Omer Offering and Two Loaves of Bread Only from Eretz Yisrael Grain
In the Torah portion which presents the holidays in Parashat Emor, we are commanded to offer two loaves of bread on Shavuot, as the posuk (verse) states: “From your dwelling places, you shall bring bread, set aside, two (loaves made from) two tenths (of an ephah) …” [Vayikra (Leviticus) 23:17].
Chazal (Our Sages) in Gemara Menacḥot 83b understood the words “from your dwelling places” to exclude making the two loaves of wheat which was grown outside Eretz Yisrael. Chazal make a similar comment concerning the Omer offering, of which the Torah says “When you come to the Land which I am giving you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring to the kohen an Omer of the beginning of your reaping” [Vayikra 23:10]. Based upon the words “when you come to the Land which I am giving you,” Chazal taught that the Omer offering is to be brought specifically from produce grown in Eretz Yisrael.
Why does the Torah command that the offerings of the Omer and the two loaves of bread are to be brought exclusively from the grain of Eretz Yisrael?
In the Beit HaMikdash (Holy Temple), there were numerous offerings of plants – the Menacḥot (brought of fine wheat), offered by individuals and accompanying public sacrifices, and the Nesachim (wine to be poured on the altar), yet concerning these we do not find the restriction that they are to be brought only from the produce of the Land; on the contrary, the Mishna (Menaḥot ibid.) states explicitly: “All public or individual offerings may come from (produce grown) in the Land or outside the Land … except for the Omer offering and the Two Loaves of Bread.”
Why are the offerings of the Omer and the Two Loaves restricted to grain grown in the Land?
We shall divide our answer into three steps; first attempting to understand the Omer and Two Loaves, then explaining the substantive connection between the Torah and Eretz Yisrael, finally returning to the question we raised.
Omer and Two loaves offerings-preparation for receiving Torah
The Omer offering was brought on the sixteenth of Nissan, the day on which the counting of the Omer commenced, while the Two Loaves were brought on Shavuot, which is the time of the presentation of Torah to Am Yisrael. Each of these offerings must be from new grain, which was grown in that year (and only after these offerings have been brought is it permissible to bring other offerings from new grain). However, there is a significant difference between the two offerings: the Two Loaves of bread are made of wheat, while the Omer is of barley. The two offerings are connected by the counting of the Omer and they delimit the counting, which begins on the sixteenth of Nissan, the day of offering the Omer, and ends on Shavuot, the day the Two Loaves are offered.
We may ask why these two offerings demarcate the period of counting the Omer, and what the Torah teaches by commanding that the first be brought from barley and the second from wheat.
Counting the Omer expresses Am Yisrael’s yearning to receive Torah, as Sefer haḤinuch writes:
The essence of Am Yisrael is Torah, and it was for the sake of Torah that heaven and earth and Am Yisrael were created … and it is the essential reason that Am Yisrael was redeemed and taken out of Egypt to receive Torah at Sinai and fulfill it. And Torah is a greater matter to Am Yisrael than their freedom from slavery … and therefore, since Torah is the entire essence of Am Yisrael, and they were redeemed because of it and through it have they achieved whatever greatness they have risen to, we are commanded to count from the day following the holiday of Pesacḥ until the day of the Torah was given, to instill in our souls the great desire to reach the glorious day which our hearts yearn for, as a slave who constantly counts the days until he will be given his freedom, for counting towards a goal indicates that all the individual’s being and desire is to reach that time.
Since counting the Omer expresses longing to accept Torah, the Omer offering is barley, which Chazal teach is animals’ food, as a way of conveying our willingness to accept upon ourselves the yoke of Torah and mitzvot, as Maharal explains [Drush al haTorah]: “When Am Yisrael begins to count, to accept the yoke of Torah and mitzvot, their service is comparable to an animal, whose entire essence is to accept the yoke of hard work; therefore Am Yisrael’s offering is barley, which is an animals’ food.”
Following the longing and preparations during the period of counting the Omer, we merit receiving the Torah, and are then able to offer the Two Loaves, which are made of wheat, the food of humans, as an expression of the idea that it is only through Torah that we can perfect ourselves and fully reach the level of being man.
The Substantive Connection Between Torah and Eretz Yisrael
Thus, the two offerings teach the proper perspective on acceptance of and study of Torah. In stressing that the offerings of the Omer and the Two Loaves must be brought from the produce of Eretz Yisrael, the Torah teaches that the preparation for accepting Torah and connection to it can be accomplished only through a meaningful connection with the Land. These offerings, representing internal connectedness and belonging to Torah, cannot be brought via a connection to lands outside Eretz Yisrael.
This idea is inherent in the Talmudic comment: "כיוון שגלו ישראל ממקומן אין לך ביטול תורה גדול מזה" (“Since Am Yisrael was exiled from its place there is no greater dereliction of (the study of) Torah than this”) [Gemara Chagigah 5b]. This comment requires reflection: why, in fact, does connection to Torah require connection to Eretz Yisrael? After all, Torah can be studied outside the Land too, and indeed throughout the centuries of exile, the Oral Torah thrived and developed, and the Babylonian Talmud, the source of practical Halacha, was compiled outside the Land. How is it, then, that Chazal say it is possible to achieve a true connection to Torah only in Eretz Yisrael? What is Chazals’ intention in commenting that “there is no greater dereliction of Torah than this?”
Only in Eretz Yisrael Am Yisrael fulfills Torah as a Nation
It seems that Chazals’ comment conveys an additional deep message which explains why the Torah is substantively connected to Eretz Yisrael and how the two are interrelated.
In the preamble to the Torah’s description of the revelation at Mount Sinai the pesukim (verses) state “And now, if you obey Me and keep My covenant, you shall be to Me a treasure out of all peoples, for Mine is the entire earth. And you shall be to Me a kingdom of princes and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the children of Israel" [Shemot (Exodus) 19:5-6]. The Torah stresses that the unique aspect of Am Yisrael is its being “a kingdom of princes,” an entire nation which lives in holiness; not merely that many or even most of the nation will fulfill Torah and mitzvot, but the entire nation will walk in the ways of Torah on a communal level.
Similarly, in Parashat vaEtcḥanan, the Torah stresses: “For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the Lord our God is at all times that we call upon Him? And which great nation is it that has just statutes and ordinances, as this entire Torah, which I set before you this day?” These pesukim, as well, convey the uniqueness of Am Yisrael as a “great nation,” an entire nation which is governed by the ways of Torah.
This basic concept, that Am Yisrael is unique in being a complete nation which fulfills the Divine will, appears in numerous additional verses and sources. Rabbi Kook zt”l wrote (אורות, למהלך האידאות בישראל, ב) of this in his unique style: “From the inception of this nation … the aspiration was to establish a great human community which will ‘keep the way of the Lord to perform righteousness’ [Bereishit (Genesis) 18:19] … Realization of this aspiration requires that the community has its own political and social state, with the seat of its national sovereignty at the pinnacle of human culture … to make it clear that not merely individuals, distinguished wise people, the pious, or holy men – live within the illumination of the Divine idea, but entire nations rectified and perfected in all social aspects …”
The holy Torah was given to us not merely that we be individuals whose life style is guided by Torah, but in order to realize the ideal of fulfilling Torah and mitzvot within the life of the entire nation; that we administer our state – with all that implies – according to Torah’s guidance. This goal is truly what makes Am Yisrael unique among the nations. Other nations can observe the mitzvot which are incumbent on them and be righteous, and even reach the level of Divine inspiration (ruacḥ hakodesh), but they will achieve these levels only as individuals; while Am Yisrael’s national purpose is sanctify God’s name in the world. Therefore, Torah cannot be completely fulfilled by any individual, be he the most righteous person in the world, since there are mitzvot which are incumbent specifically on Kohanim, others which apply only to judges, etc. Fulfillment of Torah requires the entire nation.
Since Torah was given to the entire Nation of Israel, not only to individuals, Torah guidance can be realized only within Eretz Yisrael. This is so because while an individual can wander from place to place, a nation has a fixed place. The French are in France, the Egyptians in Egypt, etc., and like any nation, Am Yisrael has its own land which belongs to it; God determined that it is only within this unique Land that Am Yisrael can realize its special internal traits and act in full accordance with His will. If the Torah related only to individuals, they would be able to fulfill it wherever they want, in Uganda or any other place on earth. However, Am Yisrael, as a national entity, which is governed by Torah and mitzvot, reveals God’s name to the world; and this can be done only when the nation maintains its national political life, and not as individuals in foreign lands. God determined that in the unique Land, in which we are commanded and are able to live our national life according to Torah is Eretz Yisrael. Thus, the indelible connection between Torah and the Land is understood. Our bond with the Land is based upon the fact that she is the sole place where our nation can truly live a life guided by Torah, since Torah is the guide for the collective national life.
The deep meaning of Chazals’ comment that there is no greater degradation of Torah than Israel’s exile from its Land is not that Torah cannot be studied outside the Land, but that it is only within Eretz Yisrael that Torah can be fully realized by the nation in its entirety living its national life according to Torah.
Therefore, when we offer the Omer and the Two Loaves of Bread, which are preparations for receiving Torah and recognition of the unique connection between Am Yisrael and Torah, the Torah teaches that they may be brought only from the produce of the Land. This requirement stresses the concept that Torah can reach its full and true fruition only in Eretz Yisrael. Thus, the Torah writes “when you come to the Land which I am giving you” and “from your dwelling places, you shall bring.”
May it be God’s will that the entire Nation of Israel understand the nation destiny, to dwell in the unique Land of the Creator, fulfilling Torah and mitzvot and being a light unto the world.
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