Commentary for Emor

15 May

In this week’s parshah we receive the mitzvah of the Omer offering. The Omer offering was an offering whose principal component was barley from the new year’s crop, and prior to the sacrifice of the Omer offering, which was offered on the second day of Passover, consumption of barley from the new year’s crop was forbidden.

 

Most dates in the Torah are given as “on the Xth day of Yth month,” or sometimes, when pertaining to mitzvot for a certain holiday, as “on the Xth day” (of the festival). Rather than either of these methods, the Omer offering is commanded to be brought on “the day after the sabbath, (Lev. 23:11)” which in this case refers to the day of rest that is the first day of Passover. By referring to this date (the sixteenth day of the month of Nissan) in these specific words, the Torah connects the Omer offering to the specific events of the first day of Passover, rather than to the holiday or the calendar as a whole. Similarly, by referring to that day, the day when the Israelites left Egypt and finally became free after four hundred years of slavery, as a “sabbath,” a day when we free our minds from the material burdens we face the other six days of the week, the Torah specifically connects the Omer offering to our freedom, rather than to the many other important events of that day.

 

The definition of freedom is the absence of restrictions, and yet just as we begin to experience our freedom, God places a restriction upon us: “Bread or parched grain or fresh ears you shall not each until you have brought the offering of your God (Lev. 23:14).” This is to teach us that there is much more to freedom than merely the definition you find in the dictionary. Being free means that you have the responsibility to place certain restrictions upon yourself so that you don’t cause wanton harm to others in the free pursuit of your desires. Being free means having the ability to make your own decisions, and thus the responsibility to factor the rights and feelings of others into your decisions.

 

So sure, you might want to take that first crop of grain and bake some nice fresh bread out of it, but would it really be appropriate to use this grain for your own benefit before God, by whose will that very grain grows, has been thanked for the crop? In addition to asking, “do I want to do this?” we must also ask ourselves “should I do this?” Being free means that you have the responsibility to do what is right, and not to simply do whatever you want.

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