Like so many other aspects of the Festivals, the mitzvot surrounding the Omer underscore the importance of Jewish agriculture in the Land of Israel. The harvesting of the Omer is so important that it even supersedes the Sabbath. Rav Kook explains: “This is a great sign that Jewish agriculture in Eretz Yisrael emanates from the holy source of this holy nation.”

The Omer and Kiddush Hashem

by Rabbi Moshe D. Lichtman

(More of Rabbi Lichtman’s writings and books appear on his website: https://toratzion.com/


Many of Emor’s 63 mitzvot apply only in Eretz Yisrael. Let us focus on three of these
mitzvot which are very relevant to this time of year. Of course, I am referring to the mitzvot
connected to the Omer. The Torah states:
(1)…When you enter the Land that I give you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring
an Omer of the first of your harvest to the kohen. And he shall wave the Omer before the
Lord… (2) And you shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the “sabbath” – from
the day you bring the Omer of waving – seven weeks; they shall be complete. (3) Until
the morrow of the seventh week you shall count fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal
offering to the Lord. From your dwelling places, you shall bring two wave-loaves…
(23:10-11, 15-17)
Three separate mitzvot are enumerated here: Korban HaOmer (the Omer offering), Sefirat
HaOmer (the counting of the Omer), and Sh’tei HaLechem (the two loaves brought on the
holiday of Shavuot). The first and third apply only in the Land (and only when the Beit
HaMikdash is standing), as the Torah states clearly, “When you enter the Land that I give
you” and “From your dwelling places.” In fact, Chazal use these two mitzvot as paradigmatic
examples of the holiness of Eretz Yisrael:
There are ten [levels of] holiness [with regard to location]: Eretz Yisrael is holier than all
other lands. And what is its holiness? The fact that we bring the Omer, Bikurim (First
Fruits), and Sh’tei HaLechem from it, not from any other land. (Mishnah, Keilim 1:6)
Concerning the second mitzvah, however, there is a major dispute as to whether it applies
today, in the absence of the Beit HaMikdash. The Rambam and others hold that Sefirat
HaOmer is independent of the other two mitzvot. Even when there is no Korban HaOmer or
Sh’tei HaLechem we are biblically obligated to count the 49 days. In contrast, the majority of
poskim, including the Tur and Shulchan Aruch, hold that the counting is inextricably bound to
the offerings. Therefore, our obligation to count nowadays is only rabbinic (mi’derabanan),
to commemorate what was done in the times of the Beit HaMikdash.
This explains two anomalies about Sefirat HaOmer: the fact that we do not recite the
SheHechiyanu blessing and the addition of the HaRachaman prayer every night after the
counting. The Rashba explains that SheHechiyanu is recited only on mitzvot that give us joy

and pleasure. Nowadays, Sefirat HaOmer gives us (or at least it should give us) grief, for it
reminds us that the main component is missing: the Divine service in the Beit HaMikdash.
This also explains why we say “May the Merciful One (HaRachaman) restore for us the
Temple service to its place, speedily in our days.” Since our counting is only rabbinically
mandated nowadays, we turn to HaShem each night with a heartfelt plea to give us the
opportunity to fulfill the mitzvah in its entirety, in the very near future.
Like so many other aspects of the Shalosh Regalim, the mitzvot surrounding the Omer
underscore the importance of Jewish agriculture in the Land of Israel. The harvesting of the
Omer is so important that it even supersedes the Sabbath (Rambam, Temidim U’Musafim 7:3-
4). Rav Kook explains: “This is a great sign that Jewish agriculture in Eretz Yisrael emanates
from the holy source of this holy nation” (Ma’amarei Ra’ayah, vol. 1, p. 179, taken from
Torat Eretz Yisrael by R. David Avraham Spector.)
There is one more aspect of the Omer that we have not yet touched upon. Sefer HaChinuch
(Mitzvah 306), and others, describe Sefirat HaOmer as a countdown to Shavuot, the day of
Matan Torah. It is our way of preparing ourselves to receive the Torah anew. This aspect, as
well, is deeply connected to the Holy Land. We mentioned above that the Sh’tei HaLechem
brought on Shavuot could only be made from grains harvested in Eretz Yisrael. In a small
work entitled Eretz Chemdah, R. Moshe Tzuriel (former mashgiach ruchani of Yeshivat
Sha’alvim) explains the reason for this based on a Zohar: The two loaves symbolize the
Torah, and one cannot attain a full understanding of the Torah outside the Land of Israel.
(See Parashat BeReishit, “Torat Eretz Yisrael.”)
May we be zocheh to offer the Sh’tei HaLechem this year in the newly rebuilt Beit
HaMikdash. Amen!


This week’s parashah contains one of the worst sins a Jew can commit (if not the worst),
but also one of the greatest deeds he or she can perform. Of course, I am referring to Chillul
HaShem (desecrating God’s name) and Kiddush HaShem (sanctifying His name). The Torah
states: You shall keep My commandments and perform them; I am the Lord. You shall not
desecrate My holy name; but I shall be sanctified among the Children of Israel; I am the Lord
Who sanctifies you, Who took you out of the Land of Egypt to be for you a God; I am the Lord
Our Sages teach that Chillul HaShem is so deplorable that neither Yom Kippur, nor
repentance, nor physical suffering can atone for it. Rather, these three factors hang in the
balance until the person dies, and only then he is cleansed of his sin (Yoma 86a; Rambam,
Teshuvah 1:4). The only positive way to rectify Chillul HaShem is through Kiddush HaShem

– to counterbalance the desecration with deeds that sanctify God’s name. This is why our
verse juxtaposes these two concepts (Rabbeinu Bachya).
The most celebrated form of Kiddush HaShem is when a person chooses to die rather than
transgress the Torah’s commandments. But there is another way one can sanctify God’s
name: by living a life of sanctity, by fulfilling the mitzvot meticulously, no matter how
difficult they may be, and by being a paradigm of lofty character traits. Then people say, “If
this is the product of a Torah lifestyle, the Torah must be Divine.” In some ways, it is a
greater challenge (and a greater Kiddush HaShem) to live as a good Jew than to die as one. It
is relatively easier to rise to the occasion and muster the strength needed to make the ultimate
sacrifice for HaShem than to make millions of small sacrifices day in and day out. Either
way, every Jew is undoubtedly obligated to do everything in his power to ensure that God’s
honor is glorified in this world and not degraded.
This brings me to another, less familiar, aspect of Chillul and Kiddush HaShem – one that
relates to the Jewish nation as a whole. HaShem tells the prophet Yechezkel:
Son of man, the House of Israel dwelt on their Land, and they defiled it with their [evil]
ways … So I poured My wrath upon them… I scattered them among the nations and they
were dispersed among the lands… They came to the nations into which they came, and
they desecrated My holy name, when [the Gentiles] said of them, “These are the
people of the Lord, but they went out from His Land.” But I took pity on My holy
name, which the House of Israel desecrated among the nations into which they came.
Therefore, say to the House of Israel: “Thus says the Lord God: I do not act for your
sake, O House of Israel, but for the sake of My holy name that you have desecrated
among the nations into which you came. I will sanctify My great name that is
desecrated among the nations, that you have desecrated in their midst; and the nations
will know that I am the Lord… when I will be sanctified through you before their eyes. I
will take you from the nations and gather you from all the lands, and I will bring you
to your own soil. Then I will sprinkle pure water upon you, and you will be cleansed…
You will dwell in the Land that I gave to your forefathers, and you will be to me a nation
and I will be to you a God. (Yechezkel 36:17-28; read on Parashat Parah)
These verses indicate quite clearly that the Jewish people automatically cause a Chillul
HaShem when they reside in foreign lands, as Rashi explains:
THEY DESECRATED MY HOLY NAME: They degraded My honor. And what is the
desecration? The fact that their enemies say about them, “These are the people of the
Lord, but they went out from His Land, and He was unable to save His people or His
Land”… I WILL SANCTIFY MY NAME: And what is the sanctification? I will take you from
the nations.

Like it or not, we represent God in this world, and as long as we are homeless, we give God
a bad name. How so? Deep down the nations know that we do not belong among them; they
realize that their lands are not our true home. Therefore, when they see us there, they
conclude that God must not be able to save us, for if He could He surely would. They don’t
see our exile as a consequence of our sins, rather, as a result of God’s weakness (chas
veshalom). The converse is also true. When we return to our Land, establish a flourishing
society (economically, culturally, etc.), succeed in defending ourselves against extremely
hostile neighbors who far outnumber us, then the Gentiles begin to think that perhaps God is
omnipotent after all, perhaps He really hasn’t abandoned His people.
This helps explain the last verse quoted above from our parashah: I am the Lord Who
sanctifies you, Who took you out of the Land of Egypt to be for you a God. What does the
exodus from Egypt have to do with Kiddush HaShem? Most commentators see it as a reason
for the obligation. Why must you sanctify HaShem? Because He took you out of Egypt – on
condition that you do His will.
I would like to suggest another explanation. Many sources indicate that the ultimate goal
of the Exodus was to enter Eretz Yisrael. Furthermore, Chazal reiterate time and time again
that HaShem is our God in the fullest sense only in His Chosen Land. (“He who dwells in
Eretz Yisrael is like one who has a G-d, and he who dwells outside the Land is like one who
does not have a G-d” [Ketuvot 110b].) Thus, after commanding us to sanctify His name,
HaShem informs us how (or where) exactly we should accomplish this: I am the Lord Who
sanctifies you. How? I took you out of the Land of Egypt – in order to bring you to your own
Land – to be for you a God, because I am truly your God only there. That is where I want you
to be, and that is where My name will truly be sanctified, not in exile.
Some will argue: “It is up to God to take us out of exile and sanctify His name. We have
no right to jump the gun.” I would counter with one simple question: “What do you think
God has been doing for the past hundred years?!” Are the events of the Holocaust, the
establishment of the State, the Six Day War, the anti-Semitism that is presently sweeping the
world – all mere coincidence? Perhaps God is setting the stage and waiting for us to do our
share, to “help” Him bring redemption. If so, remaining in exile at such a time may constitute
a Chillul HaShem. Don’t forget, ספק דאורייתא לחומרא, especially when it comes to such a
serious transgression as Chillul HaShem. I would rather be safe than sorry.


 The first verse in Parashat Emor establishes that the descendants of Aharon (the kohanim)
may not make themselves ritually impure by coming in contact with the dead. Our Sages z”l
added several rabbinic prohibitions to this biblical one. One such rabbinic tum’ah (source of
ritual impurity) is the lands of the nations. That is, a kohen is forbidden to leave Eretz Yisrael

and enter the lands of exile (except under certain circumstances; see Avodah Zarah 13a,
Yoreh De’ah 372:1). Chazal wanted to prevent kohanim from inadvertently coming in
contact with dead body parts in Chutz LaAretz, where people are less careful about where they
bury their dead.
This halachah is quoted in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 369): “A kohen is forbidden
to make himself impure through the lands of the nations.” Although several commentators
claim that this law applies only when Eretz Yisrael is in a state of purity (see Shach and Taz
there), others maintain that it applies even today (see Pitchei Teshuvah ibid.). Therefore, it is
quite possible that kohanim have more of an obligation to live in the Holy Land than “regular”
Jews do (not to mention the fact that they can perform the mitzvah of Birkat Kohanim every
day in Eretz Yisrael). Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook sums the issue up best:
I am apprehensive about leaving the Land because of [my] love for the sanctity of the
Holy Land and because [I am] a kohen. Even though there are leniencies on this issue,
they do not settle so well with me. The simple meaning of Chazal’s words seems to
indicate that the prohibition applies even today. (Iggrot HaRe’iyah, letter 555)

 When you reap the harvest of your Land, you shall not wholly remove the corner of your
field when you reap, neither shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave
them for the poor and the proselyte; I am the Lord your God (23:22).
See above, Parashat Kedoshim, “Additional References,” 19:9.

 But, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the grain of the Land,
you shall celebrate the festival of the Lord (Sukkot) for seven days… (23:39)
See above, Parashat Mishpatim, “Additional References,” 23:15-17.



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