It reminds me of my own life. Hashem rescued me before I even believed He existed. He took me from a life of emptiness at a time when I was still telling myself that I wasn’t a Jew and that He didn’t exist. Isn’t that an amazing lesson in selflessness? When someone turns away from me, my reaction is to turn away from him, but when someone turns away from Hashem, He rescues that person.
As we ascended from spiritual slavery, we also ascended from physical slavery, and the laws of Pesach reflect this. We ate bread that symbolized our lowly spiritual status. We began to purify our bodies parallel with the purification of our souls. On the second day of Pesach, the Torah teaches us, we were to bring to the Temple an offering consisting of an omer of barley, the first crop to ripen.
Barley is animal food. Animals don’t express appreciation to their owner. They eat but they don’t elevate themselves; they don’t bless their master. This was like us in Mitzrayim. At first we merely ate, meaning we partook of Hashem’s bounty without recognizing His greatness.
Just as we were barely more than animals when Hashem took us out of slavery, so the offering later brought in the Temple at that time of year corresponded to our spiritual state. At the moment of liberation we stood on a very low level, but at least we stood. The very fact that we later brought this animal food as an offering in the Temple indicates the beginning of our gratitude to Hashem; even though we were on such a low level, we recognized that He was pulling us out of the quagmire.
Jews thank Hashem at every step. We thank Him for our most basic physical existence. We thank Hashem for every step, for every breath, for every aspect of our elevation from the dust.
And that is how we began: in the dust, the forty-ninth level of degradation, which was just above the level of eternal nonexistence. We were barely above animal level, but at least we were above animal level! If you’re an animal, you don’t bring an offering to the Temple; you just eat the food. The fact that we brought this omer of barley in the first place indicates that we were already beginning to ascend from the level of the animals.
Perhaps that is why we bring it on the second rather than the first day of Pesach, because we had already begun to climb out of the pit. It was only one day, but it was a start.
So why is it called Sefiras HaOmer, not Sefiras Ha“barley”?
I would suggest that the omer is a crucial message here. It’s not only the barley that teaches us, but the container, the amount. An omer is a measurement. It could be barley or it could be wheat. What that omer consists of is what counts. At the beginning of Pesach we brought barley, food for animals. But at least we brought that omer and said “Thank You” to Hashem.
So we have the omer, and the question is: an omer of what? Are we going to remain on the level of the animals or are we going to elevate ourselves? By the time we got to Har Sinai, seven weeks later, we had become something else on a spiritual and a physical level. We brought wheat, the exalted food with which the Children of Israel sanctify Shabbos and Yom Tov. Our neshamahs had risen from the pit of avodah zarah to the level at which we were able to stand in the Presence of God. Perhaps we still did not fully merit being there, but at least by the end of seven weeks we desired to be there – and we were there.