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Posted on May 16, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein | Series: | Level:

When you shall enter the Land that I give you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring an Omer from your first harvest to the kohen. He shall wave the Omer before Hashem to gain favor for you.[1]

Chazal[2] see our pesukim one of Shlomo’s in Koheles. The midrash notes a disturbing verse right at the beginning of the sefer. “What advantage does man have for all his labor for which he toils beneath the sun?”[3] Shlomo seems to disparage everything that Man can do. As he calls it in the preceding pasuk, “Everything is futile!” This negative, nihilistic view of life leaves no room, we might think, for a life of goodness and spiritual pursuit. Nothing Man does has any meaning or significance. It is all a horrible waste of time and energy. The pasuk in one of a number of pesukim that caused some chachamim to contemplate removing the sefer from kisvei kodesh.

But they did not remove it. The midrash solves the dilemma by examining the verse more incisively. Shlomo, it points out, does not dismiss all of Man’s labor. Just his labor, i.e. working for his own agenda, and for his personal desires. Shlomo does not make light of laboring in Torah – for Hashem’s agenda. Rav Yudan finds a different solution. Shlomo only rejects labor “beneath the sun,” but not that which is above the sun.

But what does any of this have to do with our pesukim, to the bringing of the Omer? The answer may be that Chazal are telling us that activities like plowing, sowing, and reaping – mundane tasks done for a person’s own needs – have spiritual significance. All it takes is fulfilling the Torah’s mitzvah demands upon him. An entire season of laboring in the field is elevated by bringing the Omer. This is what the midrash means by “laboring in Torah” – performing the mitzvos that it calls for, and laboring to enhance the inhabitation of the Land of Israel. Then all of these laborious activities become part of Hashem’s agenda, not ours.

Rav Yudan advances a different argument. He holds that even performing the required mitzvos can lack substance – if a person performs them in pursuit of reward in this world – “beneath the sun.” If, however, he eschews any compensation in this world in favor of the next – “above the sun” – then there is importance in what he does.

The crowning episode of the entire growing season was the moment that the Omer, a measure of the new grain, was brought to the kohen. This moment of triumph channels the spirit of “I have listened to the voice of Hashem, my G-d; I have acted according to everything You commanded me. Gaze down from Your holy abode…and bless your people Israel.”[4] As Chazal paraphrase this, “We have done what You ordered us to do. Now You do what is incumbent upon You!” Rashi says that the waving of the Omer in different directions serves to hold back unwanted dew-falls. Or, our fulfillment of Hashem’s commandments bring about His reaction, which is “to gain favor for” even our mundane needs.

  1. Vayikra 23:10-11
  2. Vayikra Rabbah 28:1
  3. Koheles 1:3
  4. Devarim 26:14:15