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Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.
Barley is the first crop to be harvested in Israel. Its harvest signifies the beginning of a long spring, summer and fall of produce and fruit to be harvested. The 50-day period between Passover and Shavuot will be the time that both barley and wheat will be harvested. It is the period when the bread of the nation of Israel will be determined and decreed. It is also the period that counts the days between the Exodus from Egypt and the day when Israel received the Torah. The days of great anticipation and profound vulnerability are intentionally intertwined.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the people of Israel, and say to them, When you come to the land which I give to you, and shall reap its harvest, then you shall bring an omer [measurement] of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest; And he shall wave the omer before the Lord, to be accepted for you; on the next day after the Sabbath [the day after Passover] the priest shall wave it.
Your Torah Navigator
1. What is the purpose of this offering?
2. What does the waving motion signify?
Midrash Leviticus Rabba (Vayikra Rabba)
How would he wave the omer?
Rabbi Chama Bar Rabbi Ukva in the name of Rabbi Yossi Bar Hanina said: He would wave it to and fro and up and down. The motions to and fro symbolize that the entire world belongs to God. The motions up and down symbolize that the heavens and the lower worlds belong to God.
Rabbi Simon Bar Yehoshua said: He waves it to and fro to stop the harsh winds, and he waves it up and down to halt the harsh dew.
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Both of the Rabbis explain how the waving is done and what it signifies. In what ways are the answers similar?
2. How do they differ?
It is interesting to note that the Arabic name for the hot desert winds that afflict Israel in the spring and throughout the summer is "chamsin" which means fifty, the same number of days between Passover and Shavuot. These winds when they occur on consecutive days can utterly destroy a harvest. When part of the harvest has begun and it has been successful, it was reflexive to offer thanks and acknowledge the continued support essential for a successful year.
The Talmud teaches that between Passover and Shavuot–during these 50 days–a plague killed thousands of Rabbi Akiba‘s students, the same days that they were waiting to relive the revelation at Sinai.
This is a period of great opportunity and profound vulnerability. The land can either be bountiful or parched. May the dew come with favor.
This has been a period where the winds of history have made us feel vulnerable and where the ephemeral nature of all existence is poignantly felt in a country less than 60 years old.
It is also the period when we once again literally recount our epiphany at Sinai, and trust that through our good works and devotion all of Israel will endure and thrive in spite of and because of these dark times.
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