Sefirah and Uncertainty: Expanding the Themes of Refa’einu | Aleph Beta

Sefirah and Uncertainty

Sefirah and Uncertainty: Expanding the Themes of Refa’einu


Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman

Founder and Lead Scholar

Welcome to the second half of Refa’einu.  In the first half of this course, Rabbi Fohrman and Imu explored Refa’einu, our prayer for healing, and its unexpected connections to Sefirat HaOmer. It turns out, this strange connection holds the key to understanding God’s promise to be our Healer, and may just be able to offer us the spiritual guidance a world battling COVID-19 deeply needs. 

In this second half of the course, Rabbi Fohrman and Imu turn from Refa’einu to dig even deeper into the theme of Sefirat HaOmer. If Sefirat Ha’omer is about the journey from Exodus until the giving of the Torah, then the story of marah, explored in earlier episodes, is only half that story. The other half is the next story in the Exodus saga: the story of the manna. This is a story of lack and scarcity, and the uncertainty which that brought to the Israelites. But it’s also a story that can teach us what it truly means to have faith, even in the worst of times.


Rabbi David Fohrman: Hey everybody, this is Rabbi David Fohrman, and I am back. So we're here with our profound Imu. We're gonna be looking at kind of the next episode in the journey from Exodus to Sinai. In a way which I can't tell you yet, that episode actually connects to sefirat haomer, the counting of the omer. Which is kind of a strange sort of observance on a couple different levels. Imu, how do you say sefirat haomer is odd?

Imu: It's hard to relate to it meaningfully, right? It's sort of like the Count on Sesame Street's favorite holiday, right? You know, one, ha ha ha, two, ha ha ha! Right? That's sort of how I feel every day when I'm counting the omer, right? Today is the 21st day of the omer, ha ha ha, right?

Rabbi Fohrman: Feels kind of random. 

Imu: Right. What's the whole meaning behind this? We're supposed to wake up every day and do a bunch of counting?

Rabbi Fohrman: Yup. Okay, what else?

Imu: What is an omer? it's not a common word. So the fact that this period is called "sefirat haomer," the counting of the omer, there's something about an offering in the beginning, and there's an offering at the end -- it's very difficult to relate to in 2020, not really knowing what an omer is or what offerings I'm supposed to be bringing. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yup. I would agree with that. Along those same lines, it's got these strange laws, right? Imagine this kohen waving this grain above his head… It's even called the "omer hatnufa," the omer that is waved, and its meaning seems obscure. Now, along with this, what is strange from a textual angle is what in the world is the omer doing where it's doing? Where do we encounter the omer, Imu? We encountered it in Vayikra 23. What's Vayikra 23 basically about?

Imu: Yeah, Vayikra 23 is this long list of holidays -- it says you've gotta keep Pesach, you gotta keep Shavuos, you're gonna keep Sukkos, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are in there, and then by the way, you gotta count the omer, you gotta make sure that we do omer counting.

Rabbi Fohrman: Not only that -- it's not even a "by the way," Imu, if you go through Vayikra 23, how much real estate does, for example, Passover occupy in Vayikra 23?

Imu: One pasuk? One or two?

Rabbi Fohrman: It's got, like, a sentence. How much real estate does Rosh Hashanah take up?

Imu: Yeah, one pasuk or two?

Rabbi Fohrman: A sentence, right? How much real estate does the counting the omer take up? It's got seven, eight, nine, ten verses, depending on how you count them. I mean, it's probably the biggest deal here, aside from maybe Sukkos, you might argue, just in terms of the amount of text that is devoted to it. And it's not even a holiday, right? Remember, what's the great introduction to Vayikra 23?

Imu: Right. Vayikra 23 begins with, "and these are the moadim," these are the holidays.

Rabbi Fohrman: And what's the omer doing? It doesn't seem like it's a holiday. So, Imu, these are questions that you and I discussed way back when in a video series which we lovingly put together for Aleph Beta a couple years back. Basically, we had a theory, which we suggested back then, and the theory kind of went like this: maybe the omer actually is a kind of holiday. Because what is a holiday? So a holiday is this event which has kind of two aspects to it. All the holidays have agricultural resonance, you have the chag ha'asif, which is Sukkot, when you gather in the grain; you've got the chag ha’katzir, which is Shavuot, the moment of harvest. 

But the holidays, of course, don't just have agricultural resonance; they also have historical resonance. They're commemorating these great historical events, and Pesach obviously is going to commemorate the Exodus from Egypt, and Shavuot traditionally commemorates the giving of the Torah at Sinai. And right smack in the middle between those two holidays, Pesach and Shavuot, you have this other, you know, event which doesn't seem to belong, called the omer. What if it does belong? What if this is an event which, like moadim, has agricultural resonance -- the omer is a grain offering from the new crop of grain -- and yet it also has historical resonance. 

Now, what's interesting if you look at Vayikra 23 is that Vayikra 23 doesn't always talk about the historical resonance of the holidays. Right, you wouldn't say that Pesach has no historical resonance because in Vayikra 23 it doesn't mention yetziat mitzrayim; you know what it refers to.

Imu: Sure.

Rabbi Fohrman: So maybe the omer obviously refers to something, right, it's just plain as day. You have Pesach on the one hand, that commemorates going out of Egypt. You have Shavuos on the other hand, which commemorates the giving of the Torah. You've got these 49 days between them, which just happen to correspond to the 49 days of the counting of the omer. And then we kind of played a little game. We looked at the omer and we looked for kind of language resonances -- is there anything about this offering which resonates with any great historical event that happened in the Torah? Right? And kind of the corner piece is really the word "omer" itself. Right? The word "omer" is an unusual word, it only appears in one other context in the entire Five Books of Moses, and it just so happens that the other historical -- other context is one of these great historical events. Historical events which just so happened to have occurred in between the Exodus from Egypt and in between the giving of the Torah.

Imu: Which is pretty cool, because there are not a lot of stories that happen in between the Exodus from Egypt, right? In the last series that we did, your Refa'einu, we were in chapter 15, and already by chapter 19 you're at the giving of the Torah. So you've got only four chapters in the middle to find a cool story, and we do! 

Rabbi Fohrman: And lo and behold, it's where the omer falls. So, you know, the great question, the great drumroll is, so where is the omer between the splitting of the sea and the coming of Sinai? And of course, the mystery case over here is none other than the manna that rained from heaven. Right? When the mann comes from heaven, it is famously -- well, the manna's famous, but maybe not quite as famously is the amount of manna that each person was supposed to take, that each household could take for each member of the household. And the Torah gives that as an omer, and says, "zeh hadavar asher tziva Hashem liktu mimenu ish lifi ochlo omer lagugolet." You should gather each man according to what they can eat -- the idea is the amount that you eat during a day would be an "omer lagugolet," an omer per head, and you can gather that "mispar nafshetochem  l'ish asher b'olat tikachu," for everybody in the tent, gets an omer -- an omer is given at the very end of this as a "nasirit haephah," as one-tenth of an ephah, and whatever those ancient measurements were, you know, that corresponds to about what one person can eat. Imu, as I'm just looking at this, it sounds kind of crazy, but there's another piece of the parsha about moadim, which is also out of place, right, which we haven't yet talked about, right? it's these laws that immediately follow the counting the omer. And those are the laws of leket and peah, right, these gifts to the poor, "lo t'chaleh peat sadecha b'kutzrecha v'leket k'ircha lo t'kalet," you shouldn't cut off the corners of your field; you should leave them over for the poor. Imu, let's see if you know where I'm going here. 

Imu: Yeah, so those laws that you quoted are right after, in Leviticus, the keeping of Shavuot, the mitzvah of leket. But what you're noticing now, because your eyes are on Exodus 16, which is the story of the mann, is there it says "v'laktu mimenu," they would go out and gather the mann. And so you're seeing a resonance here with this law of leket and shichvah.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, Imu -- you're absolutely right about that, but what you didn't notice is that there's two laws here of gift for the poor. Right? Leket, right, and peah. Now you pointed out that leket, right, picks up on an aspect of the manna, right -- so in other words, just like the omer links up with the amount of the manna, but leket is how we collected the manna. And so too there's this law that as you collect your own grain -- you have to leave behind these forgotten sheaves, right, you shouldn't gather everything, you should leave some in the fields. But there's this other thing called peah, right? So, what is -- it would sound like the omer, if the korban haomer of Vayikra 23 echoes the omer of the manna, if the leket echoes the "asher hadavar Hashem liktu mimenu," what does the peah echo in the manna, or does it? 

Imu: I don't know.

Rabbi Fohrman: So this is what I noticed, Imu.

Imu: Tell me what you noticed.

Rabbi Fohrman: How do you spell "peah"?

Imu: Peh, aleph, heh.

Rabbi Fohrman: And what was the omer? 

Imu: Oh, an ephah!

Rabbi Fohrman: Isn't that interesting?

Imu: It was one-tenth of an ephah. 

Rabbi Fohrman: How do you spell "ephah"? Well, you could spell it with a yud or without a yud. But without the yud, it's aleph-peh-heh. Literally the same letters as "peah." Now, what was an omer? A little piece of an ephah, right? What is the law of peah?

Imu: It's a little piece of your field, it's the corner of your field that you have to leave over for people to have.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes. So, it sounds like all of these laws, the laws of the omer and the law of leket and the law of peah, they all have to do with the story of the manna. And the question is, why? The language resonance is there, but what in the world would omer -- and leket and peah for example -- really have to do with the manna? And that's something which we should explore. Before we do that though, just for you skeptics out there, you say, oh, you know, very creative, right, but it doesn't sound like it's really true. So, Imu, is there anything else about the laws of the omer that remind you of the manna, other than the word "omer" itself? 

Imu: Oh yeah. So, if we go to Leviticus 23, one of the main things that we know about the omer is the counting, but the counting is taught to us in terms of shabbos, right? You begin "usfartem lachem mimachorat hashabbat." Right? The day after shabbos. And you have to count "sheva shabbatot," seven shabboses, seven weeks. So there's a lot of association with shabbat in the counting of the omer, and what's interesting is that, wouldn't you know it, when you're in the story of the mann, that is the very first time Israel is commanded to keep shabbos. there are some laws that are given along with the mann, and one of them is that they must keep shabbos, they actually can't go out and collect mann on the shabbos. So there's some interesting resonances there with shabbos showing up here, shabbos showing up there.

Rabbi Fohrman: And the resonance of sabbath, as you mentioned, also has to do with you start counting "mimachras hashabbos," which is a strange phrase, right? Count the day after sabbath. It's strangely, according to the Pharisees, the perushim think that that actually refers to Pesach, right? And this is actually how we count the omer, the day after the first day of Pesach. "Usfartem lachem mimachras hashabbos." 

So, if the amount of the offering, the omer, reminds us of the mann, that's resonance number one. Resonance number two would be the giving of the sabbaths with the manna. Anything else about Vayikra 23 with the parsha of omer that reminds you of the manna?

Imu: I mean, this one is less cut and dry, but there's also this "machar" piece, I mean, it says "macharat hashabbat," right? You're gonna start counting the day after shabbat, the tomorrow. In Exodus, with the manna, Moshe says to everybody, you know, "shabbaton shabbat kodesh l'Hashem machar." Tomorrow is gonna be shabbos. It's kind of the inverse, right? So he's there on a Friday telling them about a Saturday, as opposed to what's gonna happen after the shabbos or after Pesach.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yeah. So I think that's pretty much what you and I had noticed back a few years ago. In the intervening years, I picked up a couple other resonances that I wondered if I could just throw in here.

Imu: Tell me, I'm very curious.

Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Imu, I would ask you, we hear in Vayikra 23, a counting of the omer -- was there any counting that had to do with the manna?

Imu: I was ready to tell you no, but now that I did a quick glance, this pasuk that says "zeh hadavar asher tziva Hashem liktu mimenu ish l'fi ochlo," everybody should eat according to what they need, "omer lagogolet," there's that word, right, right there with omer, cool, that verse with omer, everyone should get an omer per head, "mispar nafshotechem." According to the number of your souls. "Ish l'asher lo tikachu." Everyone should only take the number of omers according to the number of people they had in their tents. You can't go out, you can't go and say oh, you know, little Jimmy really loves eating two omers a day; he had to take one omer for little Jimmy.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, exactly. So, it's remarkable that you got this same very important word having to do with omer, the word for counting, usfartem lachem macharat, just happens to show up with taking an omer for mispar nafshotechem, all the number of souls in your tent. Now, I can hear, you know, cynical Bob out there saying, well, that, you know, okay, that might be true technically, the word "mispar" and "usfartem" are the same word, but you're gonna tell me that the "mispar nafshotechem," the number of people in the tent, somehow corresponds to "usfartem lachem mimachrat hashabbos," to the counting of days? I mean, it is very different. 

So I would say that's true, right, it is different. Let's kind of put that aside and notice the difference. But still, right, the language is there.

Imu: Yeah. My mind is already at, and how are these two things the same? But I'm assuming you want to wait to answer our questions until later.

Rabbi Fohrman: Well, if you have any thoughts, you can jump right in.

Imu: Yeah. I mean, here in Exodus, "mispar," in the context of the story, it feels like it's reining something in. It's sort of like, look, I'm raining food from the heavens, so everyone shouldn't willy-nilly go out and grab however much they want. You can only take as much as, right, this circumscribed number of people in your house. And so that makes me wonder if maybe there's some sort of reining in or limiting that's happening in the counting of the omer.

Rabbi Fohrman: Okay. Interesting. I had a bit of a different take on it, which in a way is almost the opposite, so let me run it by you and see what you think, right? What if the Torah had only said, here's what God commands you to do: each person can collect an omer per head. You would think, right -- let's say I have a household of 15 people. What would have to happen?

Imu: I'm assuming you count to 15 and you take 15 omers. 

Rabbi Fohrman: No. "Liktu mimenu ish l'fi ochlo omer lagugolet, right?" You can collect it, each person according to his eating, an omer per head. You might think that each person under no circumstances should ever collect more than an omer, which would mean all 15 people have to do what? Everybody has gotta go out in the field -- Jimmy, and Sally who's four years old, and Gramps who's 79 and on his walker -- everybody's gotta go out and get their omer before it's gone, because nobody's allowed to collect more than an omer. Comes the Torah and says, no no no, "mispar nafshotechem ish l'asher lo tikach hu." One person can collect more than an omer, as long as they're collecting mispar nafshotechem, for the whole collective, right?

Imu: I understand. It's not about how much food they take in -- very weird to learn this when you're in quarantine, right? Yes, one person is allowed to go out and buy for the rest of the house. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. 

Imu: Designated shopper.

Rabbi Fohrman: One person can make the Costco run, right? It's not like everybody has to make their own trip, right? So, "mispar nafshotechem," one person can collect for everybody. So it kind of allows for a little bit more social security, right? Gramps doesn't have to go out collecting, right? And I'm wondering if the "usfartem Hashem mimachras hashabbos" somehow is meant to evoke, the counting of these days is somehow meant to evoke that same sense of relaxation. Why that would be true -- we'll get to in a moment. But before we do, I just want to run another puzzle by you.

Is there any other word that appears within the story of the omer, the omer's offering in Vayikra 23, which also evokes the manna, which also was weird. The word I'm thinking of, is when it says that you should count "mimachras hashabbos," it says "sheva shabbatot temimot teyema," you should count seven sabbaths -- can you find, in the omer, a version of the word "sheva," right, which doesn't actually mean "seven," but means something else? 

Imu: Yeah, this is right at the beginning of the story, and Israel basically complains to Moshe and they say, look, it would have been better if you left us for dead at the hands of the Egyptians, "b'ochlenu lechem ulasova," we were eating bread to -- and not "seven," but to satiety. We were eating until we got full. So there you have -- we got some shabbos, we got some sevens, and you've got some bread, right? Which all appear in Leviticus 23. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Yup. And, by the way, look how important that idea of "lasova" is within the mann narrative. Lasova means that you ate -- the people say we remember, we ate bread until we were full, until we were satiated, that why can't we have any bread? When God gives them the manna, God responds and evokes that exact complaint, right, Moshe says, when God gives you meat at night and bread during the day, and I'm reading now from, what verse is it?

Imu: Eight.

Rabbi Fohrman: What verse it is… yeah. So, it says when God gives to you "lechem baboker lisboa," bread in the morning lisova, according to your satiety, according to what you want, that's when you'll know God will have listened to you. And again, a few verses later on, "shamati et tememot b'nei yisrael," I have heard the cries and the complaints of Israel -- "baboker tisbau lechem," in the morning you will have your fill of bread. So God comes back over and over again and quotes what the people are saying. It's very important, this sin-beit-ayin. And of course sin-beit-ayin, same letters as shin-beit-ayin, what becomes the "sheva shabbatot tememot," the seven, right, the seven sabbaths. --

Imu: When you put it that way, temimot, evokes satiety, right? Like, what was once fullness in Exodus becomes seven in Leviticus, but it says "sheva shabbatot temimot," you have to make sure these are seven complete weeks -- full, complete, right? That word "full" in English has that -- tamim is full, right?

Rabbi Fohrman: And "tamim" also evokes something else, also. Think about the omer. Was there any aspect of the omer of the mann which was sort of miraculously complete? It would never be missing. How was the mann tamim, always complete? If the mann had to be an omer, you go out collecting, you're always gonna collect an omer? You're gonna collect more or less what you think you need to eat, right? But miraculously it was always an omer tamim, exactly an omer. Because Imu, what happened if you came home with a little less than an omer?

Imu: Yeah, this is a really cool verse -- the people would come back home, and it doesn't matter if you measured it a little more, you measured it a little less, it would always be complete.

Rabbi Fohrman: It would always be tamim, it would always be complete. So here you have this aspect of -- verse 15 in Vayikra 23 -- "usfartem lachem mimachrat hashabbos miyom haviachem et omer hatnufat sheva shabbatot temimot tihyena" -- all three of those things, usfartem, sheva, and temimot, all evoke aspects of the omer. Usfartem, counting, counting not just the days, counting the people. "Sheva," seven, not seven but "lisboa," to be full. "Temimot," right, not just the temimot of the days, but the temimot of the omer. 

And somehow, Imu, if I can get a little psychedelic on you, there must be some sort of connection between these three things, if we're right about the larger connection between the omer and the manna, these three things and the others. But without speculating too much about them, one of the things I think is really curious is that all of the versions of these things with respect to the manna, right, had a certain quality in them, and in the laws of the omer offering, have a different quality. What I want to suggest is, if you think about all of these things in the laws of the omer, right, sheva, lisboa, right? I'm full. There's this thing that exists in space called my stomach that needs to be full. That's what it means, "lechem baboker lisboa."

Similarly, what am I counting? I'm counting this thing, this person, that occupies space. That's what I'm counting when it comes to the manna. And similarly, the tamim aspect of it is that the omer measure, which is this thing in space, would be tamim. I'd have enough of the omer. All of those things transfer into time when it comes to the laws of the omer. All of a sudden I'm not counting people; I'm counting time, I'm counting days. "Usfartem lachem mimachrat hashabbos," I'm counting these days. And suddenly the fullness doesn't express itself as a fullness in my stomach, this thing, but a fullness in seven whole weeks. There's seven -- it's time. The weeks are full. And similarly temimot, tamim, there's nothing, there's not a space thing that's full like an omer; there's these weeks that are completely full. So there's this funny, fascinating transmutation of whatever's happening in space with the manna, somehow some version of it is happening in time, which I think, if that's true, is pretty provocative. And the question is, why is that change being made?

Imu: Fascinating.

Rabbi Fohrman: So, Imu, can you think of any others between these stories?

Imu: So just while you were pointing me to the temimot verses, we were reading some of the verses that had to do with, right, "boker raitem," right, you're gonna, in the morning you'll know, and, you know, you'll find out what's gonna happen tomorrow morning, this mann is gonna come down and it'll be great. It doesn't say the word "machar," but Moshe is talking to them about how really tomorrow, right, and he uses the word "boker," right, tomorrow morning, you'll really see God being loyal to you, God taking care of you, you'll see the mann happening. So I wonder if there's the dimension of tomorrow in the story of the mann shows up, you know, in flavor if not in the actual word? 

But I'll also point out to verse 17 in Vayikra, where you need to bring the lechem t'nufa, this bread of waving, shtayim. You bring two of them, this is the end of the omer period, you've gotta bring "shtei halechem." these are called the "lechem bikurrim," they are chametz. But you do have this notion of double, right? You've got double bread showing up in the mann as well. And that's gonna happen on Friday, they got a double portion of the omer so that nothing would fall on shabbos. So it's really interesting, if you go to the beginning of the period of sefirat haomer, you have this one omer which turns into double bread, and what's interesting is the measurement of the double bread is referred to "shnei esronim." 

Rabbi Fohrman: Oh, interesting.

Imu: They're two tenths. At the end of Exodus, where it tells us how much an omer is, tells you it's an isaron. So you're bringing, right -- 

Rabbi Fohrman: It says it's a tenth of what?

Imu: An ephah.

Rabbi Fohrman: Yes, a tenth of an ephah. So that's fascinating, that how much flour you use, just happens to be two tenths, which just happens to correspond to what you would have gotten on shabbos, right? 

Imu: Yes.

Rabbi Fohrman: The two tenths were the double portion. Fascinating. And Imu, while you're mentioning that, isn't it interesting -- when is it that you bring that double portion of Shavuos according to the text? It's on Shavuos, but what is Shavuos according to the text?

Imu: That's the last day, it's the 50th day.

Rabbi Fohrman: The 50th day. But how is the 50th day called in verse 16, in chapter 23?

Imu: Oh, it's "mimocharat hashabbat hashvi'it."

Rabbi Fohrman: Isn't that interesting? The tomorrow of the sabbath. Imu, when did you get the double portion of bread back with the manna story?

Imu: It was the, before the sabbath. The day before.

Rabbi Fohrman: So they're inverses, right? So on the sabbath of the manna, you got a double portion before, before sabbath; here, at the day after sabbath, on the tomorrow after sabbath, you bring the double portion of bread, and that gets into who is doing what. 

Imu: Right, right, right. Because God gives you double before the sabbath, and you give God double after the sabbath.

Rabbi Fohrman: After the sabbath. 

Imu: It's really cool!

Rabbi Fohrman: It's our way of saying thanks, right? And we give the same esronim. We're saying we remember the two tenths that You gave us every sabbath. We're reciprocating by giving You something, by giving You bread. And by the way, what was the manna called? It was called "lechem min hashamayim," it was called bread from the heavens. What are we doing? We're breaking bread. "Lechen t'nufa shnayim," bread that you wave. And where do you wave it? Up in the heavens, up in the sky. We're giving you bread that comes from the ground, but we're putting up in the sky shtayim, "shnei esronim." And by the way, esronim of what, Imu? An isaron of what? A tenth of what was the omer of the manna?

Imu: An ephah.

Rabbi Fohrman: Now keep on reading verse 17. Can you find, after the word esronim, a little wink and a nod to the word ephah?

Imu: Yeah, it's very cool. So this is verse 17 back in Leviticus again, it's the "lechem t'nufa shtayim shnei esronim solet tihyena," it should be fine flour, "chametz te'afena," you should make sure that it is baked as chametz. It's "te'afena," baked. 

Rabbi Fohrman: And that word for baked, Imu, what's the root for that word?

Imu: Aleph peh heh. Which is exactly -- the omer is the "asirit haephah," which is exactly how the mann story ends.

Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly, aleph peh heh, another version of the aleph-peh-heh of the asirit haephah, but now it becomes the bread that is baked in commemoration of the isaron of the ephah. Very fascinating, Imu, very cool.

Imu: Baking shows up in the mann story -- It's in verse 23, Moshe's telling them about shabbos, and so he says, he says "asher tofu efu," right, when you guys want to bake, bake, what you want to cook, cook, "asher tivashlu beshelu," right, "v'kol haodef hanichu lechem umishmeret haboker," everything that's left over you can keep. And this is the exception to the law that you're not allowed to keep over what you got for the next day. You were allowed to keep over for the next day if it was a Friday. And here they were allowed to bake and keep over. 

Rabbi Fohrman: Uh-huh. Okay, interesting. Very interesting. So, I think we've got these sort of manifold connections here. And I think we're beginning to understand how this thing we do for 49 days that occupies a fair amount of our attention for these 49 days starts to come into focus of what we're actually supposed to remember here. It's almost like there's this third moed between Pesach and Shavuot that commemorates something else. We don't just commemorate the Exodus from Egypt, we don't just commemorate the giving of the Torah; we commemorate the giving of the manna, this amazing resource that we had that literally rained out of the sky, and for 49 days we're remembering this. 

Let's get back to this idea: here it is, you're in the desert. The most basic need you have is food, and you don't have it, right? And God provides it for you, says here's food. But here's the thing: if God provides you food for one day, Imu, right, if you have this one-day thing that the manna rained out of the heavens one day, and it's Monday, what am I thinking when Tuesday comes? 

Imu: Well, where's my food gonna come today?

Rabbi Fohrman: And I'm nervous, because, like, if I could plant, that would be one thing. But I'm in the desert. I don't have the ability to provide for myself. So even as the manna rains from the heaven, there's this piece of me which is like, thank you very much, God, let me grab as much as possible, because who knows when in the world this is ever happening again. Right?

Imu: That's exactly how I feel when I get a slot on Amazon right now, right? No, it's serious! They're telling me don't hoard, don't hoard, don't hoard, but I've been refreshing and refreshing for days and days, and I got a slot. And you're telling me that I shouldn't buy, you know, six yogurts? I'm gonna buy six yogurts, because who knows what's gonna happen tomorrow?

Rabbi Fohrman: Exactly. And so there's this feeling, I must have this. And God says no, relax, it's gonna be okay, right? It's gonna happen tomorrow. It's gonna happen tomorrow. The beauty of the omer was that it was every single day, right? For as we traveled we got it, like, for all those 40 years. And so we got it for the beginning a ll the way to Sinai, let's say. And so what we're doing in counting is we're taking that sort of sense of a breather that yeah,  God is taking care of me, and that every single day I'm counting. It's almost like the sevia, the feeling of fullness that I experienced in one day, that transferred into time as well. That, right, every single day for a week at a time, for seven weeks at a time, I always was taken care of. And so that helps me learn to trust and understand there's this God who's taking care of me. And maybe with the omer we're coming to understand that about the manna. 

And now think about the significance, of what the korban haomer does. Korban haomer isn't just this offering that you're supposed to bring; it actually does something. Lechem v'kali v'carmel lo tochlu ad etzem hayom hazeh, I can't eat any grain from the new crop of grain until I bring the omer. Now, grain is very different from manna, but it sounds like once you're coming to the ground, to the land, and you don't have that manna anymore, and you're making your own food, it sounds like, for some reason, in order to be able to partake of that new food, which I make from grain that comes from the ground, in order to be able to have that, you need to jog your memory with this korban. You need to remember that there was a time when you didn't have that land, when there was a time that you were fed from the sky. You can't eat from the ground until you remember how God took care of you from the sky. And that seems to be the beginnings of the meaning of the omer offering. 

Imu: Beautiful. So here’s what I’m hearing. In what sense is it worth celebrating the manna almost as its own holiday, sefirat ha’omer? Well, the manna was a really big deal. It was this time of great insecurity, in a desert, no food, and God says, I am God, I love you and I’ll take care of you. Every day, you will get enough food. Every day, you will be full again. What will be tomorrow? Who will fill the fridge tomorrow? Where will my security be tomorrow? God says, let me worry about tomorrow. And again when they woke up, they got fresh bread from the heavens.

And then we have sefira which seems to commemorate this lesson on the true source of our security. Because the period of the omer count really begins with a basic law: you can’t eat any of the new crops that grew this spring until you bring the korban ha’omer. It doesn’t matter whether the bread comes from the sky, or the ground - God will always provide it for you. And to recognize that, you bring that korban mimacharat hashabbat, the day after Passover, and you count, week after week, as your new crops come in, from Pesach, the holiday of the spring, up until Shavuot, the holiday of the wheat harvest, counting week after week of fullness. Of security. Of tmimut, remembering that this security that I get from my grain comes from God, just like the security of the manna came from God.

Rabbi Fohrman: But here's the thing, Imu. This is only a piece of the picture, right? Part of what the omer reminds us of is it reminds us of the manna. But I think it reminds us more than that. There's more color, there's more richness to this picture. The amazing thing is, is that if you actually look not just at the Torah but at Tanakh as a whole, bring in the Prophets, bring in the Writings, it's the case that not only does Vayikra 23 remind us of something of the past; it also foreshadows something in the future. I think when you look at that future text and combine it with this past text of the manna, then the meaning of the omer snaps into place and becomes clear. We've seen half the story; the rest of the story, I want to argue, is told in the book of Joshua. And when we come back next time maybe we can look in Joshua and see how that might be the case.

Imu: Exciting. That's great. I hope that that's intriguing, because there is a lot of great payoff in this piece. I find it really moving, and changed my sefirat haomer forever. I will just add that one of the reasons we thought to do this in conjunction with the Refa'einu piece, as I hope many of you can tell, is this story of the mann is right after the story of Refa'einu, right? So right after the Marah piece, they were without water that they could drink, and now they're without food that they can eat. And there are resonances and connections there that has payoff for our understanding of that story, there's payoff in understanding this weird historical event of coronavirus that we're all living through, and there's payoff in understanding for this period of sefirat haomer. So I'm excited to journey with you to the book of Joshua next time!

Rabbi Fohrman: Okay, that sounds good. And just as Marah contained a kind of way in which God was our healer, I think what we're also about to see is that this next story of the manna was also a story about healing. But that's yet to come. So Imu, we'll come back next time and get to all those themes. I'll see you then.

Imu: See ya.

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