Rabbi Shua Brick, Jewish Studies Teacher

It is quite fitting that we read the Torah portion about counting the Omer during the time of year we are indeed counting. The Omer is when we count from the 16th of Nissan when we bring the Omer until 49 days later when we have Shavuot, the 6th of Sivan, and bring the Shtei HaLechem. We are basically counting the time between two harvest sacrifices; the first is from the barley harvest marking the end of its harvest season and the second is actual loaves of bread, but made from and celebrating the wheat harvest. 

For context, barley for our ancestors was more of a food you would feed your animals, and wheat was the main staple of their diets and therefore their economy. Wheat is for humans, and barley is for animal feed. The Talmud (Pesachim 3b) records a story where a visitor – avoiding reporting bad news about the wheat crops he noticed on his way into town – tried to give a positive spin by stating that the town’s barley crops are doing well, only hinting that there wasn’t something good to say about the wheat. He is then admonished by the townsfolk. They got the message, but the word choice was found offensive. He could have made a similar hint by mentioning the beans or making the inference compared to last year’s crops, but he should not have mentioned the barley – that is animal food. 

Yet here we are making two sacrifices, to celebrate the barley and then later the wheat. If we wanted to celebrate the crops, should we not simply celebrate the wheat? 

For farmers, their central crops, the staples of their economy, were coming in two months. For now, they only had the barley, and for that, they would need to be thankful already. We often do not celebrate the half-steps, the starting of a journey, or appreciate the not-yet-perfect life. But life is full of not-there-yets, work-in-progress, and mid-journey moments, and those too deserve appreciation and gratitude. Embracing the half-measures can help our world feel just that much more complete.