In Parashat Emor, the Torah instructs us to count Sefirat HaOmer until the Chag of Shavuot. The Torah writes, “USefartem Lachem MiMocharat HaShabbat MiYom Havi’achem Et Omer HaTenufah Sheva Shabbatot Temimot Tihyenah,” “You shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbat, from the day you bring the Omer as a wave-offering; seven complete weeks they will be” (VaYikra 23:15). We do not understand the word “Shabbat” literally; instead, we take it to refer to the first day of Chag HaPesach, a day of rest just like Shabbat. By counting immediately after Yom Tov, we show Hashem that we are eagerly awaiting the Chag of Shavu’ot. In a similar light, Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that just like we count down each day toward Shabbat, we also count Sefirah to finally reach the ultimate goal of Matan Torah. The Lubavitcher Rebbe adds that it is incumbent upon each individual to count the Omer, because every one of us is supposed to feel a connection to Hashem through Sefirah. While Shemitah and Yovel – other events based on a yearly count – were counted only by the Beit Din, everyone has to count the Omer because each person has to have his or her own relationship to Hashem and His Torah.
Other commentators take a different approach, suggesting that we are counting away from the Tum’ah of Mitzrayim in the same way a Nidah has to count seven days until she becomes Tehorah. The reason why we begin counting on the second day of Pesach, not the first, could be because on the first we celebrate our spiritual and physical freedom through Sipur Yetzi’at Mitzrayim, and it would thus be inappropriate to mar our joy by reminding ourselves that we are inherently impure.
The Maharal offers a yet another reason for the counting of the Omer. Sefirah, he explains, is supposed to create a link between the Torah and the material world, as the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot states, “Im Ein Torah Ein Kemach,” “Without Torah there is no flour (i.e. physical sustenance),” and vice versa (Avot 3:21). Sefirah is supposed to remind us that the Torah is something we can relate to on a physical level, despite the fact that it is so lofty, as we witnessed at Matan Torah. Abarbanel offers a similar reason for Sefirah, based more on the agricultural aspect of Shavu’ot. During this time, most of the farmers are harvesting their crops, and thus Sefirat HaOmer is a practical reminder that they must bring their Bikurim to the Beit HaMikdash for Shavu’ot.
Therefore, throughout Sefirah we are mindful of the fact that Hashem is the ultimate source of our material success. This is why, adds the Ramban, Sefirat HaOmer is bookended by two Korbenot Mincha: the Korban HaOmer, brought on the second day of Pesach, and the Korban Shetei HaLechem, brought on Shavuot. Both offerings, before which newly harvested grain, cannot be eaten or offered (before Shavu’ot the new grain cannot be offered in the Beit Hamikdash), serve to remind us of Hashem’s involvement in our daily lives at a time of year when we might attribute our successes to our own efforts. Sefirat HaOmer, then, is the perfect time to prepare for the approaching Matan Torah, as we strengthen our Emunah and Bitachon in the Creator in order to accept His Torah wholeheartedly, with joy and Ahavat Hashem.