Why Do We Count the Omer?

U’sfartem lachem mi’macharas ha’Shabbos mi’yom haviachem es omer ha’tenufah (Vayikra 23:15)

Parashas Emor contains the mitzvah known as Sefiras HaOmer — counting the Omer. During each successive day of this seven-week period, which we are currently in the middle of, we are commanded to count the passing days and weeks. This period begins on the second day of Pesach (16 Nisan), when the korban omer that permitted the new grain harvest to be eaten was offered, and concludes on Shavuos. The Be’er Yosef raises several difficulties with this concept. First, Rashi writes (23:10) that “omer” is simply the name of a quantity measuring one-tenth of an eiphah. What is the significance of this measurement, and why is the entire offering named after it? Similarly, when counting the days and weeks during this period, why do we invoke the Omer (e.g., Hayom yom echad ba’Omer — today is 1 day of the Omer)? Finally, why is this offering specifically brought on 16 Nisan, a date that seems to have no inherent significance?

The Be’er Yosef answers all of these questions based on the teaching of the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 28:3) that the korban omer is associated with the manna that the Jewish people ate during their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness, regarding which Hashem commanded them (Shemos 16:16) to collect and eat one omer per person each day. When the Jews received their daily sustenance directly from Hashem in an openly miraculous manner, it was clear and self-evident that He was the one providing for them. However, when they entered the Land of Israel and the manna no longer fell for them, they had no choice but to begin working to sustain themselves. When a person is eating the fruits of his labors, there is a dangerous tendency to take credit for one’s success and accomplishments, and it therefore became necessary at that time to offer the korban omer as an annual reminder that as hard as they worked, the true Source of their parnassah was the same Source that provided the daily omer of manna for them in the wilderness.

Why is this reminder specifically given on this date?

The Gemara in Kiddushin (38a) teaches that the manna ceased falling during the 40th year in the wilderness when Moshe died on 7 Adar, but the people were able to continue eating the manna they gathered until 16 Nisan, at which point for the first time since the Exodus they began working to provide for their needs. It is therefore specifically appropriate to bring the korban omer, the purpose of which is to remind us of the manna and to prevent us from falling prey to the natural temptation to take credit for our material success, each year on the day that the Jewish people began laboring to provide for their physical needs.

However, this reminder alone is insufficient, as the pull to attribute our accomplishments to our efforts and talents is too great. Therefore, we follow it up by invoking the Omer during our daily counting over the ensuing seven weeks. The Maharal teaches that the number seven is associated with teva (nature), so it is appropriate to count for seven weeks, each consisting of seven days, in order to fully ingrain within ourselves that as natural as it may seem, our income and financial success ultimately comes from Hashem, a message that we should focus on each day when we count the Omer.

Q: How was Eliyahu HaNavi, who was a Kohen, permitted to render himself impure in order to resurrect the dead son of the Tzarfatis when the Torah prohibits (21:1) a Kohen to have contact with the dead?

A: Tosafos answers that Eliyahu knew with certainty that he would be able to miraculously resurrect the dead child, in which case it was a matter of pikuach nefesh — saving a life — which justifies the violation of the prohibition against a Kohen becoming impure through contact with the dead. The Ridvaz questions this explanation, as one should not be permitted to rely on Hashem performing a miracle to justify violating a Biblical prohibition. The Tosefos HaRosh writes that Hashem explicitly commanded Eliyahu to resurrect the boy, in which case it was certainly permissible. The Shittah Mekubetzes suggests that the child didn’t actually die, but merely fainted, in which case he would not transmit impurity. The Ridvaz rejects this answer, as the verses clearly refer to the boy as dead and Eliyahu says that he is now once again alive, implying that he did not faint but actually died. Rabbeinu Bachya maintains that the boy was not Jewish, and according to some opinions dead non-Jews do not transmit impurity to those who are in the room with them. However, the Ridvaz challenges this answer, as the Yerushalmi teaches that this child was none other than the prophet Yonah, who was certainly Jewish. It would also be surprising for Hashem to make a miracle for the purpose of bringing a non-Jew back to life, and it would also be quite unusual for a prophet like Eliyahu to reside with a non-Jewish family. Additionally, the Maadanei Asher points out that the Gemara (Yevamos 61a) implies that everybody agrees that dead non-Jews transmit impurity to those who come into contact with them, which Eliyahu did when he resurrected the boy. However, the Tevuos Shor points out that the verse does not explicitly say that Eliyahu placed his mouth on the boy, as Elisha did when resurrecting the son of the Shunamis woman, and perhaps he did not in fact directly come into contact with him.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.