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Hanafat Ha‘Omer - The Waving of the Sheaf



Our Sages noted:

It is written, “...on the morrow after the Shabbat [Editor’s note: of Hagh HaMassot], the Kohen [priest] shall wave it” (Wayyiqra’ 23:11). The word Shabbat, with the definite article is meant to define the indeterminate noun ‘a Shabbat’.  “...a Shabbat to YHWH in all your dwellings” (Wayyiqra’ 23:3). No one denies that this signifies the Shabbat in the sense in which the word is used in the story of Creation. It therefore remains for us to find out precisely which Shabbat this is, out of the several Shabbatot of the year. This can be done through the definition of the word ‘morrow’ in the verse cited above (Wayyiqra’ 23:11). 

We say now that this ‘morrow’ signifies one of the seven days of Hagh HaMassot [the Festival of Unleavened Bread]. This is demonstrated by the fact that on that day there is mention of an extra sacrifice, in addition to the supplementary holiday sacrifice. It is written, “...on the day when you wave the sheaf, you shall offer an unblemished lamb, one year old” (Wayyiqra’ 23:12). Since this extra sacrifice comes under the general command to bring an offering to YHWH (Wayyiqra’ 23:37), which covers the whole range of holidays* it follows that this day called ‘morrow’ must be one of the days of the holidays. Now, there is no other holiday mentioned in this chapter of Wayyiqra’ prior to the seven days of unleavened bread, to which we might possible attach this extra sacrifice. Nor, does the order of subject matter in this chapter admit of it, as this extra sacrifice is mentioned immediately after the mention of the seven days of unleavened bread. Nor, is there any holiday between Hagh HaMassot [Festival of Unleavened Bread] and Hagh HaShavu‘ot [Festival of Weeks] to which we might attach it. Therefore, this day must be one of the seven days of unleavened bread. 

Having determined this, it follows that one of the seven days of unleavened bread must be a Shabbat, and it is to this Shabbat that the biblical ordinance refers, providing its morrow is part of the seven days. If this is not so, and its morrow is not part of the seven days - a thing that would happen if the first of the seven days of unleavened bread fell on a Sunday - then this Sunday must be the day of the waving of the sheaf. This is confirmed by the account of what was done by Yehoshu’a‘ and the people who entered the land of Kena‘an [Canaan]. It is written, “...they ate of the produce of the land, on the morrow after the Pesah, unleavened bread and parched grain and the same day” (Yehoshu’a‘ [Joshua] 5:11). Now, the ‘morrow after the Pesah’ was the fifteenth of Nisan, as it is written, “...the journeyed from Raamses in the first month, on the fifteenth day of the first month, on the morrow after the Pesah” (BeMidbar [Numbers] 33:3). If Pesah was on the night of the fifteenth, the morrow would be the morning of the fifteenth**. 

It is well known that the eating of unleavened bread and parched grain from the new crop is not permitted until after the waving of the sheaf, “...you shall eat neither bread, nor parched grain, or fresh ears, until this day” (Wayyiqra’ 23:14). This being so, it follows that in that year, the first day of Hagh HaMassot fell on a Sunday and on that day they also made the offering of the sheaf. The Miqra’ [Scripture] states, “Seven weeks shall you count from the time the sickle is first put to the standing grain” (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 16:9). This does not mean from the very first day on which the grain harvest is begun, rather the people may have been harvesting for a day or two - even five days - all this time may properly be called the start of the harvest, inasmuch as only a small amount of harvesting has yet been done. This is similar to the phrase, “...he said, ‘Since the people began to bring the offerings into the house of YHWH, we have eaten and had enough, and have plenty left’” (Divrei HaYamim Beit [II Chronicles] 31:10). It is impossible that the abundance and the left-over should have resulted from the offering of just one man or two - even three men; nor is it likely that all the people had brought their offerings at the same time. Nevertheless, it was called the beginning. Therefore, “Since the people began”, does not denote a narrow period of time, rather an ample one. The same is true of “the sickle is first put to the standing grain”, which may signify that a few days of harvesting had already elapsed. This applies especially to leap years, when the harvest is bound to begin several days before Hagh HaMassot. The first sheaf harvested must be deposited at the Beit Hamiqdash [Temple] with the Kohen [priest] until the day when it shall be waved, from which day on the aforementioned count is to begin. 

*Editor’s note: The word translated as holiday, here, is Hagh. Hagh is a specific, technical term that refers to the three pilgrimage festivals mentioned in the Torah: Pesah, Shavu‘ot, and Sukkot

**Editor’s note: The legal Jewish day begins at sundown of the previous day on the Gregorian calendar, and ends at sundown on the day of the Gregorian calendar.