Abi Taylor-Abt

Lessons of the Omer: Jealousy

Don’t be jealous. It’s such a basic concept that it is one of the Ten Commandments.

Jealousy holds a power that we often don’t fully understand. It creeps into our lives and plants a seed of discontent. It is often hard to pinpoint because this jealousy can take many forms and disguise itself as something else. We can be jealous of both material and unquantifiable things. Possessions, skills, talents, relationships, all can be sullied by the taint of envy.

Regardless of where they fall in our historic timeline, our stories all come back to one recurring theme. Jewish ethics and how we act.

The 49 days between Passover and Shavuot are called the Omer and are referred to in the Torah. Originally the actual word Omer meant a measure of grain and in the Torah we are taught that we are not to use any of our new barley crop until an offering is given at the Temple. The Torah teaches us that we have to count seven complete weeks after giving this offering.

It is one of the saddest periods of time in the Jewish Calendar. During this time twenty-four thousand students of our great sage, Rabbi Akiva, died. We mourn their loss and do not have weddings, haircuts or dance as a symbol of this.

The Talmud says that Rabbi Akiva’s students all of them died in one period of time because they did not treat each other with respect. Rabbi Akiva himself told his latter students that they died because they looked jealously upon each other. They were more focused on their own learning, than the concept of how by raising each other, we are all lifted together.

Likewise, if we are able to help someone else on their journey, then it is our responsibility to do so. We should not be worrying how their success will effect ours. Effective peer-to-peer coaching can offer the encouragement people need to overcome the fear of starting something new. By removing jealousy of abilities and achievements, we can develop and improve our abilities, through practice and reflection on what works (and what doesn’t).

The Omer is a defined as a time of sadness and allows us the time to reflect. We are given a specific time-frame in which to address our ways, and make sure we are being the best person that we are capable of being.

Not our neighbours, our friends or our bosses. This time is for each and every one of us to assess ourselves. The idea that we have to be the best person that we can be is very powerful. We are judging ourselves according to our own abilities, and are not supposed to use comparison as a benchmark, for our successes or failures. In choosing our behaviour we have the gift of free-will, our choices are up to us and how other people act is not a necessarily relevant to us.

We learn more than this lesson on jealousy from the students of Rabbi Akiva. Firstly, if we fully utilise this time of self-review during the Omer period, we are then prepared to accept the Torah on Shavuot. In addition, unless we exhibit love for our fellow Jew, we will never be able to be prepared to receive the Torah. And finally, we need our fellow Jew to help us acquire the Torah.

The Torah is a blueprint for living. We received it thousand of years ago and as we continue to learn we can see how the ethical teachings help guide us in our modern day lives. By practicing these lessons in true Jewish values, we gain harmony allowing us all to compliment and supplement each other.

Once we use the Omer for reflection, we can remove jealousy from our hearts and lives, and only then, can we learn how to be the best that we can be.

About the Author
Abi Taylor-Abt is an outstanding Jewish Educator and Curriculum Developer who has worked in the field of Jewish Primary and Secondary Educational Curriculum Development for over twenty years. She is the author of Lessons in Jewish Learning - a grab and go curriculum for communities and Jewish schools. Originally from London, Abi spent time living in Israel, South Africa, England and the United States. After working in Boise, Idaho, Abi spent 5 years in Israel for the second time whilst her children served in the army. She is currently Director of Education for Yachad a combined educational endeavour between the conservative congregation of Beth Shalom and the reform community of Temple Emanu-El in Michigan, USA. A 2018 recipient of the Klein/Grinspoon Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, Abi is also awaiting the video version of her recent ELI Talk Detroit Speaker Fellowship.