Emor (Diaspora): Omer Oneness

Every day, with each count, as we physically stand when we recite the bracha, we separate further from the lower elements of our being and rise upward.

Rabbanit Shira Smiles

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Summary by Channie Koplowitz Stein

We are now in the time period known as sefirah or, more accurately, sefirat haomer. These are the forty nine days totaling seven full weeks that the Torah commands us to count from the second day of Pesach until Shavuot. We count the omer, based on the name Hashem has given this offering which is waved before Hashem on this first day of counting.

What is interesting is that the omer is not really the animal sacrifice being offered but a measure for the grain that is part of many of the sacrificial rituals. Why then is only this offering called the omer and none of the others?

Further, What’s the connection between this offering and counting the days leading up to receiving the Torah on Shavuot, asks Rav Yosef Salant, the Be’er Yosef?

Further, Rabbi Eliyahu Roth in Sichot Eliyahu notes that after reciting the blessing and actually counting, we count the days either ba’omer, in the omer, or la'omer, to the omer, depending on individual custom. Since the counting begins from the time of the offering on the second day of Pesach, shouldn’t we be counting me’omer, from the omer?

Yet another question remains(and probably many others). Rabbi Scheinberg asks why we bring a barley offering, representing the food of animals on Pesach and bring a wheat offering, represented by the two breads, on Shavuot. He suggests that we count from that which resembles the food of animals to that which represents the food of human beings to remind us that we are meant to move from a purely physical state of existence to a spiritual state just our physical redemption from Egypt brought us day by day closer to receiving the Torah and fulfilling our spiritual purpose. We count each day because the process proceeds one step at a time.

The underpinnings of this process go back to the time of creation itself. Hashem created Adam in a perfect spiritual state. Rabbi Rothberg discusses the process in Mada Labinah. When Adam ate of the forbidden tree, he lost that exalted state of spirituality; that part of him “died” on that very day. Hashem cursed him that thorns and thistles would grow for him (and constitute his food). Adam cried profusely that he would them be on the same level as his chamor, his donkey, completely physical as chomer, the physical material of construction. Seeing Adam’s tears, Hashem relented, and allowed him to eat bread, albeit through the sweat of his brow.

The state of mankind, however, was permanently damaged until the Jewish people stood at Sinai and accepted the Torah. At that moment, they returned to the spiritual state if Adam before the sin, only to lose that status with the sin of the golden calf. The omer offering is the symbolic reminder of our leaving the physical mindset of Egypt and beginning the process of elevating our physicality toward the spiritual end  The process begins with the waving of the omer offering to God.

Rabbi Rothberg continues with a tremendous insight. He notes that the Torah commands the omer offering to be brought “on the morrow of the Shabbat,” rather than more clearly “on the morrow of Pesach.” This terminology, he posits, is used specifically to remind us of creation, of Adam’s sin, and of his and our desire for a more spiritual life, culminating with the bread offering on Shavuot that can only be produced through a strenuous process of refinement.

But we start by waving the lowly barley offering to Hashem. Rabbi Kluger notes in My Sole Desire that Hashem loves us the way we are, in our imperfect state. He gets naches from our desire to draw closer to Him and our daily struggle toward that end, recorded via our daily count. Each individual must count for himself. Just as each of us has a personal journey based on our own character and challenges, each of us has a personal avodah, an individual service to Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

We begin the counting when the barley is upright, ready for the sickle to cut it for harvest. Similarly, writes Rabbi Schwab in Me’ein Beis Hashoeva, we should feel that we too are standing upright, ready to be cut from the physicality of the ground and move upward. Every day, with each count, as we physically stand when we recite the bracha, we separate further from the lower elements of our being and rise upward.

We continue to count la'omer, toward the omer in other ways as well. Sefirah is an agricultural season. Our omer offering then serves a twofold purpose, as generally does all our tefillah, writes Rav Scheinerman quoting the Seofrno.. As we view our barley crop, we give thanks to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for our bounty while we simultaneously ask Him to continue blessing us in the future.

While this request seems to be contrary to the spirit of the joy of receiving the Torah, the Abudraham notes that the two ideas are actually complementary. To study Torah and grow spiritually, one also needs to have proper sustenance for his physical body: “Im ain kemach ain Torah – If there is no flour/bread, there can be no Torah either.”

So why not begin counting on the first day of Pesach? In the simplest explanation, the Sefer Hachinuch notes that one does not intermix one celebration with another. On the first day of Pesach, we celebrate our physical redemption from Egypt. This leaves the following day as our first opportunity to celebrate our imminent receiving of the Torah through which we will strive toward spiritual perfection and the freedom of our souls. Therefore, so as not to denigrate the Pesach festival as secondary, we tie the blessing of our count to the offering we bring, the sacrifice of the omer.

Nevertheless, it seems strange that the blessing for this counting is tied to the omer when the omer seems not to be the purpose of the counting. On the contrary, writes Rabbi Yosef Salant in Be’er Yosef, while indeed other korbanot were accompanied by an omer of meal, only this one, the day after Pesach, is singled out as a special omer offering with its own ritual.

The Be’er Yosef then ties this omer offering to the original omer, the omer of the manna that Hashem gave Bnei Yisroel daily in the desert. In the desert Hashem provided each individual with one omer, to fill his daily needs. Yet, citing the Medrash, Hashem requests only one omer from the entire people.

During the forty years in the desert, it was obvious Who was providing for all the needs of the people. However, once the people enter the land, they could easily forget Hashem’s providence and attribute everything to nature, forgetting that nature itself is simply a servant of Hashem Yisborach. By highlighting the importance of the omer, we are connecting it to the omer of the desert and affirming our continued faith in Hashem’s constant providence.

Indeed an omer of manna was kept in the Aron Kodesh alongside the luchot as a constant reminder of Hashem’s chessed. As further proof of this connection, Be’er Yosef cites the verses in Joshua that relate that until mochorat haPesach, the second day of Pesach, the Jewish people, Bnei Yisroel, ate the Manna, and only then ate of the fruit of the land.

Our reliance on the manna was a testimony to our deep faith in Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Therefore we count not only the days but also the weeks, for the miracle of the manna was also testimony to Hashem’s creating the world in six days and resting on the Shabbat. Bnei Yisroel received double manna on Friday in preparation for Shabbat, since no manna would fall on Shabbat. Each week the additional miracles of Shabbat proved Hashem’s immanence in the world, and we bear testimony by counting not only the days, but also the weeks of our journey during this season.

We count the omer with the realization that Hashem loves me now as He did then, and continues to provide for me, adds the Be’er Moshe. We see Hashem’s personal hashgacha in myriad “coincidences” in our lives that somehow avert otherwise catastrophic consequences or bring about unanticipated good results. Counting the omer helps us remember Who is watching over us all the time. Our redemption from Egypt and our forty years in the desert were times of easier faith, as we saw Hashem’s providence and care overtly and supernaturally. Counting these forty nine days from the second day of Pesach should bring us back to the faith of that time. We are counting to the omer,  back to the faith of those ancient times and training ourselves to receive again God’s special gift to us, His holy Torah.

It is interesting that we count the first day of the omer as yom echad, one day, rather than the first day. There are two other times that the ordinal number “one” is used when the serial number “first” would seem more appropriate. The first instance (no pun intended) appears in the story of creation, “And there was evening and morning one day.” All the other days of creation are in serial form, “a second day,” a “third day,” etc.

Our third instance is in the High Priest’s Yom Kippur service when he sprinkles the blood on the altar. Here, each sprinkling is counted in the ordinal number, but each sprinkling begins with “one”. “One”, “One and two,” “One and three,” etc.

What is the significance of using ordinal or serial numbers, asks Rabbi Roth in Sichot Eliyahu? When one counts with ordinal numbers – one, two, three - one counts each one as an individual. Alternatively, when one counts in serial numbers – first, second, third – One is relating each individual as part of the larger group. In counting the days of the world, prior to creation there was nothing in the world except Hashem. Starting on the second day, however, there were already angels. Therefore the second day of creation cannot and should not exclude day one which, although it stood on its own on that day, now has a second day to include in the process of creation and to reflect back to the Creator. Therefore, this day becomes a second day rather than day two, thereby connecting back to the origin.

Similarly, the Kohain Gadol who, while individualizing each sprinkling, is nevertheless still returning to the one, the beginning. When we count the omer, we may be tempted to think that all the grain in the field is the result of our own hard work. By keeping the numbers in serial form and yet starting with “one” instead of “the first”, we are linking the whole series to that ineffable One and acknowledging that all our bountiful harvests come from Hashem. That’s why when one misses one day of counting, one can no longer count with a blessing, for he has broken the chain.

Let us now turn to the alternate wording of the counting, “Today is x days ba’omer, in the omer.” This wording denotes a process, and the process is in the omer itself. The Ketav Vehakbalah notes that that the word is used in the verb form when the Torah commands the behavior toward a beautiful captive woman whom you married but no longer desire. The Torah commands, “Lo titamer boh – You shall not put her in servitude.” During the period of counting the omer, we are putting ourselves completely in servitude to Hakodosh Boruch Hu. Understandably, this is not an easy achievement, but each day we take little steps, and each day we count another day of achievement in the process. Each day I work on the internalization of ein od milvado, nothing else exist but Hakodosh Boruch Hu.

These days of sefirat haomer are among the most powerful days of the year. They are a time of building our connection to Hakodosh Boruch Hu, a time to reflect on our dual nature and subdue our animalistic instincts so that we can rise ever higher spiritually and be ready to receive and embrace the Torah by the end of the forty-nine days and the arrival of Shavuot.