Counting the Days



Administrator and Rabbinical Advisor of B'Ahavat Yisrael

In middle of the Torah portion of Emor (Vayikra 23:10-16), we are given instructions related to a precept that we are always involved in at the time that this portion is read in synagogues throughout the world – sefirat ha-Omer, counting of the Omer.  G-d instructs Moses to tell us that, on the day after the first day of the holiday of Pesach, in which we commemorate our release from slavery (see Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 66a), we are to “bring the omer of the first of your harvest,” a special offering of barley (see Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 84b) to the Kohen (priest) and “You shall count for yourselves … from the day when you bring the omer … Until the morrow of the seventh week you shall count, fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal offering.”  The offering at the end of the seven week period of counting, which coincides with the holiday of Shavuot, is one that consists of wheat (see Rashi on the above verses, and Minchat Chinukh no. 302, and the aforementioned citings in the Talmud).

Whereas the counting of the days from the beginning of Pesach up to the start of Shavuot is understood as an expression of our eager awaiting and “counting down” to the joyous celebration of Shavuot when we commemorate G-d’s presenting us with His Torah, His blueprint for good life (see Minchat Chinukh no. 307), it would appear noteworthy that the emphasis in the verses cited above seems to relate more to the offering of barley at the beginning of this period and the offering of the wheat at the end of it rather than stressing the beginning of the Pesach and Shavuot holidays.  An explanation would seem to be in order.

Upon some thought into the matter, one may suggest a possible explanation for the emphasis of the barley and wheat offerings in the process of the sefirat ha-Omer as opposed to stressing the beginning of Pesach and Shavuot.  Whereas barley satiates and quells one’s hunger, wheat is considered to be a more preferable grain and source of nutrition (see Melakhim II 7:1, Mishna Peah 8:5 and Ketubot 5:8, Bava Metzia 3:7).  Consequently, the stress on wheat vs. barley in the counting of sefirat ha-Omer may actually amplify the importance of Shavuot vs. Pesach.  Whereas the onset of the holiday of Pesach marks a very significant landmark in Jewish history whereby we were freed from subjugation at the hands of others, granting us our independence and freedom to choose our own destiny, the holiday of Shavuot marks the ultimate breakthrough in our history whereby we, not only were given the opportunity to choose our own destiny but, were given the tool, the holy Torah, G-d’s own Word, to live our lives in the most productive manner possible.  Barley, therefore, would seem to symbolize an important factor in our lives, one that, if consumed, saves us from hunger, comparable to the very significant events surrounding Pesach that saved us from slavery.  Wheat, on the other hand, would seem to symbolize a significantly more satisfying means of satiation, comparable to the bestowal of the Torah that, not only gave us the freedom to choose a fulfilling life but, gave us the means to lead a fulfilling and productive life.

When we are counting the days from the beginning of Pesach to Shavuot, the Torah, in stressing the counting from the barley offering up to the wheat offering, would appear to be stressing the difference in nature between the two holidays and the import of our countdown.  We are counting the days from when we were provided the satiation of freedom to choose a fulfilling life for ourselves to the significantly more satiating freedom to have the means to have the most fulfilling and productive life.  May the counting of these days, known as sefirat ha-Omer, impress upon all of us the tremendous gift that we were bestowed with by G-d and may we regale in the joy of having it.


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