Hebrew In Israel | Joshua 5 and The Omer – Learn Torah

"The people of Isra’el camped at Gilgal, and they observed Pesach on the fourteenth day of the month, there on the plains of Yericho. The day after Pesach they ate what the land produced, matzah and roasted ears of grain that day. The following day, after they had eaten food produced in the land, the man ended. From then on the people of Isra’el no longer had man; instead, that year, they ate the produce of the land of Kena‘an." Joshua 5:10-12

Hebrew In Israel | Joshua 5 and The Omer – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments

The point of this article is not when we bring the Omer, but rather can we use Joshua 5 to argue for a date.  However, the discussion of when we start counting is unavoidable.  I will also note before we start that there are different opinions between scholars on how to treat this subject, and the point here is to give another point of view without offending anyone or creating animosity.

The Question

There is a question whether or not counting the Omer, according to Karaite practice, is from the first Shabbat no matter what, or does it have to be the first Shabbat after the first day of the feast.  Which “morrow after the Shabbat” in Lev 23 is the right one?

Let me explain:  Leviticus 23 states that it is a morrow after (the) Shabbat but does not explain which Shabbat.  The definite article השבת does not necessarily mean THE Shabbat, but rather A Shabbat (a function some miss).  This would mean that we are not looking for any specific day as argued by the Pharisees (first day) or Ethiopians and the Pshita (last day).  Hence even if we do say that it is an actual Shabbat, which one will it be if the first day is also a Sunday?  This is the case we have had in past years where Sunday is also the first day according to sighted moon.  In the most common cases, we usually count after the first day of Unleavened bread.  However, does it have to be after the feast day?  We are used to having the count start after the first day and not during, but is there really a need for it to be after?

Some use Joshua 5 to argue that the Omer can fall on the first day, but Joshua does not mention the Omer but the Manna, making the reference to do with Manna and not the Omer.  It will be pointed out that one can argue that the Omer was also done on the 15th after the Pesach, and the text focused on the Manna because of its connection to the Exodus and entering the land.  However, it must be said that because Joshua 5 is about the Manna and not the Omer, it is mostly an assumption that the verses in Joshua 5 can be connected to the Omer.  It is also an assumption that it was after a Shabbat.  I think it is better to stick to the verses in Leviticus and not Joshua.

Leviticus 23

As stated, we tend to think that we start counting after the first day of the feast because that is the usual case.  However where does it say in Leviticus that this is how it is done?  More so, when you closely read the verses there is no clear connection between the feast of Chag Hamatsot and the Omer.  The opening of verse 10 states “כי תבואו אל הארץ” – when you enter the land.  The conditional clause opening with כי states that the act of the Omer is done in the land after entering the land and is not described as succession of Chag Hamatsot, but as a result of being in the land[1].  The Omer is the precursor of Chag Hashavuot and is not the successor of Chag Hamatsot. The actual statment in the Torah is that you start counting whenever you start the harvest, regardless of dates. This is an agricultural reality that even the Leviticus calendar accepts. Because of this, it is possible for the Omer to be brought on the 15th of the month.  Hence there is no need to wait for the first day to pass.

It is important to notice that the different sections of Lev 23 are of different subjects, but are still part of the feast cycle.  Both Chag Hamatsot and the Omer are connected by the Aviv, however this connection is limited to the month, and not the week.  Both acts are done during the month of Aviv, but nothing in the text links them to one another as being part of one big unit.  They are connected the same way the feasts of the 7th month are, by being part of the same month (notice that in both sections we have a 3 part cycle).  It is speculated that Yom Teru’a is a precursor for Yom Hakippurim, and that Yom Hakippurim is that of Sukkot, but this is still not evidence that the Omer is part of Chag Hamatsot.

Verse 11 states that the Omer is brought from the first harvest, Deut 16:9 states that the time starts when the sickle starts in the sheaf.  In both places the time reference is the harvest, and in both places no linking phrase/word is given connecting the Omer to Chag Hamatsot. Deuteronomy even places the Omer with Shavuot as one unit, which clearly indicates that they are bonded to one another, and that Chag Hamtsot is not part of this structure.

Words

In Joshua 5 we notice that the words chosen for the description only use part of the same words as Lev 23, and most of them are used in a formulaic way due to the way Hebrew is spoken.

a. Verse 11 uses the words בעצם היום הזה– on this very day.  I argue that Joshua 5 is not necessarily repeating Lev 23, but is a form used to emphasize that the action was done on that very day with great zeal (see examples in Gen 7, Lev 23 several times and Metsodat Tsiyon on the verse).  Why emphasis and zeal?  Because by eating from the grains of the land Joshua and the people are making a point of ownership of the land.  Notice how the end of verse 12 points out that they ate from the grains of the land of CANAAN on that year.  Agricultural laws to this very day say that if one harvests or works a land it is by law of possession owned by the person working the land.  Such is the case in Numbers 21:22 where Moses says they will not touch anything in the land of Moab.  This is not just because it does not belong to them and it can reduce their food and water (not to mention letting a potential enemy through your land), but because this act can bring an argument of ownership of the fields and wells.  Was Moses naïve by asking this?  No, the hope was that Moab would ignore the potential threat of Israel, but also made a promise that they would not in any way threaten Moab’s claim to the land.

b. Food words- The only word used in the text that does repeat Leviticus is קלוי-roasted grains.  However, the rest of the words גרש, כרמל  and most importantly לחם-bread is not repeated.  Joshua states that they only ate קלי and מצות.  Though one can argue that Matsot are a form of Lechem, if the text is talking about the same thing or hinting to Lev 23 why not use the same words?  Using just one word is not a strong enough argument to link two texts unless it is a key word.  On the other hand the key word most repeated is עבור– produce, making the point of the text the eating from the land immediately after they were able to keep the laws of the Torah (which are the key for inheriting the land).  By circumcising and doing the Pesach-covenant of Avraham and remembering the exodus, they were showing their loyalty to the covenant which will give them the land (for more opinions see Rosh HaShana 13:a, Kidushin 37-38, Radak on the verse).

Structure

Part of my argument against using Joshua is also how it is structured.  The very clear connection between subjects of verses 11 and 12 can be seen in the parallelisms of the text:

                           וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ                       מִמָּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח מַצּוֹת וְקָלוּי

                                                           בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה

                           וַיִּשְׁבֹּת הַמָּן מִמָּחֳרָת                        בְּאָכְלָם מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ

                        וְלֹאהָיָה עוֹד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מָן         וַיֹּאכְלוּ מִתְּבוּאַת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן

                                                              בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִיא

The day after the Passover, that very day, they ate some of the produce of the land: unleavened bread and roasted grain.  The manna stopped the day after they ate this food from the land; there was no longer any manna for the Israelites, but that year they ate the produce of Canaan”

The structure presented shows that we can break down verses 11 and 12 into a rhythmic paragraph where each section ends with the same idea of time emphasis.  Both sections are linked to one another by form and use of temporal modifiers making them about the same thing.  The theme is eating from the land due to the Manna stopping.  The preposition ב in באכלם follows the word ממחרת which is not a different day from when they ate, but the same day.  They ate from the land and at the same time the Manna stopped (this is without mentioning the repetitive words between the two verses that clearly indicate that they are one and the same).  Note that the division of verses probably came at a much later time, and these two verses could have been read as one section (E.Tov Textual criticism; Hebrew p.40).  This demonstrates that the text is intended to point out the main theme of the book–conquest of the land.

If the text would be hinting to something in the Torah, one could argue that because the Joshua story is a continuation of the Exodus story, that it would be referencing that.  We can find the words ממחרת הפסח in Numbers 33:3, and we find בעצם היום הזה in Exodus 12:41.

It is also important to notice that the statement is about eating, and not harvesting.  Harvest is part of the process which starts the count, and this idea is not present in the text.  We also see that the eating was during that year, and is not pinpointing to the specifics of the month of Aviv.

One more point is where does the Omer come from?  The Omer is part of the thanksgiving given to YHWH for having the land.  The text in Lev 23 uses the pronominal suffix (2nd masculine plural) כם as possession of the harvest.  The act of eating was an act of ownership, but the harvest itself was not that of owned land.  This is a fine point that differentiates between harvest that grew when you own the land, and harvest you take by force to own the land.  Israel did not own the land when the grains grew and hence cannot bring the Omer from it because it is not their own.  The Omer is to be brought as grain which is owned by Israel through inheritance of the land as a symbol of the promise to Avraham.  These grains were not part of that promise and could be eaten without waving the Omer.

As can be seen I present several doubts about using Joshua 5 as a supporting text for proving that the Omer can be brought on the 15th day of the first month.  This does not mean that the morrow after the Shabbat cannot be the 15th.  The point here is to demonstrate that using the text of Joshua to support the argument presented in the question, we cannot speculate about the text and think it supports our idea if it is not explicit.  Joshua is a well woven book that focuses on one point “the conquest”.  Other points are presented as needed, and the text does not speak of actions if they do not contribute to the storyline.


1. The Pesach was done outside of the land, but the Omer cannot be done without the land.  This might undermine the argument, but yet we do not find a linking phrase or word for the Omer to be part of the feast.

Originally Published:  April 17, 2015

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