An important part of a Jew's avodas Hashem is to rise
higher and higher, to forsake the lowliness of material
deeds, and to strive to reach lofty kedusha and
tohoroh. He must aspire to be zoche to the
Torah that Hashem, in His great mercy, has given to the
Chazal enumerate forty-eight levels that are needed to attain
a kinyan on the Torah. If we look closely we will see
that these ways are built of acts of bringing one nearer to
Torah and disassociating ourselves from a worldly behavioral
routine, from lowliness.
During the period of sefiras ha'omer we count each day
that passes until we reach the forty-ninth day. On the
fiftieth day we celebrate Shavuos, the yom tov of
receiving the Torah.
This counting begins on the second day of our redemption from
Egypt. The Chinuch (mitzvah 306) cites a reason for
sefiras ha'omer that is related to this fact. He
writes that sefirah links the Exodus from Egypt, in
which Hashem took His people out with a mighty hand, to an
exalted objective: Bnei Yisroel accepting the
". . . that they might receive the Torah, which is the main
reason why they were redeemed . . . and since [receiving the
Torah] is Yisroel's foremost objective, and it was because of
it we were redeemed and achieved so much greatness, we were
commanded to count from the day after the yom tov of
Pesach until the day of receiving the Torah. This [counting]
shows our great desire for this distinguished and elevated
day, a day that our heart yearns for as an [exhausted] slave
craves for the shade."
The primary message of the Chinuch is that Yisroel's
redemption, being freed from the yoke of Egypt, was so they
would afterwards receive the Torah. Our nation's entire
existence is dependent upon the Torah.
Let us add another point: Hashem has taught us what He
demands in our avoda to Him. This avoda is
essential to the Jewish Nation's eternal existence and their
zechus to have the Torah. A man's aspiration must be
to rise from his present lowly spiritual level and ascend to
the kedusha we gained at Sinai.
What is this avoda? We will clarify this by means of
answers to questions.
1) Why are these days called sefiras ha'omer?
We were commanded to bring the minchas ha'omer on a
certain date, and from that day we begin counting as the
Torah tells us, "You shall count for yourselves from the
morrow of the shabbos, from the day that you bring the
omer of the waving" (Vayikra 23:15). This is,
however, not a sufficient reason to call the entire period of
forty-nine days during which we count sefiras ha'omer,
merely because of the day we start counting.
This is particularly difficult since, according to the reason
that the Chinuch gives, it would have been more
fitting to call these days sefiras HaTorah.
2) Why are the shtei halechem sacrificed on Shavuos
called "a new mincha" (ibid., 23:16)? In which way is
it newer than any other korbon or mincha that
we sacrifice once a year?
3) Many rishonim and acharonim ask the
following question: why does the Torah call the first day of
Pesach a "shabbos"? -- "And he shall wave the omer
before Hashem to be accepted for You; on the morrow after the
shabbos the Cohen shall wave it" (Vayikra 23:11), and
"You shall count for yourselves from the morrow after the
shabbos, from the day that you bring the omer of the
waving" (v. 15). The gemora (Menochos 65b)
informs us that the wording in the posuk caused the
Baitusim to claim that the mitzvah comes after a Shabbos
Bereishis, meaning that it must be on a Sunday, until
Chazal explained its real meaning.
The Torah calls every yom tov by a name that shows its
essence. It seems, accordingly, that it would have been more
appropriate to give Shavuos a name referring to yetzias
Mitzrayim or chag HaMatzos. Furthermore, what does
"shabbos" have to do with Pesach? The mentioning of "shabbos"
caused us to have a dispute with the Baitusim who erred about
this word's meaning. Why was all this necessary?
4) The minchas ha'omer that we offer on Pesach is
made of barley. The shtei halechem that we sacrifice
afterwards, on Shavuos, come from wheat.
The difference between wheat and barley is that wheat is
considered a food usually eaten by people, while barley is
usually eaten by animals. "Just as [the sotah's] acts
were acts of an animal so her korbon [of barley] is
from animal food" (Sotah 14).
Our question is why do we first offer as a korbon a
mincha made from an inferior type of food (used for
animals), while afterwards we bring the shtei halechem
made from food fit for people?
We can understand this according to what we
previously mentioned, that a man's duty in this world is to
ascend higher and higher. He must leave his lowly condition
and in that way be zoche to the Torah that Hashem has
given us in love.
Concerning our third question, why this yom tov is
called "shabbos," this can be resolved according to the
Bnei Yissochor's explanation of the differences
between the concept of Shabbos and mo'ed.
Shabbos is a concept of kedusha being granted
abundantly by Hashem. It is not dependent upon what we do.
Even if we do not do anything to bring it, there is
kedusha in Shabbos since it comes from Hashem. It does
not need the kiddush of beis din. "For it is
kodesh for you" (Shemos 31:14) -- "I Have a
good present in my storage houses and it is called Shabbos"
Yom Tov is different. It is called a mikro kodesh
since we cause the kedusha to come by our deeds, and
kedushas yom tov is dependent upon the kiddush
of beis din.
This difference is apparent in the text of the brochos
that we say: on Shabbos we say the brocho of
Mekadesh haShabbos, while on yom tov we make
the brocho of Mekadesh Yisroel vehazemanim."
Pesach as a Shabbos
In this way the importance of the first day of Pesach is more
similar to that of Shabbos, since it was originally given to
us through Hashem's chesed and not through our acts or
Hashem thus sought to hint to us and guide us in the way of
avodas Hashem -- of how to acquire Torah.
The yom tov is called Shabbos since we had not yet
been zoche to anything through our own efforts. The
mincha that we bring comes from barley, an animal
food, to show us that livelihood comes from Hashem through
His chesed. Just as Hashem sustains animals simply
because He created them and not because of the way they act
so we, at the time of leaving Egypt, were "naked of
Our yetzias Mitzrayim was brought about for the
desired objective of later receiving the Torah. However, to
be privileged to receive such a significant gift -- the Holy
Torah -- we must ascend and stop being passive, and begin
doing acts that bring us zechuyos. We therefore count
the days from Pesach and always add on the days and weeks
from our origin, so that we will remember our beginning, the
omer of animal food. We try to stop being like animals
so that we will ascend to the level of people, and thus be
worthy to receive the Torah and fulfill its mitzvos. After
receiving the Torah we "offer a new mincha." It is new
in relation to the minchas ha'omer that not only
reminds us of when we began counting -- "from the day you
brought it" -- but also points to our continual and
progressive spiritual progress.
During these fifty days we do all that can be done,
everything we have been commanded to do, so that we can
ascend to the level of men and bring a "mincha that is
new" and comes from wheat, so that we can afterwards receive
"You shall count for yourselves" is an eternal mitzvah to
acquire the Torah, to depart from all that is worldly and
from our lowly acts and reach what is desirable -- the level
on which we can receive and fulfill what our Creator has
HaRav Yeshayahu Lieberman is the Director of the Central
Beis Yaakov in Yerushalayim.