What is the purpose of Sefirat HaOmer?
We are now well into our yearly journey through Sefirat HaOmer. We began counting on the second day of Pesach and will continue through Shavuot. Day in and day out, week in and week out, we count.
At the time of the Beit HaMikdash, the Korban HaOmer, a grain offering consisting of barley, was brought on the second day of Pesach. From that day forward until Shavuot, an Omer, a specific measurement, of barley was brought and offered on the Mizbeach. Then on the 50th day, Shavuot, the two loaves baked from the first harvest of wheat were brought as an offering on the Mizbeach.
Although principally a Temple based ritual, the midrash tells us that the tradition of counting Sefirat HaOmer long predates the Beit HaMikdash. The first time that the Jewish people counted Sefirat HaOmer was the year they left Egypt, the day after the first Pesach. They counted their count until they were prepared to receive the Torah on Har Sinai.
Bnei Yisrael needed time. They needed time to prepare themselves for such a close encounter with God. They needed time to lift themselves up, to shed away the impurities and the indignities of Egypt. Every single day they raised themselves up a little higher until finally they were ready to receive the Torah.
The Aruch HaShulchan comments on the two sacrifices that bracket this period: the Korban HaOmer which comes from barley and the sacrifice on Shavuot which comes from wheat. He comments that in the ancient world, barley was a staple of animal feed. It was a base and unrefined crop. Wheat, on the other hand, was an essential component of one’s daily diet, the core ingredient of bread and cake. The Aruch HaShulchan implies that the transition between the barley sacrifice and the wheat sacrifice is the transition between the unrefined to the realization of inherent human potential.
Every day of Sefirat HaOmer is a unique opportunity to look at ourselves and raise ourselves up just a little higher than we were the day before, so that come Shavuot, we will truly be prepared to receive the Torah.
This essay is part of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah’s weekly parsha wisdom. Each week, graduates of YCT share their thoughts on the parsha, refracted through the lens of their rabbinates and the people they are serving, with all of us.