What would you expect to grow from an untilled field? Thorns and weeds. It would take a miracle for useful crops to grow.

If a store is left unattended, the inventory may be stolen. Certainly, no profit will be made.

This reflects a dynamic woven into the fabric of our existence. As the soda bottle profoundly teaches: No deposit, no return.

These concepts are reflected in the personal realm. There is no such thing as spirituality without sacrifice. A person cannot expect to develop himself and grow unless he invests effort.

This is the lesson taught by the Sefiras HaOmer, the counting of the Omer, which joins the holidays of Pesach and Shavuos. Before the exodus, G‑d told Moses: “When you have led the people out of Egypt, you will serve G‑d on this mountain.” Like schoolboys ticking off the days until vacation, the Jews eagerly counted the days until they received the Torah on Mt. Sinai. Ever since, our people have counted the 49 days from the second day of Passover until Shavuos in fulfillment of G‑d’s command to count the Omer.

We are, however, not only counting days. Our mystic tradition, the Kabbalah, teaches us that our emotional makeup consists of 49 different attributes. Each of the days we count corresponds to one of these attributes. When counting the Omer, we should also by refining ourselves and our characters, working to make ourselves more complete and more sensitive.

This is also alluded to by the Hebrew word Sefirah which means “counting.” Every night we count one of these 49 days. But Sefirah also means “shining.” During these 49 days, we should endeavor to make our personalities shine.

On Passover, G‑d liberated the Jews from slavery; they witnessed Divine miracles of immense magnitude. Nevertheless, the people’s inner selves - who they were and how they thought - remained unchanged. G‑d took the Jews out of Egypt, but He did not take Egypt out of the Jews. That task, the cultivation of their spiritual personalities, He left to the people themselves.

This pattern is not merely a story of the past. Every year on Passover, G‑d takes us out of Egypt, giving us the opportunity to experience spiritual liberation. But after Passover, He asks us to internalize that experience, to make our spiritual heights part of our own conceptual framework. And the responsibility for this endeavor He entrusts to us.

We cannot expect spiritual growth and heightened consciousness to happen by itself or to be granted to us from Above on a consistent basis. Instead, Judaism has always put the emphasis on personal initiative. It is we ourselves who will change ourselves.

Counting the Omer represents a systematic attempt to better ourselves. It is a time to focus on who we are, where we are going, and how that transition can be made in a systematic manner which will produce lasting change. It is a time to integrate our “selves,” the way we usually think and feel, with our “super-selves,” the innate spiritual potential which we all possess. This prepares us for Shavuos, reliving our acceptance of the Torah, which enables us to transform ourselves and our environment into a dwelling for G‑d.