When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. He shall elevate the sheaf for before the Lord for acceptance on your behalf…And from the day on which you bring the sheaf of the elevation offering…you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week – fifty days; then you shall bring a new offering of grain to the Lord. You shall bring from your settlements two loaves of bread as an elevation offering; each shall be baked after leavening, as first fruits to the Lord. – Leviticus 23:10-11, 15-17

On the second night of Passover, we begin the seven week period leading to the arrival of Shavuot. Rabbi Yehudah Leib Alter of Ger (Sefat Emet) teaches that bringing the precious forth from the ordinary for the world’s benefit is the true meaning of redemption or freedom. For the Jewish people, this happened not only when the Israelites came out of Egypt and received the Torah. It is repeated annually in the observances of the counting of the omer and the Shavuot festival.

An omer is a bound bundle of newly harvested grain. The first sheaf of your harvest is an omer of barley, the earliest grain crop. Once the Israelites settled in the Land, new grain could not be eaten until this offering was made. Fifty days later, a new offering of grain (minchah chadashah) and first fruits (bikkurim) made from semolina flour of the first spring wheat were required, as well. The ritual cycle begins and ends with the priest presenting the first sheaf and first fruits, which have been separated for this purpose, for God’s acceptance. Like the Israelite people departing Egypt, the omer is unrefined. A sheaf of barley is more suitable as animal fodder than human food. The leavened loaves comprising the bikkurim are the most refined, precious foodstuffs produced from the earth’s bounty.

For our ancestors, as for most people in the world today, good grain harvests meant freedom from hunger for themselves and their domesticated animals. As we replenish our baking supplies after Passover and begin to produce “new” crops of breads and desserts, we might take a moment to elevate them as the priest did the omer by lifting from underneath, carrying (or turning) back and forth, lifting and lowering them (M Menachot 5:1) adding blessings of acknowledgement and gratitude to the Source.

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