We began our counting of the Omer Sunday evening, the night of the second Seder. Where does this tradition come from?
The Torah tells us, "You shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the Sabbath, from the day of your bringing the Omer of the waving, seven Sabbaths shall it be." This sentence gives us the basis for the counting of the Omer between Pesach and Shavuot, a count in which we are now in the midst. However, there are some difficulties we find in connection with the Omer offering.
First, what does the word 'Omer' mean? Omer was just a measure, the amount of grain that had to be brought to the holy temple as an offering. Isn't it strange that this sacrifice should be called by the name 'Omer'? Other offerings have specific names: Pesach, Todah (Thanksgiving), and Shlamim (Peace). Omer is a measure; why should that be the name of the sacrifice and the basis for the counting?
Second, what is so crucial about this offering that we tie our counting between Pesach and Shavuot to this offering?
Third, why was the Omer brought on the sixteenth day of Nisan? This is not one of the special days of Pesach, only the second day. What happened on this date that caused it to be singled out as sacred and special?
The Midrash elaborates on the merit of the Omer offering. Because of it, Avraham was promised the land of Canaan. In its merit, the Jews were saved in the days of Gideon, Chizkiyahu, Haman, and Yechezekel. The Omer saved the day. So, what is so meaningful about the Omer?
The Midrash relates a conversation between God and Moses: :"In the wilderness I provided a daily Omer of manna for each Jew as recompense. Let the Jews now bring for me an Omer offering every year on the sixteenth of Nisan."
We can see, then, that our bringing of the Omer shows our gratitude for God's sustaining our ancestors in the wilderness. In our generation as well, we must remember that as much as we work and as successful as we think we may be, it is God who gives us bread from heaven as He gave manna to the first Jews. We brought the Omer on the sixteenth of Nisan because we know that the manna stopped falling on Adar seven, the day of Moshe's death. And the Jews' stockpiling of the manna ran out on the sixteenth of Nisan, some five weeks later. Therefore, on the day they ran out of manna, they had to bring the Omer. It took great faith to give away what you have with no certainty about the future.
In our day we count the Sefirah for seven complete weeks and connect it to the Omer offering. The 49 repetitions of the lesson of gratitude that the Omer represents reinforces this important point that we must never forget from where comes our sustenance, both literal and spiritual. We were saved so many times because of the Omer because in each generation we acknowledge that God is the source of our livelihood.
Shabbat Shalom שבת שלום.
Rabbi David Grossman