The Omer Sacrifice



A Non-Animal Sacrifice



Most people know that in the Holy Temple we brought animal sacrifices. What many people do not know is that many of the sacrifices were not from animals at all! A great many of them were from agricultural produce. The Omer Sacrifice was one such offering.

The Omer Sacrifice was brought not from animals, but from barley.



The Torah commands us to bring, on the second day of Passover, the Omer Offering. Let us first discuss some of the meanings behind the Commandment, and then, Hashem willing, we will discuss how it was actually done.



The Meaning of the Omer

We find that at every harvest time there is a Commandment to bring as an offering part of that harvest. On Shavuos, the kohanim (priests) brought two loaves of bread as an offering. In addition, each Jewish farmer was required to bring to the Holy Temple the first of each fruit that ripened on his farm.

Passover, the time when the barley was harvested, we are commanded to bring a barley offering.



This teaches us that in all things we must honor Hashem, because all things come from Hashem. Hashem does a great kindness to us each year in making the crops grow. He brings rain and dew, and good winds, and directs the growing of the produce itself.

Therefore, before we actually use the produce ourselves, it is certainly proper to first dedicate to Hashem a portion of our crops to remind ourselves of Hashem’s kindness and goodness. After all, it is Hashem Who gives us this produce.



When the Jews were sent into exile, and most Jews were outside of the Land of Israel, this became very difficult for us to accomplish. The Rabbis therefore instituted blessings to recite before we eat any food. Until then, we were required to bless Hashem only after we ate, as the Torah says, «And you shall eat, and be satisfied, and bless Hashem your G-d for the good land that He gave you» (Deuteronomy 8:10). Now we are required to bless Hashem both before and after we eat any food.

There is another level to the Omer Offering as well.

The Talmud teaches us that Rabbi Yehudah learned from Rabbi Akiva: «Why did the Torah tell us to bring an Omer on Passover? Because Passover is the time of judgment for grain crops. So Hashem said, ‘Bring before Me an Omer on Passover so that your grain will be blessed’» (Babylonian Talmud, Rosh Hashanah 16a).

Hashem desires to bless us. Hashem therefore arranged it that we should have an interactive relationship with Him. He gave us Commandments to fulfill, and when we fulfill them properly Hashem blesses us.



Therefore Hashem commanded us to recognize His Hand in all things. When we recognize and acknowledge the fact that Hashem makes all food grow, we are strengthening our relationship with Him. Therefore, we merit Hashem’s strengthening
His side of the relationship as well.

How the Omer Offering Was Brought

On the fourteenth day of Nissan, the day before Passover, three agents appointed by the Sanhedrin (highest Court in Israel — which will be reinstated just before or during the Messianic Era, may it be soon) would go to a barley field near Jerusalem. The agents would search for moist stalks of barley grain, still growing from the ground. While the stalks were still attached to the ground, they would tie them into bundles. Then they would return to the city, bring their Passover Sacrifices, and get ready for the Passover Seder they would make that night.

That night would be the first night of Passover, when every Jew makes a Seder, and remembers how Hashem took us out of Egypt.



The second night of Passover, there are two Commandments that we must perform. One is to count the Sefiras Ha’Omer. The other is to cut barley for the Omer Sacrifice, as I shall now explain, with Hashem’s help. (For those who live in the Land of Israel there is no Seder the second night of Passover. Anyone outside of the Land of Israel makes a Seder the second night of Passover as well as the first.)

The second night of Passover, after nightfall, the three agents would go out to the barley field. They would be accompanied by many of the Jews who had come to Jerusalem for Passover. The agents would take with them scythes (harvesting tools)
and bins.

It was all done with great joy and celebration. It was all done very ostentatiously, to let all the people know the Torah’s Commandment. During the Second Holy Temple a heretical sect arose that tried to get the Jews to change the time of bringing the Omer. So during the Second Temple Era the Rabbis instituted that a very noticeable and tumultuous procedure should be performed for the harvesting of the Omer.

At the field, the three agents would turn to the people and ask,



«Has the sun set?»
«Yes!» was the resounding reply.
«Has the sun set?»
«Yes!»
«Has the sun set?»
«Yes!»

«Is this a scythe?»
«Yes!»
«Is this a scythe?»
«Yes!»
«Is this a scythe?»
«Yes!»

Is this a bin?
«Yes!»
Is this a bin?
«Yes!»
Is this a bin?
«Yes!»

«Shall I reap?»
«Reap!»
«Shall I reap?»
«Reap!»
«Shall I reap?»
«Reap!»



They then cut the barley for the Omer. They would cut precisely three se’ah (about seven tenths of a bushel). They would place it all into the bins, and bring it to the Holy Temple.

During the night, the barley grain was flailed, winnowed, and carefully separated from the inedible and unwanted parts. Then the grains were toasted. Afterwards, the grains were very finely ground, and sifted through thirteen strainers. From whatever was left, one tenth of an ephah (about 14 cups) was used for the Omer Offering.

The next morning, the sixteenth of Nissan, the second day of Passover, they made the final preparations of the Omer Offering. The ephah of ground barley was mixed with one lug (about two cups) of olive oil. A handful of frankincense was added to it.

A kohen (priest) would take the Omer Offering and go to the eastern side of the Holy Incense Altar which was inside the Holy Temple Sanctuary. He would face the south-western corner of the Altar, and wave the grain towards that corner, bring it back to himself, lift it up, and bring it down. This was a prayer that Hashem send rain and dew in their proper times, so that all the harvests should be good.

Do not think of it as «sympathetic magic,» G-d forbid. If that was the intention, it would completely invalidate the Offering. It was done as a prayer, and that was its entire purpose.

Then the Musaf (additional) animal sacrifice was brought, as it was every day of every Jewish Holiday (though the Musaf for each Holiday was different than that of any other Musaf).



Then the kohen took off one handful of grain from the Omer Offering, and put it on the fire that was in the middle of the Incense Altar. The rest of the grain was distributed amongst the kohanim (priests), who ate it.

Until this enture process was done, from cutting the barley to sacrificing it, it was forbidden to eat any new grain. This was seldom a problem, because it was customary to stockpile all grains from year to year, and sometimes longer. So they usually had last year’s grain to eat anyway.

Therefore, when any new grain grew, and was harvested before Passover, it could not be eaten until the Omer Offering was brought. This is one of the 613 Commandments in the Torah. However, once the Omer was brought, it became permitted to eat all grain.

Even today, when there is no Omer Sacrifice brought, food made from new grain grown in Israel is not permitted until the second day of Passover. There is some difference of opinion as to whether that also applies to grain that was grown outside of Israel. According to that opinion, this would forbid any products containing grain that was harvested in the winter, a few months before Passover. Most people outside of Israel, however, follow the Rabbinical opinions that permit new grain outside of Israel.

For those who have the custom to observe the more stringent opinion, some companies now use only the older grain. Those companies that know Hebrew mark products made from the older grain with the word «Yoshon,» which means that the grain is from an earlier harvest, and is therefore permitted.

If you live outside of Israel, you should not assume that you have to accept upon yourself this stringency. As always, ask your local Orthodox Rabbi.

The Torah connects the Commandment of bringing the Omer with the Commandment of counting from Passover to Shavuos. To read about this, continue on to the next article in this series, The Counting of the Omer.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*

code