An Enigmatic Phrase
Vayikra 23 provides a complete list of the annual festivals. After opening by commanding the observance of Shabbat, Pesach, and Chag HaMatzot, it turns to describe the Omer offering and the fifty day count leading up to the bringing of the Two Loaves ("שתי הלחם"). In recording the dates of these two offerings and the counting which links them, the Torah thrice repeats the confounding term "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת":
(י) דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם כִּי תָבֹאוּ אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם וּקְצַרְתֶּם אֶת קְצִירָהּ וַהֲבֵאתֶם אֶת עֹמֶר רֵאשִׁית קְצִירְכֶם אֶל הַכֹּהֵן. (יא) וְהֵנִיף אֶת הָעֹמֶר לִפְנֵי י״י לִרְצֹנְכֶם מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת יְנִיפֶנּוּ הַכֹּהֵן...
(טו) וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת מִיּוֹם הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת עֹמֶר הַתְּנוּפָה שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת תְּמִימֹת תִּהְיֶינָה. (טז) עַד מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת תִּסְפְּרוּ חֲמִשִּׁים יוֹם וְהִקְרַבְתֶּם מִנְחָה חֲדָשָׁה לַי״י. (יז) מִמּוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם תָּבִיאּוּ לֶחֶם תְּנוּפָה שְׁתַּיִם שְׁנֵי עֶשְׂרֹנִים סֹלֶת תִּהְיֶינָה חָמֵץ תֵּאָפֶינָה בִּכּוּרִים לַי״י...
(כא) וּקְרָאתֶם בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ יִהְיֶה לָכֶם כׇּל מְלֶאכֶת עֲבֹדָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ חֻקַּת עוֹלָם בְּכׇל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם.
(10) “Speak to the children of Israel, and tell them, ‘When you have come into the land which I give to you, and shall reap its the harvest, then you shall bring the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest: (11) and he shall wave the sheaf before Hashem, to be accepted for you. On the next day after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it...
(15) “‘You shall count from the next day after the Sabbath, from the day that you brought the sheaf of the wave offering; seven Sabbaths shall be completed: (16) even to the next day after the seventh Sabbath you shall number fifty days; and you shall offer a new meal offering to Hashem. (17) You shall bring out of your habitations two loaves of bread for a wave offering made of two tenth parts of an ephah of fine flour. They shall be baked with yeast, for first fruits to Hashem....
(21) You shall make proclamation on the same day: there shall be a holy convocation to you; you shall do no regular work. This is a statute forever in all your dwellings throughout your generations.
What is "הַשַּׁבָּת" to which the Torah refers? Does it allude to a day previously mentioned, as the definite article (ה' הידיעה) might imply? Could it hark back to the weekly Shabbat described at the beginning of the Chapter? But, if so, which of the many Sabbaths of the year would it be? Alternatively, if it refers to the immediately preceding holidays of Pesach and Chag HaMatzot,1 why use the confusing term "שַׁבַּת"?
Uniqueness of Shavuot
For almost all of the holidays in Vayikra 23, the Torah opens by giving their calendrical dates, continues with the prohibitions of performing labor on them, and in some cases adds some of their unique laws. The lone exception is the festival of the Bikkurim (or Shavuot) for which no lunar date is provided. It is instead prefaced by the lengthy description of the offerings and counting detailed above. Only after this does the Torah finally tell us that the day of the Two Loaves offering should also be proclaimed as a holiday. What accounts for the difference between Shavuot and all of the other festivals?
Additionally, while the other sections of the chapter proceed sequentially, the non-calendrical dating of the Omer Offering raises the issue of how it fits within the broader structure of the Chapter. Does it chronologically follow the entire preceding unit of Chag HaMatzot, or might there be overlap between them?
Vayikra 23 prohibits eating from the newly reaped produce until after the Omer is brought:
וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ עַד עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם אֶת קׇרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.
You shall eat neither bread, nor roasted grain, nor fresh grain, until this same day, until you have brought the offering of your God. This is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
Using similar language, Yehoshua 5 recounts what appears to be the precise fulfillment of this commandment immediately upon the nation's entry into the Promised Land:
(יא) וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח מַצּוֹת וְקָלוּי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה. (יב) וַיִּשְׁבֹּת הַמָּן מִמׇּחֳרָת בְּאׇכְלָם מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ וְלֹא הָיָה עוֹד לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מָן וַיֹּאכְלוּ מִתְּבוּאַת אֶרֶץ כְּנַעַן בַּשָּׁנָה הַהִיא.
(11) And they did eat of the produce of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes and parched corn, in the selfsame day. (12) And the manna ceased on the morrow, after they had eaten of the produce of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.
In Yehoshua, though, the term "מִמָּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" is used, in contrast to the "מִמָּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת" of Vayikra. Do both phrases mean the same thing? On which day did the people eat the new produce in the time of Yehoshua? Can the verses in Yehoshua shed light on our passage in Vayikra?
All of these issues have been the source of fiery debate between many sects of Judaism and assorted commentators from time immemorial. To explore some of their positions, continue to Approaches.