Festivals, Prayers & Services
Day of the Bringing of the Wave Offering
(Yom ha-Tnufat ha-`Omer)
Significance of Waving the `Omer
According to Lev 23:11, the first sheaf of the barley harvest (`omer) was waved in the Temple on the day after the first Sabbath after Pesach (i.e. the first Sunday after the Passover seder).
The day on which the first sheaf of barley was to be waved, is at first glance an insignificant day. However, it is the pivot around which New Year and the Festival of Weeks revolve. It is also one proof of the validity of how the biblical New Year is calculated, as opposed to how the Rabbanites do it.
It occasionally happens that the biblical New Year which we observe – the first day of Nisan – falls a whole month after the rabbinical fixing of their month of Nisan. The biblical first month is fixed to fall after the sighting of ripe barley in the fields. If there was ripe barley, then the wave-offering could take place in the Temple. If there was no ripe barley, the wave offering could not take place, and so observers of the biblical calendar had to wait another month.
The question to be posed to adherents of the rabbinical calendar is this: If your antecedents in ancient times didn’t wait until the barley was ripe, and they celebrated Nisan a month early, then how could they possibly have observed the commandment to wave the first `omer (sheaf) of barley?
The follow-on question to this would be, if you didn’t have the wave-offering, how could you then calculate the date of the Festival of Weeks, which was to take place seven weeks after the wave offering?
The Pharisees also made the Sabbath mentioned in Lev 23:15 mean the evening of Passover itself. This means that the rabbanites observe Shavu`ot (the Festival of Weeks) on a different day of the week each year. However, for those who observe the biblical calendar, the Festival of Weeks/ First Fruits always falls on a Sunday.
Thus it can be seen, that if you don’t calculate New Year correctly, then you cannot observe the day of the Waving of the First Sheaf. And if you don’t know the day when the first sheaf is waved, then your date for Shavu`ot is also wrong. This is why I said that the day of the waving of the First Sheaf is pivotal.
Calculating the date of the Waving of the Omer, and the Gilgal Conundrum in the Book of Joshua
In the Karaite community, there exists some debate on the dating of the Waving of the Omer, and when to start counting off the days to calculate the date of Shavuot.
The usual way is the biblical one according to Lev 23:11, which we also use – that the omer should be waved on the day after the first Sabbath after Passover. This is fine when the Passover falls on any evening of the week from Sunday through to Friday evening.
However, when Passover falls on a Saturday evening – as it did in the year 2020 – some Karaites cited Joshua 5:11 to suggest that the following day – a Sunday, without any intervening Sabbath – should be the day of the waving of the Omer; they thought that if any part of the Sabbath falls between the offering of the pesach and the Sunday after, then that would count as ‘a Sabbath’, enough to fulfil Lev 23:11.
However, we disagreed, and this is the reason why:
The Rabbanite insertion into the Book of Joshua
I have been comparing the two extant texts of Joshua 5:11, and the words used to justify an earlier Shavuot are actually missing in the older text.
The verse in the standard Masoretic text reads:
“And they ate of the produce of the Land on the day after the Passover – unleavened bread and parched grain – on that very same day.”
Now the oldest example of this verse comes from the Aleppo Codex, which dates to the 10th century. However, if you look at the Greek Septuagint version of Joshua – which comes from the 1st century – it reads as follows:
“And they ate of the produce of the Land – unleavened bread and parched grain.”
Then the words after that begin the next verse:
“On that very same day, the manna ceased – on the very day that they ate of the produce of the Land…..”
I suspect that at some point in time between the 1st and the 10th century CE, a rabbinic scribe added the words, “on the day after the Passover”, purely to justify the rabbinic practice – possibly at the time of the Rabbanite / Karaite Schism in the 7th century CE; and thereafter, that became the standard Masoretic reading of the text.
I personally think that this resolves the conundrum – therefore, the biblical understanding of when to date the Waving of the Omer, and therefore start counting off the days for Shavuot still stands – from the day after the Sabbath after Passover; if Pesach falls on a Saturday evening, then there has to be another full Sabbath before we start counting off the days for Shavuot.
The days between the Waving of the `Omer, and the Festival of First-Fruits
Most people know this time as “The Counting of the `Omer”. This name comes from the Pharisaic teaching that an `omer (that is, a measurement of weight) of barley flour was to be presented in the Temple every day during this counting period. However, Torah states rather that the first `omer (that is, a sheaf) from the barley harvest was to be presented in the Temple only on the day after the Sabbath after Passover (Lev 23:10-14). From that day, seven weeks were to be counted off, and the fiftieth day was to be the Festival of Weeks / First Fruits (Lev 23:15-16, Deut 16:9).
The rabbanites also have a curious festival day during the Counting off of the Fifty Days, which is also not found in Torah – Lag be`omer.
This is the 33rd day of the Yomey Sefirah (days of counting off). Hebrew letters are given numerical values, and the letters l-g (lamed-gimel) make 33, hence the word ‘lag’. This day marks the celebration, interpreted by some as the anniversary, of death of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, a Mishnaic sage and leading disciple of Rabbi Akiva in the 2nd century.
There are several origins to this date, which is important in Kabbalistic literature, however historians think that the true origin – which falls on the 18th of Iyar – was originally a pagan festival – the new year for fruit trees. The rabbis could not stop certain elements within the Jewish community from observing this pagan festival, so like Purim, they made up a story (or stories) to cover its origins, and turned a pagan celebration into an Israelite one.
For this reason our community, like the Karaites and the Samaritans, do not make the 33rd day of counting any different from any of the other days in this period.
The Act of Counting Off the Days
The rabbanites also say that you have to state which day of the counting it is. Again, Torah does not require this, although it is useful to do. The verb for ‘counting’ – safar, has two meanings. Its primitive semitic root-meaning was to scratch or scrape. From this came the meaning ‘to write’, from the act of scratching to inscribe letters; and also ‘to count off’, from the act of scratching notches to count off anything.
In the case of counting off the fifty days until the Festival of Weeks, the idea is that we are to count off each day somehow. The Orthodox rabbanites say that you must say, “This is the first day of the counting of the omer”, “This is the second day of the counting of the omer”, and so on. However, it doesn’t matter how you count off the days, whether you mark it on a calendar, notch it on a stick, or simply count off the days in your diary.
The meaning of the Yomey Sefirah (Days of Counting)
The Rabbanites forbid certain activities during the days of counting – something not sanctioned by Torah. They also give fanciful meanings to this period – again, the Yomey Sefirah are not given any particular meaning in Torah either.
In the ancient land of Israel, they would have been the days for finishing the barley harvest, and for preparing for the general harvest, such as the wheat harvest. Various fruit trees also come into blossom at this time, such as the peach, apricot, almond, pomegranate, and olive.
Here are some biblical events that took place during the Yomey Sefirah:
Nisan 26 – Commemorates the death of Joshua.
Iyyar 1 – Commemorates the census of the people that began under Moses.
Iyyar 2 – Commemorates King Solomon who began building the Temple.
Iyyar 7 – Commemorates the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem.
Iyyar 10 – The priest Eili died.
Iyyar 15 – The Israelites arrived in the desert of Sin, also the day of the Second Passover.
Iyyar 16 – The manna in the wilderness began to fall.
Iyyar 23 – The Israelites arrived at Rephidim.
Iyyar 29 – The death of Samuel the prophet
If one wishes to make anything of these Days of Counting, then it is better to remember these biblical events and read about them, rather than make up things that are based on pagan events. They are the days of the blossoming of the trees in the land of Israel, whose fruit YHVH gave us; they are the early days of the wandering of the Israelites in the desert; and they are days for the preparation of the general harvest.
During the ‘Days of Counting’, we remember the earthly and spiritual gifts God has given us, ready for the day when we come to thank YHVH our God for those gifts, at the Festival of First-Fruits
Other similar harvest-offering days
The Wave offering was the offering-day for barley, and Shavu`ot was the offering-day for wheat. There were two other offering days: one for New Wine (seven weeks after Shavu`ot, at the end of Tammuz/end of Av), and New Oil (fourteen weeks after Shavu`ot, usually in the middle of Elul). These were minor feast-days; they were especially a part of the Qumran community’s calendar.
New Wine should be observed on the first Sunday of Av, if in any given year it happens to fall in Tammuz. This is to avoid any festivities in the month of Tammuz, which was a sacred month for Canaanite pagans. The prophet Ezekiel (Ezek 8:14) castigated people for their feasting and fasting for the god Tammuz, so as Talmidis we avoid the month of Tammuz with regard to any religious festivities, fasts etc.