Parshat Behar 5779: The Omer Count Run-up to Shavuot and the Yovel Year — Parallel or Contrast?

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua for Behar is being sponsored anonymously and dedicated for a refuah shleima for Moshe ben Sarah Leah and for Zehava bat Malka Chana. To our anonymous sponsor, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.

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Moshe Burt
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Parshat Behar 5779: The Omer Count Run-up to Shavuot and the Yovel Year — Parallel or Contrast?

by Moshe Burt

Rabbi Shmuel Goldin writes context regarding our Parshat Behar in his sefer “Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, page 223:

Two specific commandments to count seven cycles of seven units each, leading to a fiftieth culminating unit, appear in the Torah within the span of two contiguous parshiyot.

In Parshat Emor, the Torah commanded the counting of the forty-nine days of the Omer (seven weeks, each of seven days) leading to… Shavuot on the fiftieth day. (Sefer Vayikra, Perek 23, posukim 15-16)

Now, in Parshat Behar, the Torah commands the counting of forty-nine years (seven Sabbatical [Shemittah] cycles, each of seven years) leading to Yovel, the Jubilee, or fiftieth year.

…Review of the respective texts does, however, reveal a subtle distinction between these two precepts.

Concerning the Omer count towards… Shavuot, the Torah states: … “And you shall count for yourselves” (in the plural, citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 23, posuk 15); while concerning the count towards Yovel, the Torah states: … “And you shall count for yourself” (in the singular, citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 8)

Rabbi Goldin asks on these two cycles (ibid, pages 223-224):

Is there a connection between these two disparate yet similar mitzvot of Sfirat Ha’Omer and the counting towards Yovel, found in such close proximity within the text?

Does the seemingly minor move from plural… (associated with Sfirat Ha’Omer) to singular… (associated with counting towards Yovel) shed any light on the connection and/or contrast between these two mitzvot?

To try to ascertain the connection or contrast regarding the Omer Count and the Yovel Year, we return to Rabbi Goldin’s Divrei Torah on Parshat Emor where he provides various authoritative approaches regarding the Omer count towards Shavuot (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, pages 199-202):

As codified by the Rabbis, …the mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’Omer, the Counting of the Omer, obligates each Jew to verbally count the days and weeks from the second day of Pesach [in Israel, the first of the five Chol HaMo’ed — intermediate days of Pesach] until the first day [outside of Israel, Jews celebrate two days of Shavuot]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Shulchan Aruch, Ohr Hachaim 489:1)

By counting the days between Pesach and Shavuot, … we are meant to re-experience the sense of excitement and anticipation that marked this period for the Jews, newly redeemed from Mitzrayim [Egypt]. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Hachinuch, Mitzva 273) Just as we would “count the remaining days” towards an extraordinary event in our personal lives, so too we should feel a real sense of anticipation each year as we… approach… [Shavuot] mark[ing] the Revelation at Sinai.

Other authorities choose to view these days primarily as a period of “purification from” rather than “anticipation towards.”

By the time of Yetziyot Mitzrayim, the Jews have been defiled from centuries of immersion in Mitzri society and culture. Numerous sources… maintain that they descended to the forty-ninth of fifty possible stages of defilement and are on the verge of being irredeemable. (Rabbi Goldin citing Shla Hakadosh, commentary on the Haggadah: “Matza Zu.”) …At the last moment, Hashem pulls the nation back from the brink. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Shemot, Perek 12, posuk 12) The[y]… must now undergo a process of purification — forty-nine days to counter each level of defilement experienced — before they cn encounter Hashem and receive Torah at Sinai.

Ohr Hachaim explains why Sfirat Ha’Omer begins on the second day of Pesach… Yetziyot Mitzrayim occurs on the first day of Pesach. For a portion of that day, the Jews… remain in Mitzrayim and the journey cannot yet begin. Rabbi Goldin citing Ohr Hachaim on Sefer Vayikra Perek 23, posuk 15)

…A number of scholars emphasize the agricultural, rather than the historical dimension of the Omer period. Opening the yearly harvest season, these days stretch from the beginning of the barley harvest (marked on the holiday of Pesach) to the beginning of the wheat harvest (marked by… Shavuot). (Rabbi Goldin citing Ramban on Sefer Vayikra, Perek 23, posuk 15) ….The Counting of the Omer represents the daily prayers during this period, while… Shavuot is celebrated, in part, as an expression of thanks for the grain harvest. (Rabbi Goldin citing Sforno on Sefer Vayikra Perek 23, posuk 10)

The Maharal finds reference to the global connection between the physical and spiritual dimensions of our lives within the ritual of Counting the Omer. We are enjoined to number the days towards the Revelation specifically as the harvest season begins in order to underscore the well-known Rabbinic maxim “Where the is no flour, there is no Torah.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Pirkei Avot, Perek 2, posuk 21)

Returning to our Parshat Behar, the vort will excerpt from Rabbi Goldin’s summary of our Parsha as it relates to the Yovel year and and approaches regarding parallel or contrast between Sfirat Ha’Omer and Yovel Year. (“Unlocking the Torah Text”, Sefer Vayikra, pages 221, 224, 226):

During Yovel…. all Hebrew indentured servants, including those who have chosen to remain in servitude beyond the usual six-year term, must be set free…

At the beginning of Parshat Behar, as Torah outlines the Yovel laws concerning the freeing of Jews [who are] indentured servants and return of land to its original owners, the operant principle is dror (liberty: removal of external constraints, physical or otherwise, which impede an individual’s personal choice and independent action). The principle of Dror: “and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” (Rabbi Goldin citing Sefer Vayikra, Perek 25, posuk 10)

Two Mitzvot [the Omer Count and the Yovel year] thus emerge within the span of two parshiyot, each the mirror image of the other.

Both of these Mitzvot speak of counting seven cycles of seven towards the goal of a fiftieth, culminating unit. Both represent a journey towards a specific dimension of freedom.

There, however, the parallel ends.

The counting of years towards Yovel… serves as a reminder to societies across the ages of their obligation to grant liberty to those under their sway; to break the chains of tyranny and prejudice that limit personal opportunity for any individual within their boundaries.

The counting of days towards Shavuot, found in Parshat Emor, on the other hand, speaks directly to the individuals themselves: No one can grant you personal freedom. Cheirut (freedom) is a G’d-given right which you must discover for yourself. Cheirut cannot be granted by another but must be attained by an individual himself.

And so, as this author views parallel or contrast between the Omer count and the count towards the Yovel year in Parshiyot Emor and Behar; the state of being plural regarding “And you shall count for yourselves” the Omer count towards Shavuot and the singularity of “And you shall count for yourself” concerning the count towards the Yovel year, both seem counter-intuitive. The Omer count, therefore, seems directed toward each individual, while the count towards the Yovel year seems directed toward society as a whole.

May we, the B’nei Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them and that the twice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. May our dear brother Jonathan Pollard be liberated and truly free — only upon his return home to Israel, and that the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of nearly five years ago. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!
Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.