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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:11 And he shall lift the sheaf before the L-rd for your acceptance; on the day after the shabbat the priest shall lift it.
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Our text provides the second half of the instructions for the sheaf of grain that is brought beforeHaShem as the early firstfruits offering at the start of the barley harvest. The previous verse starts the sequence, telling us that, "When you come into the land that I give you and reap its harvest, you shall bring the sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest to the priest" (Vayikra 23:10, NJPS); now the Torah adds that the priest is to lift up, elevate or wave - the verb , here used twice in its Hif'il stem, "to lift up, to move to and fro, to wave" (Davidson) - the sheaf before HaShem on the day after the shabbat during the week of matzah, unleavened bread. The offering is a thank offering for HaShem's favour and blessing of the fields and the yield of the crop; it is offered as a token sacrifice at the start of the harvest so that even if the harvest fails, there is an offering for HaShem first.
Ending the first half of the text is the word : the attached preposition, 'to' or 'for'; the noun , acceptance, pleasure, favour, from the root , to delight or take pleasure in; the 2mp possessive pronoun, , 'your'. Together, "for your acceptance", that the work and offerings of the people may be accepted.Rashi proposes this can be taken to mean, "if you will bring offerings in accordance with this law, it will be an appeasement for you." The Bekhor Shor comments that "it is elevated - as one would in presenting a gift to a king." John Hartley suggests that, "this ritual is performed in order that the offering may be rendered 'acceptable on your behalf'; that means the offering achieves the purpose for which it is presented."1 This seems to be saying that the offering by itself is not sufficient; for it to be accepted, the priest needs to perform the prescribed ritual process.
How is this procedure to be done - what does it look like? The Mishnah tells us that "[the priest] inserts his two hands underneath the objects being offered and carries them to and fro. He lifts them up and lowers them" (m. Menachot 5:6). Baruch Levine comments that this was done "to show the offering to G-d, so that it might be accepted." ThePesikta de Rab Kahana asks the same question, but offers rather different answers: "How was the omer waved? Rabbi Khami bar Okba said in the name of Rabbi Jose bar Khanina: It was waved towards the four points of the compass to nullify blasting winds, and it was waved up and down to nullify noxious dews. However, Rabbi Simon said in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: It was waved towards the four points of the compass in recognition of Him to whom the whole world belongs, and up and down in recognition that to Him belong the regions above and the regions below" (Piska 8.3). The Talmud turns the options round and varies the speakers: "Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba said in the name of Rabbi Yohanan, 'In all four directions, that is to Him unto whom the [four] directions belong; up and down, that is to Him unto whom heaven and earth belong.' In the West [in Israel] it was taught as follows: Rabbi Hama bar 'Ukba said in the name of Rabbi Jose bar Rabbi Khanina, "Forwards and backwards, in order to keep off violent winds; up and down, in order to keep off harmful dews" (b. Menachot 62a).
Lest anyone should be tempted to devalue and neglect the offering of the omer each year, the Pesikta reports the teaching of Rabbi Yohanan: "Let the precept of the omer of barley never seem trivial in your eyes. Because of obedience to the precept of the omer of barley Avraham won the right of possessing the land of Canaan, as it is said 'And I will give to you and to your seed after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan' (B'resheet 17:8), on condition that 'you shall keep the covenant' (v. 9). And what was the covenant? The precept of the omer of barley" (Piska 8.4). William Braude concludes that Rabbi Yohanan is connecting "the sacrificial cult; and Israel's offering upon their entrance into Canaan - 'On the day after the passover offering, on that very day, they ate of the produce of the country, unleavened bread and parched grain' (Joshua 5:11) - of an omer of barley as the first performance of a cultic act in the Land of Israel."2 The Pesikta goes on to posit other significant benefits to Israel, accruing from Israel's keeping of this commandment. This is important, tradition teaches; it must not be forgotten or ignored.
The Pesikta has one more argument up its sleeve. At the start of this section, however imperfect the Tanakh consistently portrays them to be, the rabbis gloss Israel's past to make an example of the way this commandment is meant to be kept: "Rabbi Abin said: Come, behold what care Israel exercised in obedience to the commandment about the omer of barley! We learn in a mishnah (m. Menachot 10:4), that Rabbi Meir said, 'they reaped it, put it into baskets and brought it to the Temple court. [And in order to prepare it for grinding,] they used to expose it to fire in keeping with the ordinance that it is to be 'parched with fire' (Vayikra 2:14)" (Piska 8.1). AsGersonides points out, this is essentially a grain offering, so it cannot simply be presented as an armful of raw, unthreshed grain stalks: "It is not the sheaf itself that is elevated, but the choice flour that is made from the sheaf". It was not just a matter of cutting a sheaf of barley from a handy nearby field; lots of other steps - grinding, sifting, baking - were needed to transform the grain into the same format as the other grain offerings described in Vayikra chapter two.
If we imagine the Torah itself in the form of a grain offering, we can hear the words of one of the ancient sages encouraging us. ben Bag-Bag was a disciple of Hillel the Elder in the late Zugot3 (170 BCE - 30 CE) or early Tannaitic period (10 - 220 CE) - so possibly a contemporary of Yeshua's earthly ministry - and left only one saying in the corpus of rabbinic literature, about the Torah itself: "Turn it, and turn it, for everything is in it. Reflect on it and grow old and gray with it. Don't turn from it, for nothing is better than it" (Pirkei Avot 5:22). Here is an echo of winnowing or threshing, turning the grain over and over to separate the grain from the stalks and then remove the stones form the grain. As we study and learn from the word - not just the Torah, of course, but the rest of the Tanakh and the Apostolic Writings - we are bringing an offering to G-d in the spirit of the firstfruits offering.
We know that the Torah's Spring festivals laid out in Vayikra 23 provide us with a template or timetable for the climax of Yeshua's ministry. The crucifixion - at the ninth hour, the time of the afternoon offering, on the 14th of Aviv/Nisan - was on the fifth day of the week that year. The sixth day, was first day of Matzah, a festival shabbat day, and was followed by the seventh day of the week: Shabbat. On Aviv 17th, Yom HaBikkurim, the day of the firstfruits offering, Yeshua was gloriously resurrected - after three days and three nights in the earth - appearing to Mary and the disciples. This is why Rav Sha'ul refers to Yeshua as "the firstfruits of those who have died" (1 Corinthians 15:20, CJB); not only is He the firstfruit of the end-times resurrection, but He rose on the day of firstfruits. That day is also the first day of counting the omer, so after fifty days, at the feast of Shavuot (Weeks, Pentecost), the promised gift of the Holy Spirit was poured on not just the twelve but one hundred and twenty disciples in Jerusalem to fulfil Yeshua's own words - "He instructed them not to leave Yerushalayim but to wait for 'what the Father promised, which you heard about from Me ... you will receive power when the Ruach HaKodesh comes upon you" (Acts 1:4,8, CJB) - but that of the prophets: "I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions" (Joel 2:28, ESV).
Now, in these days as we wait eagerly for Yeshua's return - which is just as certain as the coming of Shavuot at the end of counting the days of the omer - we already have the promised Holy Spirit to guide us in our study and our application of HaShem's word in our lives and our communities. I suggest that the same three principles apply to us as we have already seen being applied to the bringing of the firstfruits offering.
Firstly, we are to proclaim the truth of the gospel to the whole world, in every direction - north, south, east and west - so far as we have been given access and reach. We are to extend the good news of HaShem's invitation to be a part of His kingdom in Messiah Yeshua to 'whoever' will hear and respond, urging them "Be reconciled to G-d!" (2 Corinthians 5:20). We are also to constantly declare to the principalities and powers - those above and those below - the absolute victory and lordship of Yeshua so that "in honor of the name given Yeshua, every knee will bow - in heaven, on earth and under the earth - and every tongue will acknowledge that Yeshua the Messiah is ADONAI - to the glory of G-d the Father" (Philippians 2:10-11, CJB).
Secondly, we must not allow the Word and its message to become trivialised or neglected. We must be persistent in our learning and our sharing, taking every opportunity to "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2, ESV), coming alongside those in difficulty or distress, sharing both practical help and words of life and freedom. Even among those who reject Yeshua and His words, we must "have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Messiah the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:14-15, ESV).
Lastly, as a result of not only our study and our sharing with other believers, but of the prompting of the Spirit - "He will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:13, ESV) - we must take care to observe every detail with concentration and intentionality. Like Moshe who chose "rather to be mistreated with the people of G-d than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin" (Hebrews 11:25, ESV), we must be deliberate in choosing to do and say the right thing at all times, "having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame" (1 Peter 3:16, ESV).
If we do all this, we will find ourselves doing exactly what ben Bag-Bag recommended: seeing it from every angle, making it a part of our lives and not letting it go. As we study and live out the words of Scripture, we will find not only that Yeshua becomes ever more a part of us, but that He is changing us into His likeness; we are being conformed into His image: "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Corinthians 15:49, ESV).
Chag Matzah Sameach!
1. - John E. Hartley, Leviticus, Word Biblical Commentary, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1992), page 385.
2. - Pesikta De-Rab Kahana, tr. William G. Braude and Israel J. Kapstein (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2002), page 216.
3. - The zugot were the pairs of leaders listed in Pirkei Avot who provided spiritual oversight for israel after the men of the Great Assembly.
Further Study: B'Midbar 28:26-31; Luke 24:44-49; Titus 2:11-15
Application: Has celebrating Pesach and counting the days of the omer become a bit routine for you? Year after year, the same thing: always hiding the afikomen in the same place and starting to miss days at about day eight, before slowly giving up? This year, take heart; ask the Ruach to guide you and fill you with fresh curiosity and enthusiasm, then give it everything you've got and let Him take you into a fresh world of challenge and opportunities to tell others what you are doing.
Comment - 02Apr23 19:04 Joshu VanTine: Chag Matzah Sameach! Thank you for this drash to head towards Pesach and First Fruits. Really appreciated the ben Bag-Bag quote from Pirkei Avot and expounding of it in the three principles of bringing the first fruits offering.
Comment - 07Apr23 21:08 Di Stanfield: Thank you so much for this word "in season" to awaken my enthusiasm for counting the Omer. As you have stated, I start off well but by day 9 or 10, just lose it and feel defeated by it - again. So I shall certainly pray for the presence of the Ruach to keep me on this path for 50 days.
© Jonathan Allen, 2023
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