By Rabbi Avraham
Fischer. A publication of the Orthodox Union in cooperation with the Seymour
J. Abrams Orthodox Union Jerusalem World Center
May 10, 2003
In the section discussing the Jewish calendar, which makes up
a large portion of EMOR, special emphasis is placed on the agricultural
aspects of the festivals. The Children of Israel, still in the wilderness, are
thus prepared for the rhythms of life in their land.
In this connection, we learn about the Omer period, in which we now find
And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying, “Speak to the Children of Israel and say to
them: When you come to the land which I give you and you reap its harvest,
then you shall bring an Omer [a sheaf, or a dry measure equivalent to
approximately 3.6 liters] of the first of your harvest to the kohen. …And you
shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the festival, from the day of
your bringing the Omer of the waving, seven complete Sabbaths(weeks) shall it
be. Until the morrow after the seventh week shall you count fifty days… And
when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not completely finish the
corner of your field when you reap, and the gleaning of your harvest shall you
not gather up: for the poor and the stranger shall you leave them. I am Hashem,
(Vayikra 23:9-10, 15-16, 22).
As explained by our Sages, the procedure of the Omer was as follows: On the
second night of Pesach (the morrow of the festival), amidst great ceremony and
festivity, a large sheaf of ripened barley was reaped and brought to the Beit
HaMikdash. There, it was winnowed, parched, ground and sifted through 13
sieves until there was an omer of flour. On the next day, this was mixed with
oil and frankincense and waved up and down, and side to side. Then a handful
was burnt on the altar and the kohanim ate the rest. Beginning with the night
of the reaping, 49 days are counted. The fiftieth day is the festival of
A number of questions can be raised about this passage:
Why is the Omer offered?
What is the significance of the counting?
Why is the holiday of Shavuot determined by counting, rather
than by a set date, as is the case of the other festivals?
Why are the commandments of leaving the corner of the field (peah)
and the gleaning (leket( “for the poor and the stranger” mentioned here, after
they were discussed earlier (19:9-10)?
In answering these questions, two elements of the festivals of
Pesach and Shavuot must be taken into consideration: on the one hand, they
recall and reenact the Exodus, from the moment of leaving Egypt until the
Revelation of the Torah at Sinai. On the other hand, they celebrate the two
grain harvests in Israel, barley and wheat. These two factors are inseparable,
because our past and our present, our history and our current efforts, reinforce
During the seven-week period from Pesach to Shavout, we progress along two
1) The historical track, from slavery to freedom 2) The agricultural track, from
economic uncertainty to economic self-sufficiency.
The Omer sacrifice permits use of the new grain (verse 14). The kohen waves the
Omer offering in all directions to ask that Hashem protect the produce from
damaging winds and precipitation (Menachot 62a). The Omer offering is a way of
asking Hashem to bless the grain in the fields (Rosh HaShanah 16a). All of these
are present concerns, and reflect some degree of anxiety, as the Midrash (Yalkut
Shimoni Emor 23) notes:
“On Pesach you do not find the word simchah [joy] mentioned even once. Why?
Because on Pesach the grain is being judged, and a man does not know if the year
will produce a yield or not. On Shavuot, simchah is mentioned once (Devarim
16:10-11), because the grain has been gathered in.”
At the same time, we recreate the mood of our ancestors when they came out of
Egypt, anticipating the Revelation with excitement:
“This was the goal and the purpose of their leaving: And I will bring them to Me
(Shemot 19:4)…like one who looks forward to the arrival of the one who is most
beloved to him of all people, he counts the days by hours…” (Rambam, Guide to
the Perplexed 3:43).
While progressing along these dual tracks, we are made acutely aware of the
dimension of time. However, we do not merely measure time as it passes us by; we
determine the passage of time by counting the days. It is we who fix the time of
Shavout. We are not only subject to time; we are also its masters.
Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (1903-1993) explains this in an essay “Sacred and
Profane: Kodesh and Chol in World Perspectives”:
“The individual who measures time in purely quantitative terms is an essentially
passive personality. He is a recipient and not a giver, a creature rather than a
creator. His prototype is the slave. The slave has no time of his own.
“When the Jews were delivered from the Egyptian oppression and Moses rose to
undertake the almost impossible task of metamorphosing a tribe of slaves into a
nation of priests, he was told by G-d that the path leading from the holiday of
Passover to Shavuoth, from initial liberation to consummate freedom (Gilui
Shechina, Revelation), leads through the medium of time. The commandment of
Sefira was entrusted to the Jew; the wondrous test of counting forty-nine
successive days was put to him. These forty-nine days must be whole. If one of
the days be missed, the act of numeration is invalidated.
“A slave who is capable of appreciating each day, of grasping its meaning and
worth, of weaving every thread of time into a glorious fabric, quantitatively
stretching over a period of seven weeks but qualitatively forming the warp and
woof of centuries of change, is eligible for Torah. He has achieved freedom.”
As we are propelled passively along the path from barley-harvest to
wheat-harvest, we simultaneously and actively create the path towards total
freedom. We are not merely locked in the inescapable cycle of the seasons; we
are partners with Hashem in historic progress.
Our history demands that we remember our origins and learn from our experiences:
And if there dwells a stranger with you in your land, you shall not hurt him.
Like one born among you, so shall the stranger be to you, and you shall love him
as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am Hashem, your G-d
Perhaps this is why our verse is motivated to repeat the commandments of caring
for the poor and the stranger: To remind you that while you are caring for your
present needs, learn from the past and apply those lessons appropriately.
When we mold our present and live our past, we are then truly free.
Torah K'Torat Eretz Yisrael!"- Torah from Aloh Na'aleh*
The description of the
festivals in Parshat Emor is also the reading for the first two days of
Sukkot, as well as for the second day of Pesach. This section contains a
brief summary of the central themes of human history, of Am Yisrael and of
Eretz Yisrael: Shabbat reminds us of the creation of the world; Pesach
marks the birth of Am Yisrael; Sefirat HaOmer links the physical freedom
from Egypt to the spiritual freedom acquired through Matan Torah on
Shavuot; Sukkot connects the people of Israel to the land of Israel and
points to final human redemption.
The section in the reading related to the festivals is immediately
preceded by a section dealing with the slaughter of animals (Vayikra
22:26-33). On those festival days that the chapter is read, the reading
begins with these verses. According to the Netziv, that reading is based
on a tradition going back to Mosheh at Sinai. Why are the two passages
juxtaposed? And why are the two sections read together on the holidays?
The reading begins by instructing that a newborn animal must remain with
its mother for at least seven days before it may be offered as a
sacrifice. Furthermore, slaughtering the mother animal and its offspring
on the same day is forbidden. At first glance, these laws show mercy
towards animals, but if the Torah is concerned merely about animal
welfare, the slaughtering of animals should be entirely forbidden. Rather,
as we find throughout the Torah, man was given the mitzvot in order to
develop his character. The object of these laws is explicitly stated at
the end of the section (Vayikra 22:32): they are commanded in order to
help man to achieve Kedushah, sanctity.
The reading proceeds to discuss the omer offering. Rashi (23:16) points
out that the omer consists of barley. Barley is generally used for animal
feed, but here it is given in bread form, the form of human food. The
lesson of the Kedushah attained through sensitivity to animals is
juxtaposed with humanity. The omer is brought from the first fruits of the
harvest of the land God gives us (23:10) - it is from the produce of Eretz
Yisrael. The pageant of the omer played out in the Mikdash, which is the
focus of Eretz Yisrael, symbolizes spiritual growth, fulfillment of
ourselves, of Am Yisrael, and of the world.
Rabbi Yehoshua Friedman
Yeshivat Hesder Ma'ale Efraim
*D’var Torah from Aloh Na'aleh:
an initiative of former North American Rabbis and laymen who successfully
made Aliyah, aimed at highlighting the centrality of Israel and promoting
Aliyah. They send emissaries – Rabbis, academicians, and others – on
speaking-tours throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Tel: 972-2-566-1181 ext. 320