Our parsha begins with the classic material of Sefer Vayikra, issues that deal with the Mishkan and korbanot. In the middle of the parsha we have a listing of all of the holidays, or more accurately the “holy days.” We are given a comprehensive list of them all, including the surprising inclusion of Shabbat.
The exact purpose of the list is not clear. We have many accounts of the holidays in the Torah, but what is this list meant to add? In some cases we are given information for which we have no other sources (lulav, sukkah, etc.) while in other cases major details of the holiday are omitted (for instance, the prohibition of eating chametz on Pesach).
We might have assumed that the purpose is to instruct us as to exactly which sacrifices we are to bring on each occasion, which would make the placement here in Vayikra very natural. This idea, however, does not work very well. In most cases the Torah in our parsha simply says that we are to bring “a sacrifice,” without explaining any of the details as to what kind of sacrifice, which animals and how many. In contrast, if we open Parshat Pinchas we find a very clear list of exactly what to bring and when.
In light of this lack of information, we are struck by one issue that is detailed in our parsha and contains many exceptional features – the Omer – Shtei Halechem korbanot.
The Omer is a barley offering made on the second day of Pesach which initiates a counting process completed 50 days later by the offering of the Two Loaves (Shtei Halechem).
These two korbanot are treated in great detail in our parsha and become the focus of much of the chapter. Much has been written on these two issues and the relationship between them. I would like to share with you an interesting idea that I recently saw and leave you with a series of interesting discussion questions for the Shabbat table.
The counting of the Omer is generally viewed on a spiritual level as the counting from Pesach, the festival of freedom, until Shavuot, the festival of the receiving of the Torah. The connection indicating the ultimate purpose of our redemption was not simply to free an enslaved nation but rather to enable us to fulfill our destiny as the Chosen People and the ones who can represent God in this world. A process was needed at the time of the Exile to reach this lofty goal from our humble beginnings and it is one that we relive each and every year as we get closer to Matan Torah. The Kabbalistic assignment of each week of the Omer and each day of the week to a specific “Sefira” or attribute, accents the individual nature of each day and at the same time the cumulative effect of the entire process.
While this helps many of us through the time of the Omer and encourages us to improve ourselves in preparation for Shavuot, it does not seem to be the simple reading of the text. We must keep in mind that the pesukim were aimed at the generation who enter the Land. This is shouting at us in the introduction to the section (23:10) “…when you enter the land that I am giving you… .” The instructions were meant to be understood and realized by the farmer in Eretz Yisrael. In order to fully appreciate the simple reading of the Torah (p’shat) we need to put ourselves in the farmer’s shoes/boots/sandals.
Nogah Hareuveni, the author of many important works on botany and agriculture in Eretz Yisrael explains that the time period between Pesach and Shavuot is a very volatile season. The barley harvest has just begun, hence the korban haomer, yet the majority of the major crops and fruit are in very critical stages of their development. Each and every day is a question mark as to how the season will end and the farmer “marks” or “counts” each day of the Omer by examining today’s progress and hoping for that of tomorrow.
The official season is known as spring. However as everything in Israel we don’t really know how to do things in moderation. A typical spring season is made up of a few days of extremely hot weather followed by a rainstorm (which here in Israel generally happens in the winter). In addition, it is very unpredictable. I can recall Chol Hamoed Pesach that was as hot as any day in August and on the other hand some of you alumnae reading this may remember Yom Yerushalayim with a huge rainstorm a few years ago. (As I write this shiur, the weather forecast for this week shows a fluctuation of 15 degrees Celsius in three days.)
The Tosefta expresses the ambiguity of the season by telling us that:
“A Northern wind is helpful to the wheat if it has already grown a third, yet it is detrimental to the olives if they have flowered. A Southern wind is detrimental to the wheat if it has already grown a third, yet it is helpful to the olives if they have flowered. The way to remember this is the Shulchan on the North and the Menorah on the South.”
The colder weather (northern wind) is beneficial for the wheat but not the olives and the warmer times (southern wind) has the opposite effect. The Tosefta aids us with a mnemonic device by associating the placement of the Shulchan with the bread (wheat) in the north and the Menorah (olives) in the south. (It is interesting to note that immediately after the section in our parsha dealing with the holidays, we read about the Menorah and the Shulchan.)
Even rain, which we so desperately pray for during the entire winter, can be damaging during an inappropriate season. In Shmuel (I- 12:17-19) the people turn to Shmuel begging him to pray that it stop raining in this season since the harvest would be ruined by such a rain.
No matter what transpires, it is clear that we are dealing with a tradeoff. It is a time of year that we realize our vulnerability. We may have invested great efforts into our endeavors but without God’s help, we may never see the fruits of our labor. We also come to realize that each and every event in life can be seen from different perspectives. While a given occurrence may seem to me to be a disaster, it can turn out to be a life saving event for someone else or even for other sections of my own “portfolio.” Everything is a piece of a puzzle that must come at the right time and in the right place.
Nogah Hareuveni takes this idea even further and explains that the seven special species of Eretz Yisrael are unique in that they all are in a critical stage of growth at this time and they as well are part of the tradeoff of hot and cold weather. The combining of the seven into one unit expresses our belief in one God Who has the big picture in mind and does what is ultimately best for us all (as opposed to praying to the wheat god or the olive god and seeing which one is stronger).
Discussion for the Shabbat Table
If we take a close look at the two korbanot that we have mentioned above, we find that they are very unique as compared to similar korbanot; my assumption is that the details of the korbanot reflect a deeper level of meaning. What do you think is the meaning behind the following issues:
1. Most korbanot are accompanied by a meal offering that comes with them, the mincha. We are all familiar with the proportions of the mincha as we say it each and every mussaf – three esronim for a bull, two esronim for a ram and one for a sheep. When we bring the Omer we bring a sheep with a mincha of two esronim. Why the double mincha?
2. The two loaves are to be made out of chametz. To paraphrase the famous question, “Why is this korban different than all other korbanot, all other korbanot must be non-chametz and this one is chametz?”
3. The animals accompanying the two loaves appear to be patterned after the animals of a standard mussaf. How many bulls, rams, sheeps and goats are offered and how does this compare to the requirements of a korban mussaf as listed in Parshat Pinchas?
Your comments and questions are welcome.