Rabbi Zvi Sobolofsky
Omer and Shtei Halechem: Two Sides of Man
Our thoughts focus on the mitzvah of sefiras haomer as we read, in Parshas Emor, about that mitzvah that we are in the process of fulfilling. Sefiras haomer begins and concludes with a korban. The korban haomer (barley offering) brought on the second day of Pesach initiates the countdown to Shavuos, which culminates with the korban of the shtei halechem (two loaves of bread) offered on Shavuos.
There are certain similarities between these two korbanos. Both are grain offerings which are incumbent upon the community to bring, and in contrast to other korbanos, they can only be brought from grain that grew in Eretz Yisrael. Aside from these similarities there are certain stark differences between them. The korban haomer is brought from barley in deviation from the usual practice of offering wheat in instances of a grain offering. Although the shtei halechem are made of wheat, they are required to be baked as chametz. A korban mincha which is chametz is an anomaly because all other menachos had to be matzah. The korban haomer, on the other hand, was the absolute antithesis of chametz. Not only was it bound by the regular prohibition of offering chametz in the Beis Hamikdosh, but it was also brought on Pesach when it would be unthinkable to bring a korban which was chamtez. What is the Torah trying to teach us by requiring us to bring these korbanos which are different from other menachos, and so radically different from one another?
Chazal (Pesachim 49b) comment on the pasuk (Vayikra 11:46) "This is the Torah concerning the animal and the bird" that only one who is involved in the study of Torah (talmud Torah) is permitted to eat animals and birds. Why should the study of Torah be a prerequisite to being permitted to eat meat? The significance of the omer and shtei halechem, and the relationship between learning Torah and partaking of meat, are both rooted in the unique nature of man. Man is created as part of the animal kingdom with needs and desires similar to those of other animals. Yet, only man is endowed with the gifts of creative thought and speech. As a member of the animal world, man has no right of dominion over other animals. It is only his unique status as an oveid Hashem that gives him the right to elevate other living beings by using them for avodas Hashem. The man who uses the gifts of thought and speech for studying Torah has the right to partake of meat. The nutrition he receives enables him to achieve the lofty goal of elevating his thought and speech by using them for the purpose for which they were granted to him. Eating meat without living up to the unique status of man is merely one animal attacking another.
The korbanos of the omer and shtei halechem reflect the dual aspects of man. The omer was brought from barley, which is a very basic food, primarily eaten by animals. The barley was not improved by becoming chametz. In contrast, the shtei halechem were brought from the finest wheat flour baked as chametz. These elegant loves of bread were the antithesis of the plain barley. By offering the omer on Pesach, followed by sefiras haOmer culminating with the shtei halechem on Shavuos, we are demonstrating vividly the two parts of our existence. On Pesach we have not yet received the Torah; we have not begun the process of elevating our thought and speech by using them for the purpose for which they were given; we are still part of the animal kingdom, and our korban reflects this. It is only through our preparation for kabolas haTorah, and our commitment to and celebration of this kabolas haTorah on Shavuos, that grant us the privilege of offering a korban that reflects our unique status as humans.
May we be zoche to offer the shtei halechem this Shavuos, celebrating our unique privilege of serving Hashem with our minds and our words through the mitzvah of talmud Torah.