In Parashat Emor, the Torah states: “USfartem Lachem MiMachorat HaShabbat MiYom Havi’achem Et Omer HaTenufah; Sheva Shabbatot Temimot Tihyenah,” “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbat, from the day when you brought the Omer, seven complete weeks shall they be” (VaYikra 23:15). This Pasuk is the Biblical source for counting Sefirat HaOmer. However, it is important to examine why we count Sefirah.
Rambam in Moreh Nevuchim (3:43) explains that we count down to the holiday of Shavuot to express our yearning to relive the receiving of the Torah at Har Sinai. He notes that counting the Omer is parallel to the Geulah from Mitzraim, which led to Bnei Yisrael’s ultimately receiving the Torah. Ramban writes that the relationship between Pesach, counting the Omer, and Shavuot is similar to the relationship between the first day of Pesach, Chol HaMoed, and the last day of Pesach. This also explains why the Torah never gives the precise date of Shavuot. It teaches us that Shavuot is not an independent Yom Tov, but a part of Pesach. But if this is so, why does the Torah tell us we start counting from the day after Shabbat? If Sefirah connects Pesach to Shavuot, why does the Torah not use the Lashon of “Sheini Shel Pesach,” instead implying that Sefirah is based on Shabbat?
In answering this question, it is important to note the deeper significance behind the Korban HaOmer and the phrase, “MiMachorat HaShabbat.” The Torah teaches that on the 16th of Nissan, the second day of Pesach, the Jewish people were obligated to bring a Korban HaOmer. The bringing of the Omer offering permitted the Jewish people to eat any new wheat crops, known as Chadash. In other words, this Korban was demonstrating Hashem’s dominion over our prosperity, and our responsibility to recognize His control, very similar, in essence, to the counting up to the Shemittah year. Therefore, we remind ourselves of this fundamental principle during the weeks leading up to Matan Torah, or our reliving of it. It is also interesting to note that Hashem gave Bnei Yisrael the Man in measurements of an “Omer.” This is to draw a connection between the Man and the Korban HaOmer, showing that just like no one doubted Hashem’s power over the Man, no one should doubt Hashem’s crucial involvement in producing our livelihood.
“MiMachorat HaShabbat” adds to Matan Torah another fundamental principle of Judaism. There is a very prominent and well-known Machloket between the Tzedukim and the Rabbanim as to what “MiMachorat HaShabbat” means. The Tzidukim insisted that “Shabbat” in the Pasuk actually meant Shabbat, making Sefirah always start on Sunday, while the Rabbanim explained that the word “Shabbat” in this Pasuk referred to the first day of Pesach—that is, we should start counting the Omer from the second day of Pesach. The Tzidukim were infamous for rejecting Torah SheBeAl Peh, and this misinterpretation is a classic example of their rebellion. Therefore, I would like to suggest that the Torah uses the term “MiMachorat HaShabbat” to show us that as we are looking forward to ultimately accepting the Torah SheBichtav, we must also recognize the importance of the Torah SheB’al Peh. Finally, the common reason given for the many mourning practices during the period of Sefirah is because of the Sin’at Chinam exhibited among the Talmidim of Rabbi Akiva. This, too, is a crucial principle of Judaism and before we accept the Torah, we have to remember the great significance of acting morally and personifying the values that the Torah demands of us, such as the famous words of Rabi Akiva: “VeAhavta LeRei’acha Kamocha—Zeh Kelal Gadol BaTorah” (Torat Kohanim 4:12).
As we continue through Sefirah and look towards our ultimate acceptance of the Torah, may we all truly achieve our potential in our Avodat Hashem and in understanding these key concepts of our longstanding Mesorah.