Day 22 of the Omer
Why do we count the Omer? There are so many possible reasons to give, but one is that we are structuring the time between Pesach and Shavuot in order to understand and express a particular “middah”, value of Judaism.
The period of the Omer covers the time of the barley harvest, and in order to recognise and acknowledge the source of that harvest – God – the biblical Israelites would bring to the Temple in Jerusalem an offering from the new crop. Nothing could be eaten from that harvest until the offering was brought to the Temple.
An Omer is described by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch not just as a sheaf, but as a measure that gave one person sufficient food for one day (comment on Leviticus 23:10)
So not only did the bringing of the Omer mean that the farmers must acknowledge the role of God in the harvest, and recognise that the food was not simply a result of their own work but requires respectful partnership with the natural world, it also meant that they were to offer food freely to sustain others. It is a clear message that our resources are not for us alone, but to be shared and used to ensure that others also have their needs met.
Why do we count? Hirsch writes that unlike others, who count the days up until the harvest time when they can relax that the grain has reached its ripeness and can be harvested and used, Jews began counting at the beginning of the harvest to the end. So we tie our freedom to grow our food (Pesach) to our responsibilities to God and to the vulnerable of our society (Shavuot). He says that this teaches us that material prosperity is not an end in itself, but it is something that allows us to “maintain right and morality”.
In other words as we count off the days by offering a meaningful amount of food for each day, we remind ourselves not only of our obligations to God, but of our obligations to each other. Material wealth is not a value in itself, merely the means to be able to fulfil the mitzvah of tzedakah and of supporting our community who need. SR