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Torah Attitude: Parashas Emor, Counting seven Shabbosos

Summary

Our sages say that the seven Shabbosos means seven weeks. Why does the Torah instruct us about the bringing of the Omer offering and the subsequent counting in such a cryptic way? After a person has toiled and invested his efforts to produce whatever he is involved in, the first fruit of his labour is extremely precious to him. As we mention the Omer offering we remind ourselves of G'd's daily blessings. Shabbos both strengthens our belief in G'd and our trust in His Divine Providence. In order to be ready to accept the Torah on Shavuous we need to strengthen our trust in G'd.

Seven Shabbosos

In this week's parasha, the Torah goes through the festivals of the year and the special commandments connected to each festival. After a brief description of the Festival of Pesach, it says (Vayikra 22:10-11): "And you shall bring an Omer [a measure containing a little more than 43 eggs] of your new harvest the day after the Shabbos the Kohen shall wave it." A few verses later it says (Vayikra 22:15-16): "And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbos from the day you bring the Omer of the waving seven Shabbosos Till the day after the seventh Shabbos you shall count fifty days." The Sadducees and Boethusians, who did not accept the Oral Law, misinterpreted these verses and thought that the bringing of the Omer offering and the subsequent counting always started on a Sunday. However, our sages explain that if that was the right understanding of these verses, we would not know which Sunday to start. Rather, "the day after the Shabbos" refers to the day after the rest day of the first day of Pesach, as the festivals also are days of rest. Besides the literal translation of Shabbos as rest day, it can also be translated as "week". Thus, say our sages, the seven Shabbosos means seven weeks, and that is also the correct understanding of the seventh Shabbos (i.e. the seventh week).

Questions about counting

A number of questions arise with these verses. First of all, why does the Torah instruct us about the time of bringing the Omer offering and the subsequent counting in such a cryptic way? Why does it not say that we shall bring the Omer on the second day of Pesach and count from that day? Secondly, the Sefer HaChinuch (306) explains that this counting connects the exodus from Egypt, that took place on the first day of Pesach, to the revelation of Mount Sinai, that happened on Shavuous. He elaborates on the significance of the Torah for the Jewish people, and how the day we received the Torah was the climax of the exodus. We were commanded to count towards this day to help us internalize the importance of this day. But if this is the case, what has it got to do with the Omer offering and why does the Torah not mention the fiftieth day as the day of the giving of the Torah? The Sefer HaChinuch adds another question. In general, when one counts towards a special day or event one counts down. So why do we count from 1 till 49? We ought to start with 49 and count down to 1?

Offering of the first crop

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a) discusses why we were commanded to bring the Omer offering on Pesach. Says the Talmud, Pesach is the time when G'd judges the world in regards to how much produce everyone will have. G'd therefore instructed us to bring an offering of grain, and in that merit our produce would be blessed. G'd obviously does not need our offering. He only commanded us to bring it for our benefit. Two people may both invest the same effort in a similar business venture, and one of them succeeds whereas the other fails. The difference is that one merits G'd's blessing and the other does not. The Sefer HaChinuch (#18) explains that after a person has toiled and invested his efforts to produce whatever he is involved in, the first fruit of his labour is extremely precious to him. When he takes this and offers it to G'd, he thereby acknowledges that that this was not produced by his own effort and talent but by the blessing of G'd.

Remind ourselves of G'd's blessings

The day after we celebrate how G'd took us out of Egypt with great miracles, we bring the Omer offering, and express our appreciation for G'd's constant hidden miracles in our daily lives, as He blesses us with our sustenance and other needs. And as we prepare ourselves for the day we received the Torah, we count every day and declare today is the first day of Omer, today is the second day of Omer, until we reach the day before Shavuous, when we count today is the 49th day of the Omer. As we mention the Omer offering we remind ourselves of G'd's daily blessings, and by adding one day after another, we express our desire to grow every day in our recognition of our dependence on G'd and His blessings.

Shabbos

We still have to clarify why the Torah uses the word "Shabbos" instead of Pesach and to describe the weeks in connection with the bringing and counting of Omer. The answer may be that in this way, the Torah emphasizes even more the message of Omer. For Shabbos both strengthens our belief in G'd and our trust in His Divine Providence. When we observe the laws of Shabbos, we first of all acknowledge that G'd created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day. As it says (Shemos 31:16-17): "And the children of Israel shall observe the Shabbos ... for in six days G'd created the Heaven and the earth and on the seventh day He rested." But we also express our trust that G'd will provide us with our needs, even when we do not do work on the day He commanded us to rest.

Strengthen trust in G'd

In order to be ready to accept the Torah on Shavuous we need to strengthen our trust in G'd and remind ourselves that we are totally dependent on His blessings. For only then will we be ready to dedicate ourselves to spend time to study the Torah and fulfill its commandments.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.

Shalom. Michael Deverett

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