Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Original theory on the Omer

Somewhere around on the ‘sphere someone was asking about the real meaning of the Omer. I have a theory, which briefly is as follows (the full version is a 90-minute shiur):

· The Omer’s structure (7 x 7 + 1 -- – 49 days plus Shavuot) has an exact parallel in the Shemitta/Yovel cycle (7 x 7 + 1 ---- 49 yrs plus Yovel)
· The two Torah passages concerned with each (Emor and Behar) have many parallels of language
· The real characteristic of the Omer is its SABBATICAL nature – it is a sort of annual, seven-week ‘sabbatical time’, both in terms of melachah (no weddings – predates avelut customs, and in the Shulchan Aruch’s note that women are forbidden to do melachah after shekiah during the Omer – something, incidentally, that I’ve never heard that anyone observes), and in agricultural terms – see following:
· This is why in parshat Emor (lehning 2nd day Pesach), where the list of the chagim is given, there is the puzzling (see eg Rashi) pasuk in the middle, immediately after the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer, about peah and leket. Peah and leket are commanded during the harvest time as an annual symbolic shemittah – they are available to the poor and the stranger because, like shmittah produce, they are hefker. [‘le’oni ve’lager’ is a result of peah and leket – not a reason.]
· Mourning during the Omer is an Ashkenazi custom, directly from the Crusades, and was unknown to Sefardim until they met Ashkenazim. Rabbi Akiva’s students etc was posited as a reason in Geonic times for forbidding weddings (actually because of the Sabbatical character of the Omer) and later projected as a general reason for mourning. There is no suggestion anywhere else that we observe mourning because of this Aggadata.

For the thoughtful person there are also numbers of parallels between Shavuot and the Yovel - eg the theme of new contracts (Matan Torah is the great contract between the Jews and God), the shofar etc. I will leave readers to discover more.

Rabbenu Bachai notes a lot of the above as well, perhaps without indicating the conclusion.

Anyway – please don’t post asking me for the detailed sources, because I have no time to reply! (On avelut – Sperber’s Minhagei Yisrael records most of the data).


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