Sefiras HaOmer

2 Places, 2 Grains, 2 Holidays

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
From Love of the Land
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On the second day of Pesach the Omer offering was brought upon the altar of the Beit Hamikdash from barley flour. On Shavuot, seven weeks later, the Two Loaves made from wheat flour were offered in the Beit Hamikdash.

The mishna (Menachot 64b) tells us that although the grain used in both of these offerings should come from as close to Jerusalem as possible, where this was impossible it could come from distant places in Eretz Yisrael as well. This actually happened during the Hasmonean civil war, which found Aristobolus entrenched within the walls of Jerusalem, while his brother Hyrkonus laid siege without. The latter's forces had destroyed all the produce in the vicinity of Jerusalem, so a call was issued if anyone knew where barley for the Omer could be acquired. A mute Jew came along and put one hand on a roof and another on a shack. Mordechai, of Purim fame, asked the people if there was a place called Gagot (Rooves), Tzerifin (Shacks) or Tzerifin Gagot. A search was made, a place named Gagot Tzerifin was found, and barley was secured for the Omer. When the time came to find wheat for the Two Loaves on Shavuot, the same scenario ensued. This time the mute placed one hand on his eye and the other in the hole in the doorpost into which the bolt is placed. Mordechai asked if there is a place called Ayin (Eye), Sukar (Hole) or Sukar Ayin. Ayin Sukar was located, and wheat was brought for the Two Loaves.

There is no other historical record of these two remote spots that had their moment of glory in Jewish history. But the contrast between the grains used for the Omer and the Two Loaves mentioned in this story communicates an important message. Barley is traditionally regarded in the Talmud as animal food, while wheat is the staple of humans. The Omer brought on the Festival of Freedom, Pesach, comes from barley because we achieved only physical freedom with our Exodus from Egypt, and that is only animal-like liberation. Only on Shavuot when we received the Torah did we achieve the Divine guidance that endowed us with true human intelligence and responsibility. We therefore bring our Two Loaves from the grain that is the food of humans - wheat.

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