Author Archives: Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein

About Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the Head of Jewish Studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy in Kansas City.

Buying Truth, Speaking Truth, Acknowledging Truth

The following selections address the issue of truthfulness. The questions following each section can be explored in groups or by individuals. Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Proverbs 23:23

Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding. 

Your Proverbs Navigator

1. How does one buy truth?

2. If one is not supposed to sell, from whom does one buy it?

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 10a

Rabbi Hiyya Bar Rav from Difti taught them: “And the people stood with Moshe from morning until evening” (Exodus 18). Does it make sense that Moshe judged the whole day? When did he learn his Torah?

truth and factRather it comes to teach you that any judge who judges truthfully for even an hour–the verse sees him as if he were a partner of the Holy One in the creation of the world. Here it is written: “And the people stood with Moshe from morning until evening.” and there it is written: “And there was morning and there was evening, one day.”

Your Talmud Navigator

1. Is it in a judge’s power to judge truthfully?

2. What does truth have to do with creation?

Values of Our Fathers

Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “The world is sustained by three things, by justice, by truth, and by peace. As it has been stated: Speak every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).

The Peace Chapter

Rav Muna said: These three things are actually one. When justice is done, truth is served and peace is achieved, as it is written: “These are the things that you shall do; Speak every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Zechariah 8:16).

Your Peace Chapter Navigator

1. How does Rav Muna understand the Mishnah in Values of Our Fathers?

2. Do you agree with his formula?

Values of Our Fathers Chapter 5 Mishnah 7

[There are] seven things [characteristic] in someone unrefined and seven in a wise person: a wise man speaks not before one who is greater than he in wisdom, and does not interrupt his fellow; and is not hasty to answer; he asks in accordance with the subject-matter, and he answers in accordance with the accepted decision; and he speaks of the first [point] first, and of the last [point] last; and concerning that which he has not heard, he says: I have not heard; and he acknowledges the truth. The reverse of these [qualities are characteristic] in an unrefined person.

No Deposit, No Return

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Deuteronomy 8:1

All the commandment that I command you today, you are to take care and observe, in order that you may live and become many and enter and possess the land.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14

For the commandment that I command you this day:

it is not too extraordinary for you.

it is not too far away!

It is not in the heavens, (for you) to say:

Who will go up for us to the heavens and get it for us and have us hear it that we may observe it?

And it is not across the sea, (for you) to say:

Who will cross for us, across the sea, and get it for us and have us hear it, that we may observe it?

Rather near to you is the word, exceedingly, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it!

Your Torah Navigator

This is a very literal translation of the text, why would it read in Deuteronomy 8:1 "All the commandment" instead of "All the commandments?" Is it talking about one commandment or is it talking about many? If it is talking about one commandment what might it be? In Deuteronomy 30:11, if you read the verse as speaking of only one commandment which one would it be?

A Word

In the first citation the people of Israel are exhorted to do the commandment as a condition for entering the land. While in the second citation, Israel is exhorted to keep the commandment as an antidote to exile. If we return to God, then God returns to us, and therefore we will return together to the land that was promised.

Nachmanides says that in Deuteronomy 8, the commandment is referring to the entire Torah and that the singular is used to emphasize that it represents all of God’s word. In Deuteronomy 30 however, he said it is referring to only one commandment, to return to God, for this is the one thing that is never beyond reach, but "rather near to you is the word, exceedingly, in your mouth and in your heart…"

This is what change is all about–Nahmanides is empowering us to remember that we can always resolve to be different irrespective of where we live, what we have or who we have become. It is always close; it is always within reach because it is within all of us.

The Worst Curse Is To Lose All Control

Provided by Hillel’s Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, which creates educational resources for Jewish organizations on college campuses.

Most of us, as a rule, do not dwell on the "unpleasant" parts of the Torah. After all, who wants to dwell on unpleasant things any day of the week, let alone on Shabbat, a day where we are supposed to, dare I say, enjoy ourselves a bit. However, after a very optimistic beginning, where the children of Israel imagine bringing their first harvest to the Temple, thanking their Creator for the bounty that has been provided for them, suddenly, the Holy One introduces us to the "downside" of being part of this covenant.

Just as the rewards are great for God’s chosen, the punishments are very severe. What God threatens could ruin even a masochist’s Shabbat. Even more depressing is that a close reading of the curses will show that the Jewish people have endured all the calamities mentioned, only taking solace that they lived to tell the tale.

Toward the end of the curses, the Torah says: "And your life will hang before you, and you will be frightened night and day, and you will not believe in your life" (Deuteronomy 28:66).

The midrash that introduces the Book of Esther, the Pitichta of Esther Rabba, opens with this verse, and explains it the following way:

Midrash Esther Rabba, the Pitichta (Introduction):
"and your life will hang before (depend upon) you…" this refers to a person who has grain for one year.
"and you will be frightened night and day…" this refers to a person who must buy his flour each day from the miller.
"…and you will not believe in your life." This refers to one who must buy his bread from the baker.

Rabbi Berachya disagreed:
"and your life will hang before (depend upon) you…" This refers to one who has grain for three years.
"and you will be frightened night and day…" This refers to one who has grain for one year.
"…and you will not believe in your life." This refers to one who must get his grain each day from the miller.

The other rabbis asked: What about the one who must get his bread from the baker? Rabbi Berachya answered, "The Torah did not address the dead.”

Your Midrash Navigator

1. The Hebrew word "Talui" can mean either "hang before" or "depend upon." Read the verse both ways and describe how it changes the meaning of the verse. If the verse means "depend upon" is this saying something positive or negative?
 

2. Describe the emotions clarified in this verse. Do things get better or worse? Is being frightened better than not believing in your life?
 

3. Why does Rabbi Berachya presume that the one who does buy his bread from the baker is already not among the living?
 

4. What happens to a person whose responsibility for his/her own life is taken from them? According to the midrash, is the ability to provide for ourselves a privilege?

A Word

If you notice, I have translated the first clause in the verse two ways, one which assumes that you are barely able to exist, and the other which assumes that you are still in control of your life. The reason for this ambiguity is that the Hebrew word "Talui" can mean both these things. The rabbis have chosen to interpret the word "talui" as "depend on," and they seem to think that one who has wheat for a year feels secure. He only becomes terrified when he does not know from where the next day’s wheat will be. And he is only considered in total despair when he is too depressed or incapable of baking his own bread, and thus relies on the baker for his own survival.

Rav Berachya says anxiety kicks in when one watches his annual stock deplete for he is already worried about next year. If he has no wheat stored and is living day to day, this is already a life of complete despair. If, however, someone has given up to the point they no longer bake their own bread, such a person is no longer considered to be alive enough for the Torah to address. This is the ultimate curse, when the will to endure and work toward that end is no longer present. At this stage, Rav Berachya says, the Torah ceases to be interested in us.

Despair is the Torah’s enemy, for in moments of despair the miracle of creation and God’s love are not felt. The beauty of connecting with another is beyond reach and yet, God wishes this upon those who deny the covenant. It is as if the Holy One says, "To deny the source of existence is to deny existence itself. Do not think, your life depends on you even when things are going well." For once you assume you are the master of all the good in your life, that is when your existence may come into question. It is these curses that have humbled us as a nation, and have made us strong with the knowledge that we will not only endure, but we will also grow, with the help of the Holy One, into a truly holy people, worthy of being declared chosen.

Another question: Why would the midrash on the Purim story open with such a devastating passage? The rabbis wish to remind us that there is an underlying obscenity in the Purim story. It happened in exile where we were dependent upon a foreign king through whom hidden miracles of elegant timing were performed. Had we been in our own land none of the pain, terror and despair prior to the salvation of Esther and her good uncle would have been necessary. Despair is synonymous with exile.

Peace: Jewish Traditional Sources

Reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Proverbs 3: 17

Her ways are pleasant ways, And all her paths, peaceful. [“Her” refers to khohmah, wisdom, which Proverbs refers to as feminine.]

Excerpts from the Tractate of Derech Eretz: The Peace Chapter

It was taught that Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel said, “The world is maintained by three things, by justice, by truth and by peace.” Rav Muna said, “These three actually are one. If justice is present then truth is present and this makes peace. And all three are found in the same verse, as it is written, “Judge with the justice of truth and peace within your gates.” Wherever there is justice there will be peace. And wherever there is peace there is justice.

Peace Chapter Navigator

1. Which values are the means and which value is the end according to Rav Muna?

2. Is it true that peace will define justice?

Hezkiya said, “How great is peace, for every commandment in the Torah is written with it. [For example]: “When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him” (Exodus 23:4). “When you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden and would refrain from raising it, you must nevertheless raise it with him” (Ibid:5).

“If along the road you chance upon a bird’s nest, in any tree or on the ground, with fledglings or eggs and the mother sitting on the fledglings or on the eggs, do not take the other with her young” (Deuteronomy 22:6).

“When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof so that you do not bring blood guilt on your house if anyone should fall from it” (Ibid:8).

For when a commandment comes to your hand in order to be fulfilled you are obliged to do it with peace, as it is written, “Seek peace and pursue it…” (Psalm 34:15). Seek it where you are and pursue it in other places as well.

Great is peace for in all of [Israel’s desert] travels it is written, “They journeyed and they set up camp.” They journeyed divided, and they set up camp divided, but when they got to Sinai, they set up camp united as one, as it is written. The Holy One said, Since Israel hates to be divided and they are lovers of peace [which they have shown] by camping as one, the time has come to give them My Torah.

Where was Moses?

The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

The holiday of Purim is based on events as recounted in the Book of Esther. The Book of Esther, known as the megillah (Hebrew for scroll) has one glaring "omission." The name of God is never mentioned. The Jews’ salvation remembered on Purim is often referred to as the "Hidden Miracle," hidden because no supernatural event was responsible, merely the combination of personal courage and good timing.

One chooses to be courageous, but timing often depends on factors beyond our control. We choose to exploit the opportunities when offered, but the opportunities present themselves. When timing works in our favor, we either call it "lucky" or "Providential," depending on our worldview or our belief system. The "hidden miracle" of Purim sees the hand of God in the well-crafted natural events of the story. The megillah says, "And the Jews were enlightened…"–enlightened to the fact that this salvation was not of their making alone. 

The Passover Haggadah also has a glaring omission. Where is Moshe Rabbenu [Moses our teacher]? Moshe is not even mentioned once. How can we have a recounting of the Exodus and ignore the central character? What point is the Haggadah trying to make?

One answer lies in this question, "If God is hidden during Purim, why is Moshe hidden during the Pesach seder?" Purim encourages us to understand that there is no such thing as a self-made person. We all had partners who contributed to our lives. Even when no sea was split, no plagues given, so-called natural events have miraculous qualities.

The story of the Exodus might lead one to believe that God had to rely on Moshe to bring miracles into the world, that Moshe was not entirely human. The seder reminds us that not only was God ultimately responsible for the redemption, God was entirely responsible. As the Haggadah says, "’God took us out’, not by the hands of an angel, not by the hands of a messenger, but the Holy One in God’s full glory."

Our historical origins were overtly miraculous and wonderful. Our ancestors witnessed the revealed Hand of signs and wonders. But remember: if the sea would have split and we wouldn’t have been there to cross, it would be a fluke of nature. What makes it truly miraculous is that it happens when you need it. The essence of what makes a miracle a miracle, the timing of it, was as necessary then as it is now.

The Morning After

The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

The morning after Korah, Dotan and Aviram’s ill-fated challenge to Moshe [Moses] and Aharon [Aaron], the whole of Israel blames the two leaders for the death of the 250 leaders who sided with Korah.

Numbers 17:6-15

But all the Children of Israel grumbled on the morrow against Moshe and against Aharon, saying: (It is) you (who) caused the death of YHWH’s [God’s] people! Now it was, when the community assembled against Moshe and against Aharon, that they turned toward the Tent of Appointment, and here: the cloud had covered it, and the Glory of YHWH could be seen! Then Moshe and Aharon came to the front of the Tent of Appointment. And YHWH spoke to Moshe, saying: Move aside from the midst of this community, that I may finish them off in an instant!

They flung themselves upon their faces. Moshe said to Aharon: Take (your) pan and place upon it fire from the slaughter site, putting smoking incense (there); go quickly to the community and effect appeasement for them, for the fury is (still) going out from the presence of YHWH, the plague has begun! Aharon took (it), as Moshe had spoken, and he ran to the midst of the assembly: and here, the plague had begun among the people! So he put the smoking incense (in it), and effected appeasement for the people: now he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was held back. Now those that died in the plague were fourteen thousand and seven hundred, aside from those that died in the matter of Korah. Aharon returned to Moshe, to the entrance of the Tent of Appointment, and the plague was held back.

Your Torah Navigator

1. Why were the people upset with Moshe and Aharon when they knew that God had swallowed them up?

2. How did Moshe know to tell Aharon that incense was needed to effect an appeasement?

3. What does it mean that Aharon “stood” between the dead and the living?

Rashi on the verse “now he (Aharon) stood between the dead and the living:”

Aharon grabbed the Angel of Death and held him back against his will. The angel said to him: Leave me to fulfill my mission. Aharon replied: Moshe ordered me to detain you. The angel answered: I am a messenger of God and you are only a messenger of Moshe. Aharon answered: Moshe never does anything on his own, all his orders come from the Mighty One. If you don’t believe me the Holy One and Moshe are both at the Tent of Appointment right now. Come with me and ask them. That is why the following verse says, “And Aharon returned to Moshe, to the entrance of the Tent of Appointment and the plague was held back.”

A Word

Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, known by the acronym the “Netziv,” on his famous super-commentary on Rashi and the Torah said that the people found the slaughter of the 250 excessive. Moshe and Aharon could have limited the trial to Korah, Dotan and Aviram, and once the earth had swallowed them up, the others would have repented. The Netziv points out that Moshe and Aharon were not the ultimate designers of the trial, but it was Moshe acting on the Divine Spirit.

Rashi understands that when the verse says, “Now he stood between the dead and the living,” Aharon was literally standing between the Angel of Death and those whom the angel wished to destroy. He holds the angel back with the incense that protected Moshe from being swallowed up as Korah’s minions were destroyed. The angel wants Aharon to leave so he can finish his job, but Aharon convinces the angel to return to the tent with him and the plague is stopped.

Just as lack of fear and belief in God’s power brings destruction, so does belief in God’s instruments and reverence for God’s might bring healing and mercy. The people were not worthy, but Aharon, the worthy advocate, stopped death in its tracks and brought yet another reprieve on a recalcitrant people. Even after he had been compromised by the Golden Calf, Aharon is willing to look death straight in the eye to save a community who would most probably not return the favor.

No Pain, No Gain And No More Manna

The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

2. You are to bear-in-mind the route that YHWH had you go these forty years in the wilderness, in order to afflict you, by testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not.

3. So he afflicted you and made-you-hungry, and had you eat the mahn (mannah) which you had not known and which your fathers had not known, in order to make you know that not by bread alone do humans stay-alive, but rather by all that issues at YHWH’s order do humans stay-alive.

Deuteronomy 8:16-18

16. the one who had you eat mahn in the wilderness, which your fathers had not known, in order to afflict you and in order to test you, for it to go-well with you, in your future.

17. Now should you say in your heart: My power and the might of my hand have produced all this wealth for me; 

18. then you must bear-in-mind YHWH your God,

Your Torah Navigator

1. What is the relationship between hardship and knowing your heart?

2. What was the purpose of the "mahn?"

3. Why was "mahn" considered an affliction?

4. How does the way God gives the "mahn" achieve this purpose?

Talmud, Yoma 86a

Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai‘s students asked him: Why wasn’t the "mahn" allocated once a year [instead of every day]? He answered with an analogy. Think of a human king who would allocate his son’s yearly wages once a year. What would his son do? He would come to see his father only once a year.

The king changed his mind and allocated his son’s wages on a daily basis, so that his son would come see him every day.

So too it is with Israel. Anyone who had four or five children would be anxious if they would have food for the following day and they would worry if they would die from hunger. So, they would direct their hearts to their father in heaven…

Your Talmud Navigator

1. What does the "mahn" come to teach us according to Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai?

2. How is this reflected in the Torah itself?

A Word

The most difficult aspect of religious belief is to make an incorporeal abstraction such as God immediate, intimate and real. We are given a story that before the Torah was given, we were literally fed by God and prior to that we were made to feel anxious and hungry. The anxiety and the hunger were also gifts that were necessary for us to understand that beyond the illusions of control and autonomy stands God, who is only desirous of one thing–a relationship that gives us true perspective on what matters.

Toward this end, we are told that we were dependent as children, and that we should always remember that no matter how secure we feel, it was not of our own doing, and bread alone does not indicate that we are in control.

My Killer, My Brother

The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

Moshe Rabbenu (our teacher) begins his valedictory address with the first parasha of D’varim. He’s giving the final instructions before the reins of leadership are transferred to Yehoshua [Joshua]. In the course of describing the history of the land to which they are about to return, Moshe warns them in the following verses that they are not to provoke the descendents of Esav [Esau].

Devarim 2:2-5

Then the Lord said to me: You have been skirting this hill country long enough now turn north. And charge the people as follows: You will be passing through the territory of your kinsmen, the descendants of Esav, who live in Seir. Though they will be afraid of you, be very careful not to provoke them. For I will not give you of their land so much as a foot can tread on…

Your Torah Navigator

1. Why are the children of Esav referred to as kinsman?

2. How is the word provoke defined here?

The Midrash in D’varim Rabba, sees the fact that the descendents of Esav are called kinsmen as significant. Esav’s descendents have no spiritual connection with the Jewish people. They are pagans, and they are not privy to any revelation, but God has promised them a parcel of land and it is important that the descendents of Jacob honor that promise.

Subsequent verses permit our forebears to buy food, drink and supplies from them, but not engage in provocative behavior–even though they must have been seen as an army marching on a mission of conquest.

The Midrash also states that origins are important, because origins often create the potential for deep connection as well as deep enmity. It says:

D’varim Rabba (Lieberman) Parshat Devarim 22

Your kinsmen, the descendants of Esav, even though they are the descendents of Esav, they are still your kinsmen. Another verse echoes this sentiment by saying, "Your kinsmen who hate you…" (Isaiah 66:5). Even though they hate you, they are your kinsmen… And this sentiment is also echoed in the verse, "…and the outrage that will be done to your brother Jacob… (Obadiah 1:10). Even though he may kill you and plunder you, he is still your brother…

Your Midrash Navigator

1. What’s the difference between fraternal hatred and hatred of one who is not related to you?

2. Which hatred has the greatest potential to be transformed into love?

3. Does the adage "You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family" resonate with this midrash? How?

A Word

In times of great strife, when kinsmen become brothers in name only, origins of relationships offer the potential for a way back, when they once shared something in common. The Midrash is teaching that these origins were given, by God and cannot be removed by human design. No matter what outrage people perpetrate, they cannot abrogate the potential for reconciliation, because they were not the ones who created the relationship. It is this fact that humbles us and makes us see the world as a place that existed before us and will exist after us, and the darkest moments between peoples will give way to the memory of being kinsmen once upon a time.

As we explore the three weeks and the nine days that recall the destructions of the Jewish people, we are reminded that someday these will be days of rejoicing. And brothers who have become enemies will be brothers once again.

Jews March On

The following article is reprinted with permission from Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life.

All of chapter 10 of B’midbar, which falls in the middle of Parshat B’ha’alotkha, sees that Israel is preparing for war and the Holy One is choreographing the march. After the priests are given their instructions Moses tries to convince his father-in-law to come along. Moses has the last word, but the Torah doesn’t tell us whether he agreed to go in the end. Then we are told:

Numbers 10:33-11:3

(33) They marched from the mountain of YHWH [God] a journey of three days, the coffer of YHWH’s covenant marching before them, a journey of three days, to scout out for them a resting-place. (34) Now the cloud of YHWH is over them by day, as they march from the camp.

(35) Now it was, whenever the coffer was to march on, Moshe would say: arise (to attack), o YHWH, that your enemies may scatter, that those who hate you may flee before you! (36) and when it would rest, he would say: RETURN, O YHWH, (YOU OF) THE MYRIAD DIVISIONS OF ISRAEL!

(11:1) Now the people were like those who grieve (over) ill-fortune, in the ears of YHWH. When YHWH heard, his anger flared up; there blazed up against them a fire of YHWH and ate up the edge of the camp. (2) The people cried out to Moshe and Moshe interceded to YHWH, and the fire abated. (3) So they called the name of that place Tav’era/Blaze, for (there) had blazed against them fire of YHWH.

Your Torah Navigator

The verse that has been capitalized is the same verse we chant when we ceremonially remove the Torah from the ark and march it around the congregation. In the Torah these verses are bracketed by what looks to be two Hebrew "noons" in reverse. The purpose of these two mysterious signs is discussed in the Talmud and the midrash [commentary]. There are two opinions:

One says they indicate that these verses do not belong here. The other says they indicate that these verses should be seen as a separate book. And it is learned from this opinion that if a Torah scroll contains at least 85 Hebrew letters like the two aforementioned verses, then you are allowed to save it from a burning building on Shabbat. In other words, it retains its status as a sacred text.

Read the previous parsha and see if you can find a more appropriate place for these verses.

Other than the backward noons, why would these verses be considered more book-like than the Ten Commandments?

What would be the reason for purposefully misplacing these two verses?

The Talmud Shabbat 116a teaches that the verse is here because it creates a break between two negative occurrences. It is obvious that the complaints of the people that occur immediately after these two verses is a negative occurrence, but how is it to be understood that:

(33) They marched from the mountain of YHWH a journey of three days, the coffer of YHWH’s covenant marching before them, a journey of three days, would be considered negative?

The Talmud says, when the Torah states that they marched from the mountain, it means that they turned away from God at that moment. The Ramban (Nachmanides) comments: Like children running from school, lest they be given more commandments to do.

These two misplaced verses become a remedy, showing that Israel was not always complaining and that they were capable of running toward the ark just as they were capable of turning away from the Holy One’s Torah.

These verses which accompany every Torah reading as the Torah travels to and from its ark are verses which have yet to find their place. They reflect the travels and exiles of Israel, which is a book that does not even rest within the five books, it is the book of a restless people who even when they are given a place, the place cannot either draw or hold them. It becomes the home we wander toward and away from.

These verses become the book of moving toward responsibility with the understanding that our resting times through history’s eye are actually very brief. These 85 letters are the subtext of the Jewish people.

The first verse calls and indeed prays for protection from without while the next verse prays for “Return, O YHWH, (you of) the myriad divisions of Israel!” Indeed, a prayer for peace among the myriad divisions that can destroy from within. Isn’t it ironic that the very next verse is one of internal dissension?

The backward noons tell us to carry these verses with us wherever we go as we pray for peace from within.

Some Days Count More Than Others

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.

Leviticus 23:9-11

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?

A Word

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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