I was listening to a podcast the other day and the main topic of discussion among some of the world's greatest public intellectuals was whether we will be a changed society after we emerge from lockdown and life goes back to normal.

Will we take the lessons we have learned during this period of quarantine?

Will our politics be changed, our health care and educational systems upgraded? Will the food, hospitality, travel, and entertainment industries be transformed? And if so, how?

Will humanity be more united?

Will the race towards globalization continue or be slowed? Will we revert back to a more nationalistic posture and orientation, with each country looking out for its own, or will we come together to fix some of the global issues that cannot be solved individually, like pandemics, climate change, cyber security, terrorism, and market disruption?

Will we maintain our heightened levels of introspection and the added quality time spent with our families, or will we immediately rush to (over) fill our lives with business and social engagements, like a pent-up rubber band or champagne bottle cork suddenly released?

Jewish history, especially as marked during the current Omer period, has much to offer on the topic.

If you study Jewish history you will discern a pattern: any change that is externally induced is short lived. Real, sustainable, lasting change comes through evolution, not revolution.

This is true of the two most monumental events in Jewish history: the great Exodus from Egypt and the Revelation at Sinai seven weeks later. The effect of both of these watershed events was temporary.

Just three days after being liberated from Egypt, the people challenged Moses:

What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt? Isn't this the thing [about] which we spoke to you in Egypt, saying, Leave us alone, and we will serve the Egyptians, because we would rather serve the Egyptians than die in the desert.1

Incredibly, over the next few decades there are numerous instances where the people challenge Moses similarly, even expressing a distorted nostalgia for their time spent in Egypt:

We remember the fish that we ate in Egypt free of charge, the cucumbers, the watermelons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.2


And do you also remember the attempted genocide, forced slavery, and torture you faced at the hands of the Egyptians? Or did the mind-blowing culinary delight of cucumbers and garlic eclipse the many horrifying human rights violations you suffered in Egypt? (My words, not Moses’.)

How does a group of liberated slaves come to pine for their former period of enslavement? How do they accuse, abuse and confuse their savior Moses with genocidal intent?

They said to Moses, Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us to die in the desert? What is this that you have done to us to take us out of Egypt?3

But such is the nature of sudden and externally induced change: its effects are superficial and skin-deep.

While the great Exodus from Egypt might have changed the external reality of the people, it didn’t change their inner world, the slave mentality that had been seared into their psyches.

As the saying goes, “It may have taken a day to take the Jews out of Egypt, but it has taken millennia to take Egypt out of the Jew.”

You see, any real external progress requires a corresponding internal process.

Change that is artificial rather than organic is superficial and temporary.

The same theme repeats itself during the Great Revelation at Sinai, considered by our sages to be the most monumental event in Jewish and world history.

Just weeks after hearing G‑d say: “I am the L‑rd, Do not worship another,”4 the people are found fervently dancing around a calf made of gold in blatant violation of the prohibition against worshipping idols!

And this would not be the last time. As chronicled throughout Scripture, sadly, our people’s struggle with idolatry was an ongoing feature of their spiritual evolution.

How does this happen?

It takes more than a few supernatural feats, plagues, and miracles to counter hundreds of years of attachment to idolatry.

Real, lasting, transformative change requires perspiration, not just inspiration.

The journey and transition from decadent slaves to “kingdom of priests” is not natural, and therefore could not be instantaneous.

And that is what the Omer period is all about. It’s an annual national 7-week program of spiritual and moral evaluation and self-improvement.

The mitzvah to mark each day between Passover and Shavuot with a prayer is not just about counting each day, but making each day count.

The mystics teach that the Hebrew word for “count,” sipur, can also mean to refine.

Hence the deeper meaning of this mitzvah is to reflect on and work to refine one particular component of our character and inner composition over the seven-week Omer period.

We analyze the building blocks of our emotional makeup, and ensure that the foundation of our psycho-spiritual world is healthy and mature.

The Omer ritual does more than link the festivals of Passover and Shavuot in time; it bridges them in spirit, transforming two separate festivals into milestones along a single journey, ensuring that by the time we reach the foot of Sinai our hardened hearts have been softened and our embittered egos have been gently broken open, making us soulful and receptive recipients to the infinite rays of Divine light and love made available to us each year on Shavuot.

To internalize, then, is to eternalize.

And so in the spirit of counting the Omer, let us dwell on, delve into, and develop our inner world. Let us utilize this global period of pause and introspection to go back to the drawing board of our lives in order to define our core values, refine our beliefs and philosophy, and redesign our habits and lifestyles to reflect our highest and truest selves.

And if we can achieve that, we will have managed to reshape and reframe a period of turbulence, transience, tribulation and tragedy into personal and collective triumph and lasting transformation.