May 1, 2014


The Day After The “Sabbath”

In this week’s Parsha are the laws of the Holy Days of the year.

Vayikra 23:11
“He shall wave the Omer before Hashem to be an appeasement for you; on the day after the Sabbath, the Priest shall wave it.”

“On the day after the Sabbath” – : The day after the first day of the festival of Pesach. {This must be the meaning of “Sabbath” here) because if you say it means the Sabbath of Creation (i.e. the weekly Sabbath), then you would not know which Sabbath [the Torah was referring to].

The verse seems to say that the Omer offering is to be brought on the day following the Sabbath. The word “Sabbath” means the seventh day of the week. But Rashi (on the basis of the Sages’ interpretation) tells us that the Sabbath here does not mean the seventh day of the week; rather, it means the festival (the first day of Pesach) – which is also a day of rest, which is the literal meaning of the word “Sabbath.”

Certainly this does not seem to be the simple meaning of the verse. Why does Rashi prefer the unusual meaning of “Sabbath” (festival) over its usual meaning (the seventh day)?

Rashi says it can’t mean the regular Sabbath because then we wouldn’t know which specific Sabbath of the year was referred to and hence we wouldn’t know when the Omer should be brought.

Nevertheless, one could still ask a question on Rashi’s translating the word “Sabbath” as “festival.” Where do we ever find that the word “Sabbath” means “festival” in the Torah? Doesn’t it always mean “the seventh day”? Can we find an example of “Sabbath” meaning “festival”?

The answer is “Yes”.  The Torah does occasionally refer to festival as “Sabbath.”
See this Chapter (23) Verse 24 where Rosh Hashanah is referred to as “Shabbaton,” and again in verse 23:39 referring to Succot it says: “on the first day Shabbaton and on the eighth day Shabbaton.” All these are examples of “Shabbat” used to designate a festival, or more precisely, a day of rest. So Rashi’s interpretation of “the day after the Sabbath” as the day after the festival does have parallels in the Torah.

This interpretation of the Sages which Rashi followed was the source of a violent and basic disagreement between our Sages and the Sadducees and later the Karaites and other groups. Therefore the question arises, why did the Torah use the word Shabbat which needed interpretation and is therefore open to misinterpretation rather than the word Yom Tov. Surely, the Torah could have said ” mimochorat Hayom tov or momochorat hachag……

The answer is that in the year of the Exodus, the first day Yom Tov of Pesach was on a Shabbat! The Torah needs to speak on two levels. It has to speak in the present tense that is to say to address the reality as it is happening. But being Divine, has to give instruction for the future. In the language of the Talmud, there is Pesach Mitzrayim ( the Pesach of Egypt) and Pesach Dorot ( Pesach as it will be commemorated in future generations).

Hence, when the Torah says on the morning after the Sabbath, it is addressing the people who actually left Egypt. The jobs of the Sages is to interpretate the Torah so that it works forever. Hence, although the first ever Yom tov of Pesach fell on a Shabbat this would not always be so. The Sages in their wisdom merely point out that the deciding factor of when to start counting the Omer is the day after Yom Tov which is fixed as the 16th of Nisan rather than the day after Shabbat which slides and isn’t fixed or known.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Meir Wise


One Response to “Emor”

  1. max said

    Makes sense that the Torah had to speak on 2 levels but couldn’t the It have simply said “on the 16th Nissan” – thus avoiding all confusion?
    Perhaps Hashem wanted it to be ambiguous so that we’d have the choice between following the Sages or Karraites – and be rewarded for doing the former.

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