This week’s Torah-reading takes us on a trip around-the-Jewish-year-in-Festivals. And one of the stops is the korban minchah (grain offering) brought on the sixteenth day of Nissan, the second day of Pesach, known as the korban (or minchas) omer. The posuk states, (Vayikra 23:9-14): “HaShem spoke to Moshe… When you shall enter the Land and reap its harvest, you shall bring an omer from your first harvest to the kohen…” Now, the posuk speaks of your first harvest and an omer. Rashi there states that an omer is actually a dry measurement which is one-tenth of an eifah (approximately 43.2 average-size eggs). Rashi cites the posuk regarding the gathering of the mahn (Shemos 16:18): “And they measured [the mahn they collected daily for each person] using the omer-measurement.” This, ironically, makes it rather strange that the name chosen for this minchah was “the omer,” which is in reality merely the name of its measurement of flour (the same measurement shared by other menachos!). Why call it, then, the omer?
Also strange is why Rashi chose to make his point from the posuk which states “and they measured…” in which it does not say that the measurement was one-tenth of an eifah [which seems to have been Rashi’s point], when there is another posuk in Parshas Hamahn which states explicitly (ibid, posuk 36) “And the omer is a tenth of an eifah.” Why doesn’t Rashi bring that posuk?
When we count sefiras ha’omer (which is the counting of the days from when the omer was brought until Chag HaShavuos), we say, “hayom yom echad la’omer (or ba’omer)” …and so on throughout the 49 days. But what does the phrase even mean? Have you ever thought about it? If anything, we are counting, say, 13 days from the omer, not to the omer (la’omer), or in the omer (ba’omer)?
Come to think of it, what in the world does the phrase “al sefiras ha’omer” mean (it is in the bracha that we make before counting)? What is a “sefiras ha’omer?” Are we counting the omer? What does it mean, to “count the omer”?
Let us get back to basics. What is this mitzvah? What are we counting? The common understanding is from the Sefer Hachinuch, who says that we are counting the days from Yetzias Mitzrayim to its ultimate purpose, receiving the Torah at Har Sinai, and we count the days “to show our great yearning for that event, as we anticipate its arrival, and we count the days and say, ‘When will the purpose of our freedom arrive?’ ” [The Chinuch then goes on to deal with two issues: Why are we not counting from the first day of Pesach, but the second? And logic says that when you count in anticipation of an upcoming event, you make a “countdown,” in this case 49, 48, 47… 3, 2, 1! And yet we do the opposite: 1, 2, 3… 47, 48, 49… See the Chinuch for his answers.] Yet as famous as the Chinuch’s explanation is, the Sforno here (23:8) has quite a different one: We know that the Yomim Tovim also reflect the agricultural cycle realities, Pesach being in chodesh ha’aviv (when the produce in the fields begins to ripen) and Shavuos is Chag Hakatzir (when the harvest is complete). The produce is then left in the fields to dry and gathered into the houses at chag ha’asif (Sukkos). [The Maharal explains how these agricultural phenomena actually reflect the “growth” of Bnei Yisrael as a nation, as each Yom Tov celebrates the events that reflect the milestones of that growth, with the agricultural circumstances paralleling those events.] And so as we move along from the ripening of the produce to the completion of the harvest, we move along from praying to HaShem for the success of that year’s crop, to thanksgiving to Him for its success. And since the fortune of the crops depend crucially on the conditions prevailing during the weeks between aviv and katzir (here Sforno cites a posuk in Yirmiyahu, 5:24, in which the navi reprimands Bnei Yisrael for not recognizing the hand of HaShem in the laws He has established for the agricultural cycle in Eretz Yisrael. “And the nation did not say… let us fear HaShem… and who preserves for us the weeks appointed for the harvest”). And thus, says Sforno, the omer was a korban which accompanied our prayers that this decisive stage prove favorable; and the counting of days during this period a reminder of just how crucial and vital a time period it is for the produce; with the chag katzir being a celebration of the success of the katzir; and likewise for the asif. And so according to Sforno, these weeks are a time of reflection, teshuvah, and prayers as we await the result of our economic endeavors upon which our livelihood rests. And the counting and attendant prayers attest to the importance of these days.
And so we have two reasons for the counting of the omer: the Chinuch’s, that we count in anticipation of Matan Torah; and the Sforno’s, that it is a reminder of our utter dependency on Hakadosh Baruch Hu for our economic well-being.
The Avudrohom combines these two reasons: he says that this is the time frame of, and leading up to, the din on the grains, other crops, and the fruit trees (see Maseches Rosh Hashana 16A), and thus we count and remember to pray to Him to have mercy on us… and, as we say in Pirkei Avos, “Im ein kemach, ein Torah,” if there is no food and sustenance, how will Torah be learned… and Torah is the ultimate reason of our existence.”
Thus we say the goal and the purpose of our lives is indeed for the keeping and learning of Torah and mitzvos; but we need to see to it that our physical needs are met as well. And so the Chinuch and Sforno meet at the Avudrohom, as this is the time of anticipating and yearning for Torah; and praying to HaShem for our parnasah success.
To be continued…