Seasons - Then and Now

For the week ending 28 April 2018 / 13 Iyyar 5778

The Counting of the Omer and the Omer Offering

by Rabbi Chaviv Danesh
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There are two mitzvot we are commanded to perform the day after Pesach. One is the mitzvah of sefirat haOmer. This mitzvah is essentially a counting toward the long-awaited day of receiving the Torah. Similar to a person who counts the days to when he will reunite with his beloved, we, too, count to the glorious day of receiving the Torah (see Sefer HaChinuch 306). The second mitzvah is the Omer offering, which was a barley offering that was brought on the second day of Pesach in the times of the Beit HaMikdash. It was only after bringing this communal offering that one was allowed to eat from, or even cut the five types of grain (wheat, barley oats, spelt and rye) of that year.

At first glance these two mitzvot seem unrelated. However, in both places where the Torah instructs us to count, it does not provide us with the date of when we should begin; rather, it writes that the counting begins the day the Omer offering is brought (Vayikra 23:15, Devarim 16:9). There are opinions that learn from here that today the mitzvah of counting is only m’deRabanan,because we no longer have the Omer offering. According to these opinions there is a clear connection between the two mitzvot (See Menachot 66a; Ran end of Pesachim). Even according to those who do not make this connection and hold that counting is still a mitzvah d’Oraita today, there is still a seeming link between the two mitzvot from the fact that we include the mention of the Omer offering in both the text of the beracha, “al sefirat haOmer,” and in the text of the count, “Hayom yomyamim laOmer (baOmer)” (see Sefer HaChinuch 306). Let’s try to investigate the relationship between these two mitzvot.

The Omer Offering and the Omer of Mann

We will begin by analyzing the name of the barley offering: the Omer offering (Vayikra 23:9-15). The Omer is the name of a measurement and is not exclusive to this offering — there are other offerings that also require a measurement of an omer, but yet they aren’t called Omer offerings in the Torah. Why is this so?

Another place where the Torah mentions an omer’s portion is when discussing the mann. In their sojourn in the desert after leaving Mitzrayim, the Jewish People lived off the mann, food that fell miraculously from the Heavens. Chazal tell us that in the desert after the mann fell, some people took more than their omer portion, while others took less. Nevertheless, when they came home and weighed it, everyone had one omer’s worth (see Rashi on Shemot 16:17). During this time, it was clear to the Jewish People that it is neither nature nor one’s efforts that provide one’s needs — it is all from G-d.

The commentaries explain that the Omer offering is so named because it is related to the omer portion of mann that was apportioned to each person in the desert (See Vaykra Rabbah 28; Be’er Yosef, Parshat Emor). The mitzvah of the Omer offering was meant to be kept for the first time when the Jewish People would enter Eretz Yisrael. As opposed to their sojourn in the desert when they were fed through the mann, once they would enter the Land they would have to begin the long process of plowing, planting, etc. for bread, and they may have easily forgotten Who the true Provider is. The mitzvah of the Omer offering was given to them so that every year before they eat or cut, any of the new five types of grain, which is one’s main food, they would first bring an omer’s portion of barley, comparable to the portion of mann that everyone received in the desert. This was meant to remind them that G-d is behind the seemingly naturally produced grain, as well (see Vayikra Rabbah 28, Sefer HaChinuch 302, Ohr Chadash on Megillat Esther 6:11).

Remembering the Mann

One of the biggest obstacles to setting aside the appropriate time for Torah learning and mitzvah performance is a lack of emunah (faith) in G-d. For example, people often spend more time than necessary earning a living, at the expense of learning Torah. For some, the stress and worry of making a living even leads to committing serious transgressions, like dishonesty in business, laxity in mitzvot that require spending money, etc. How can one overcome this test?

The midrash tells us that in the days of Yirmiyahu many people were too busy earning a living at the expense of learning Torah. In response, Yirmiyahu took out the omer portion jar of mann that was kept from Moshe Rabeinu’s time, and declared that just like G-d provided their ancestors with the mann, He will also find ways to provide for them (Tanchuma, Beshalach 21). We see from here that through contemplating the miracle of the mann one can strengthen his emunah and come to the conclusion that it is not one’s efforts that determines a person’s earnings, but G-d’s Providence.

Now we can understand one connection between the Omer offering and the mitzvah of counting. During the days of sefirah we are supposed to prepare ourselves to receive the Torah. This preparation includes strengthening oneself in our fundamental beliefs. Without knowing that G-d is the all-powerful Source behind everything in this world, one cannot truly accept the Torah. As the Ramban says, one who doesn’t believe that everything is miraculous, and there is no such thing as nature, has no share in the Torah of Moshe (“Commentary” at end of Parshat Bo). Therefore, during sefirah, as a way to prepare for Matan Torah we mention the Omer offering, so named as a reminder of the omer portion of mann from the desert, to instill in ourselves the fundamental belief that G-d exclusively rules nature. Through improving our level of emunah and bitachon, we can thereby prepare for receiving the Torah by battling the biggest deterrents to Torah study and mitzvah performance. May we all merit making the most of this time.

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