by Mattis Kantor
Mystical Concepts in Chassidism by Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet
Language of the Soul by Jay Litvin