Sefirat HaOmer: The Torah’s Road to Economic Recovery by Rabbi Yehuda Chanales


While the time period of Sefirat HaOmer is commonly understood as the countdown or transition from Pesach to Shavuot, a simple reading of the Pesukim in Parashat Emor suggests something else. While Chazal understood that the counting culminates with the celebration of Matan Torah, the Torah itself does not make such an explicit connection. On the opposite end of the Sefirah, the Torah seems to go out of its way to disconnect the beginning of the count from the holiday of Pesach. Instead of placing the details of the counting in between the descriptions of the first day of Pesach and the last, the Torah completes its discussion of Pesach before mentioning Sefirat HaOmer; even then, it uses the ambiguous term of “MiMachorat HaShabbat” to refer to what Chazal understood as the second day of Pesach. Instead of highlighting Pesach as the start of the count, the Torah emphasizes the sacrifice of the Omer. What does the Korban HaOmer represent and why does the Torah choose to emphasize it being distinct from Pesach?

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, in his collection Festival of Freedom, suggests that the holiday of Pesach celebrates the “order of revelation”, God’s supernatural involvement in history when it was clear to all that He is the one involved in shaping our destiny. “In such a time,” explains the Rav, “man never doubted the Divine Presence in our midst. Every event bore witness to the direct involvement of God in human destiny.” As a symbol of human economic activity, the Omer, on the other hand, highlights the more natural and typical way in which we live: “The beautiful visions of the Song at the Sea vanish; the light of a transcendental reality is extinguished…Man finds himself facing a cynical environment; he is lost, ignorant of both purpose and directions…Life is full of absurdities and contradictions.”  The world of man is often a backwards one, far from the idealities of a Divine society.

Through the Korban HaOmer and Sefirat HaOmer, the Torah, therefore, provides us with tips for what the Rav terms “redeeming the economy,” i.e. bringing sanctity and meaning to the realm of business activity, a realm where people are often inclined to “succeed at any price”, where the pervading attitude is survival of the fittest. How do we accomplish this lofty goal?

The idea of sacrificing the Omer, the first signs of the successful product of human labor, underscores the importance of viewing financial gain as subordinate to a higher purpose. Just as Shabbat reminds us each week that all of our work must be dedicated to enhancing our relationship to God, the Korban HaOmer, coinciding with the beginning of the actual harvest, reminds us that the fruits of our labors must be connected to God as well.

In addition, the Rav connects the Korban HaOmer with one of only two other times the word Omer is mentioned in the Torah: regarding the amount of Man each Jew collected to eat each day in the Midbar. There, the Omer drew limits and boundaries for those looking to collect as much as they possibly could. While the Torah encourages us to be innovative, creative and aggressive in pursuing our goals, this must come hand in hand with some type of controlling factor, one that sets boundaries and maintains a “sense of proportion”. Perhaps the sense of control and orderly progress is furthered by a standard, consecutive count that is initiated with the Omer sacrifice.

Both of these suggestions are examples of how the spirits of the Torah’s laws must define the way in which we engage in mundane areas of life, especially for the commandments that may not explicitly direct us how to act. Had the Torah clearly connected the count with Kabalat HaTorah on Shavuot, we may have overemphasized the Mitzvot given to us on the religious highs of Pesach and Shavuot. By detaching the Sefirah from the holidays, we are reminded that the values learned from times of explicit Divine revelation must permeate our day to day living as well.

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