A Tale of Two Links

One of the unique services in the Bais Hamikdash, the Holy Temple, was the Omer; a measure of barley offered on the altar in the Temple on the second day of Passover. The Torah commands us to count the days from the offering of the Omer until the offering of the Two Loaves made from wheat on the Festival of Shavuot. 

The counting of the Omer thus links the two harvest holidays—Passover of barley—and Shavuos of wheat. It is also a link to the parallel events of the Exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Torah.

Thus, by counting the Omer two dimensions of the link are made: The physical link associated with the harvests and the spiritual link between freedom and Torah.


Merit to Inherit

With this introduction we can shed light on the puzzling words of the Midrash:

“You should never allow the mitzvah of bringing the Omer to be regarded as trivial in your eyes, for it is through the Mitzvah of the Omer that Abraham merited to inherit the Land of Canaan as it is stated: ‘And I will give it to you and your children who come after you on the condition that you keep My covenant.’ What is this [My covenant] referring to? The Mitzvah of the Omer.”

To understand why the Omer is responsible for our claim to the Land of Israel we must clarify the very name given for this offering: the Omer. Omer is merely a measure. Why then is the Mitzvah identified by a measure and not by the actual ingredient, namely the barely itself?

One answer is that it is actually an allusion to the Omer of manna that descended from heaven and sustained the Jewish people through the 40 years they wandered in the desert as a preparation for their conquest and settlement of the Land of Israel.

The Omer of Manna Message

What is significant about the Omer of manna is that no matter how much a person collected there was never any more or any less than an Omer.

This conveys the profound message that our material needs are determined by G‑d and no matter how hard we work, we will not make more or less than that which He has predetermined. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we can sit back, relax and do nothing. We have to prepare a vessel or receptacle within which we will be able to contain G‑d’s blessing. But once we do our part, whatever flows will be from G‑d’s hands.

Equipped with this understanding, we can free ourselves from society’s enslavement to materialism and all the ills that come in its wake. 

This explains why they brought the Omer offering right after the first day of Passover, with its message of freedom. To experience true freedom we must extricate ourselves from our enslavement to societal norms.


Why Barley?

The Omer was a barley offering because barley was then animal fodder. Symbolically, this means that we have to surrender our animalistic obsession with material benefits. Our Sages teach that the Omer was waved in all directions to counter all the negative influences that surround us and thereby refine all that nurtures our animal instincts and tendencies.

The Omer refinement process culminates with the 49-day count, which enables us to inculcate the ideal of the Omer offering into every aspect of our personality. Only then can we feel true freedom.

Were we to have received the Torah before the Omer process, we would then have embraced the Divine wisdom of the Torah with secularly tainted and animalistic attitudes. One can study Torah as literature and Talmud as legal theory. One can be impressed with the beauty and sensitivity of Halacha but fail to embrace its true nature, which is G‑dly wisdom.

Thus, we have the offering of the Omer, an animal food, and we count the days up (not down) to the time we offer human food on Shavuos. This symbolizes that we grow to the point where we see things through eminently human, unbiased eyes, not the instinctive eyes of an animal. Contrary to the popular misconception, being human from a Torah standpoint is a mixture of the animal and the Divine. G‑d endowed humanity with eyes that can appreciate the divinity of the Torah because the human being is in possession of a Divine soul. Our Sages teach us that the difference between an animal and a person is even reflected in their posture. An animal has its eyes directed towards the earth whereas a human being has its eyes directed towards the heavens. This does not mean we are angels; it means that we have the capacity to recognize with our intellect that there must be something that is above us, that transcends us and Who is invested in the Torah that we learn.


The Promised Land is an Omer Informed Land

We can now gain some insight into the words of the Midrash:

Abraham was promised land that belonged to Canaan. Canaan was the son of Cham and the grandson of Noach.  Cham reveled in discovering Noah in his drunken, compromised, naked state after the Flood and who was cursed by Noah that his progeny will be slaves.

Underlying this narrative is the idea that slavery is not defined solely by being in physical captivity. It includes acting in an animalistic fashion whereby one’s G‑dly soul is held in captivity. This is akin to a soul that is incarnated in an animal body as what happened to the Babylonian king Nebudchanetzar. His turning into an animal was not simply a punishment for his evil ways; it was a reflection of his true nature.

To be free from this Canaanite slave mentality culture, we had to conquer it by taking its “barley,” i.e., which nurtures our animal mentality and offer it to G‑d.

Thus, the Midrash tells us that the Omer was not a trivial Mitzvah. It symbolizes the power we have to free ourselves and our land from Canaanite-esque slavery to true Freedom. It is the conversion from “barley” to “wheat.”

But we cannot get to the wheat, meaning the ultimate human capacity to be receptive to Torah without first offering the Omer of barley. This offering conveys the message that all of our sustenance comes from G‑d. Our efforts are only needed because G‑d mandated that we work six days of the week, as a way of making the entire world receptive to the message of Shabbos.


The Day After Shabbos

The above can shed light on the way the Torah refers to the time we would offer the Omer: on the day after Shabbos. The oral tradition, preserved in the Talmud, says that it refers to the first day of Passover which is also a Shabbos day of rest.

Why couldn’t the Torah be clearer and state explicitly that it refers to the day after Passover? Wouldn’t this have avoided the ambiguity that was the source of conflict with the Sadducees?

In light of the forgoing analysis it can be explained.

Shabbos is not only the last day and the climax of the week; it is also the first day and source of blessing for the following week.

To explain:

Our Sages reveal to us that the Omer of Manna that descended during the week was actually generated and blessed on the preceding Shabbos.

In order for us to appreciate what we accomplish during the week, we have to know that it is blessed, i.e., the potential for it was generated during the preceding Shabbos.

When we embark on a week of work for our sustenance it must be informed and blessed by the Shabbos. Shabbos is when we desist from work because all of our needs are taken care. This Shabbos mindset must permeate the entire week. G‑d provides for everything; and our work is the instrument through which we make a vessel to receive His blessings.

This model of the Shabbos mindset, preparing for and blessing the forthcoming week, applies to the Omer offering which was preceded by the first day of Passover. Passover’s dominant message of true freedom empowers us to offer the Omer, which parallels the Omer of Manna. This enables us to elevate the animal within us and will eventually lead to the wheat harvest [human sustenance] and the giving of the Torah where the process of refinement and therefore liberation is complete.


Pattern of Jewish History

This pattern of Shabbos-weekdays-Shabbos and Passover-six weeks-Shavuos is also the pattern of Jewish history.

We started our journey with our Shabbos existence: the Giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai, the entry into the Land of Israel and the building of the Bais Hamikdash. Our Shabbos-blessed reality was then followed by the “weekday” exile era, which will lead to the Final Redemption.

When the Shabbos/Omer of Manna message sets the tone for the weekdays the weekdays express their G‑dly mission: They are not days that conceal the holiness of Shabbos. On the contrary, they instill holiness into the weekday, the “Canaan” of time.

When the Omer and subsequent days of the counting of the Omer are informed by Passover, with its message of true freedom, it elevates even the Canaan/animal within us.

Similarly, when we reflect on exile as it is influenced by the Giving of the Torah-Bais Hamikdash continuum we realize that it is G‑d’s plan for us to introduce holiness even into exile conditions. And it is this approach to exile that will lead us to the Final Redemption.