On one side of the controversy surrounding the dating of the Omer stand various groups of Sectarians who unanimously understand the word "Shabbat" to refer to Saturday and date the Omer sacrifice to the following day (Sunday). They disagree, however, regarding when this "Shabbat" falls out. Many Karaites view the two Biblical passages which speak of the Omer sacrifice and Chag HaMatzot as referring to simultaneous time periods and thus associate the Omer offering with the festival itself. The Qumran Sect, in contrast, assumes that the Biblical text is chronological and thus have the Omer offering follow the festival. A more marginal Karaite approach completely disconnects the two holidays and instead dates the Omer to the first harvest.
In opposition to all of the above, the Tannaim established that "Shabbat" in our verses is an alternative designation for the first day of Chag HaMatzot, thus setting the 16th of Nisan as the fixed lunar date for the Omer sacrifice. Traditional commentators, ever since, have struggled to harmonize the Rabbinic interpretation with the simple meaning of the Biblical text. Many have attempted to defend the position that the word "Shabbat" can literally mean Yom Tov, while others have tried to find alternative understandings of the word which would still allow for maintaining the Halakhic date of 16 Nisan.
The word Shabbat refers to the seventh day of the week (שבת בראשית), and the Omer offering is always brought on the following day. This position subdivides regarding the Saturday to which the verses refer:
Within Chag HaMatzot
The Omer is sacrificed on the morrow of the first Saturday which falls within or immediately preceding the holiday of Chag HaMatzot.
Connection to Chag MaMatzot – Since the verses regarding the Omer follow the discussion of Chag HaMatzot, all these commentators assume that the time marker "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת" must relate to the previously mentioned holiday, and that there is chronological overlap between the two. However, they disagree regarding whether it is the Sunday of bringing the Omer or the Shabbat marked in the verse which must fall within the festival.
Sunday – The Karaites assume that it is the Omer offering itself (the day which is "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת") which must overlap with Chag HaMatzot. Thus, the Omer offering could be brought as early as the 15th of Nisan,2 but never after the 21st.
Shabbat – The Samaritans, in contrast, maintain that the Shabbat itself must fall within the holiday. As such, one would never bring the Omer offering before the 16th, but depending on when Shabbat were to fall, one might bring it as late as the 22nd of Nisan, after the conclusion of the festival.
Evaluation of meaning of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – This understanding of Shabbat as the seventh day of the week would seem to be the simple meaning of the word, as supported by many Biblical verses.3
Various mentions of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – The Karaites4 point out that one of the advantages of this approach is that it is consistent in understanding that the word "Shabbat" refers to the seventh day of the week in all three of its occurrences in Vayikra 23:15-16.5
How would one know that "הַשַּׁבָּת" is within Chag HaMatzot? One of the main objections raised by the opponents of this position is that one cannot know from the verses to which Shabbat is referred,6 as it could be any Shabbat of the year! Aharon b. Levi the Karaite replies that the placement of the verses connects it to Chag HaMatzot. As mentioned above, this position assumes that there is an overlap in time between the unit of verses speaking of the holiday and those speaking of the Omer offering,7 and the latter's dating is thus naturally informed by the former.8
Lack of date for Shavuot – The Karaite exegetes9 point to another advantage of their approach, as it readily explains why Shavuot, unlike other holidays, does not have a calendrical date in the Torah. According to them, Shavuot actually has no fixed date, only a set day of the week, and in any given year it might fall out anywhere between the 5th and 11th of Sivan.10
Significance of Sunday? A disadvantage of this position is that the Torah's normal mode of marking time is to date events by either the lunar calendar or the agricultural season, and not by the day of the week in which they fall. Moreover, this approach must further explain what is particularly significant about a Sunday that Hashem would decide that the Omer Offering (and thus Shavuot) need to fall out on that day of the week. There are a couple of possible explanations:
Two days of rest – In the Scholion to Megillat Taanit, a Boethusian tells R. Yochanan b. Zakkai that Hashem wanted the nation to rest for two consecutive days on Shavuot, which otherwise would be a very brief one day holiday.11
Since the Karaites maintain that the Omer can be offered as early as the 15th, they12 are thereby able to harmonize the passage in Yehoshua with their interpretation of "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת", by assuming that Chag HaPesach (i.e. the 14th of Nisan) was on Shabbat in the year the Israelites entered the land. Thus, the inaugural Omer offering was brought on the following day ("מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח"),13 i.e. Sunday, the 15th of Nisan, allowing the nation to eat of the new harvest already on that very day.
Since the Samaritans do not accept Sefer Yehoshua as part of their canon they are not troubled by any contradictions from it.14
"תִּסְפׇּר לָךְ מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ בַּקָּמָה" – Aharon b. Yosef suggests that this time marker is equivalent to that of "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת", with both referring to the day on which the Omer is offered. He compares the phrase to that in Divrei HaYamim II 31:10, "מֵהָחֵל הַתְּרוּמָה לָבִיא בֵית י"י" suggesting that both point to a day when a sacrifice is brought to the Mikdash.
External motivating factors – This reading might in part be motivated by a desire to prevent the possibility of the day of the Omer sacrifice falling on a Shabbat, which would necessitate reaping on Shabbat.15 Setting a fixed day of the week eliminated the need to ever have to transgress the regular laws of Shabbat.16
After Chag HaMatzot
The Omer offering is brought on the day following the first Saturday after the festival of Chag HaMatzot.
Meaning and mentions of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – As above, the understanding that Shabbat refers to the seventh day of the week is supported by many verses throughout Tanakh. This interpretation also allows one to explain all three appearances of the word in the same manner.
How would one know that "הַשַּׁבָּת" is after Chag HaMatzot? According to this approach, the verses which speak of the Omer offering chronologically follow those which precede them. As such, it is natural to assume that the referred to "Shabbat" is the one which falls right after Chag HaMatzot and not within it.
Dating of "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת" – Unlike the Karaite approach above, due to the unique 364 day calendar of the Dead Sea sect17 which is evenly divisible by seven, the Omer offering was always brought, not only on a set day of the week, but also on a set date of the month, the 26th of Nisan.18 As such, according to the Qumran calendar,19 Shavuot always falls on the 15th of Sivan.20
Lack of date for Shavuot – Since the Qumran sect does assert that the holiday of Shavuot has a set date21 it is surprising that the Torah never mentions one. This position could respond that it was simply unnecessary since the law requires one to count from the Omer offering until the holiday.22
"וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" – This verse in Yehoshua is difficult for this approach, as it implies that the Israelites ate from the new wheat on the 15th or 16th of Nisan, while according to Qumran, this should have been prohibited until the 26th of Nisan when the Omer was brought. They might answer that the verse is speaking of eating old produce rather than new.23
Significance of Sunday? As above, this approach might suggest that there was really no inherent significance to the day, but Hashem specifically chose a Sunday for both the bringing of the Omer and Shavuot so as to eliminate any need for desecration of Shabbat (in reaping or the sacrificing of the festive peace offerings).
After the First Harvest
The Omer is brought on the first Sunday following the initial harvest of the season.
Disconnect from Chag HaMatzot – This position disconnects the Omer offering and count from Chag HaMatzot entirely.25 It suggests that the new heading of verse 9, "וַיְדַבֵּר י"י אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר" breaks the verses into two distinct units, leaving no reason why the dating of the Omer should be related to the verses speaking of Chag HaMatzot.26
"תִּסְפׇּר לָךְ מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ בַּקָּמָה" – According to this approach, the time markers in Vayikra and Devarim complement each other. The former ("מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת") teaches us the day of the week on which the Omer is to be brought,27 while the latter ("מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ בַּקָּמָה") explains when that day falls out during the year.28
Meaning and mentions of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – As above, one of the advantages of this approach is its ability to uphold the simple interpretation of the word Shabbat as the seventh day of the week in all its appearances in the passage.
Dating of "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת" – This position, like the first approach above, assumes that there is no set date for the Omer offering. It asserts that the date is entirely dependent on nature and can fall before, during, or after Chag HaMatzot.
Lack of Date for Shavuot – Since the date of the Omer Offering varies from year to year based on the agricultural climate, it is easily understood why the Torah could not set a date for Shavuot; it does not have one.
"וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" – This position could maintain that in the year the nation entered the land, the first harvest was early and the first Sunday afterwards coincided with "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח", when they brought the Omer and ate from the new grains.
Significance of Sunday – This position, even more than the others in this category, must explain why Hashem would think it necessary to choose a specific day of the week to bring the Omer. If the dating is so variable due to the changes in nature from one year to the next, why not allow the day of the week to vary as well?29 They might agree with the suggestion above that the choice was related to ensuring that Shabbat never be violated.
Day After Yom Tov
The term Shabbat is another way of referring to Yom Tov. The Omer offering is brought on the day after the Yom Tov of Chag HaMatzot. This approach divides based on to which Yom Tov the verse refers:
First Yom Tov
The Omer offering follows the first Yom Tov of the festival and falls out on the 16th of Nisan.
Meaning of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – The Karaites challenge the Rabbinic position that Yom Tov is a valid definition of the word "Shabbat",31 and there have been various Rabbinic attempts to support this option:
The Scholion to Megillat Taanit, Lekach Tov and Ibn Ezra32 note that many other holidays are called a "שַׁבָּתוֹן", pointing to Rosh HaShanah, Yom HaKippurim, and Sukkot as examples.33 From these one can learn that the word "Shabbaton", and hence, "Shabbat", is not limited in meaning to a specific day of the week, but can refer to any Yom Tov.34
Other commentators attempt to maintain the Sages' dating of the Omer sacrifice to the 16th, but offer alternative definitions of the word Shabbat.35 Ramban proposes that it means "week", as it does in the rest of the passage. The bringing of the Omer begins a new week (only for purposes of the future counting), and it is thus offered on the morrow of the "week" ending on the 15th.36 Others relate the word to the Akkadian "sabattu" which refers to the day of the full moon, and is thus simply another way of saying the 15th of the month.37
Why use a word with a secondary meaning? R. D"Z Hoffmann points out that the alternatives would have been ambiguous. The term "ממחרת הפסח" could refer to either the fifteenth or sixteenth of the month38 and the term "ממחרת החג" would likely be understood as referring to the 22nd of Nisan, the day after the entire festival.39
Various mentions of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – This position maintains that while the initial appearance of the word "Shabbat" ("וּסְפַרְתֶּם לָכֶם מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת") means Yom Tov; in the later phrases ("שֶׁבַע שַׁבָּתוֹת" and "עַד מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת הַשְּׁבִיעִת") it means week.40 The Karaites41 point to this inconsistency as a disadvantage of this approach. R. Saadia and Ibn Ezra respond that this is an example of normal variation and literary artistry throughout Tanakh. Often, even within one verse, the text might play with words, using the same root for different understandings.42
Lack of date for Shavuot – R. Saadia asserts that no date is given for Shavuot, not because it varies from year to year, but simply because it was unnecessary. Once the Torah set when to begin the count of fifty days, anyone could calculate when the festival falls.43 Alternatively, one might suggest that the date does vary, as until the calendar was fixed, in any given year the date could change depending on the observation of the new moon of Sivan.44
"וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" – These commentators disagree regarding the dating of "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" and how this verse works with the date of bringing the Omer:
Fifteenth of Nisan – According to Ibn Ezra, "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" refers to the 15th of Nisan,45 when eating of the new wheat was still prohibited. To solve the problem, he suggests46 that the verse speaks of eating from the old grain.47 An opinion in Yerushalmi Challah 2:1 alternatively asserts that the prohibition of "new wheat" took effect only after the conquest.48
Sixteenth of Nisan – Other exegetes49 maintain that "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" is the 16th of Nisan. Since the Pesach sacrifice is eaten on the evening of the 15th, the next new day is the 16th. This is equivalent to ""מִמׇּחֳרַת הַשַּׁבָּת50 when the Omer is brought and the new grain is permitted.51
"תִּסְפׇּר לָךְ מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ בַּקָּמָה" – This position asserts that the new harvest begins on the 16th of Nisan. The different time markers in Vayikra and Devarim are merely two expressions of the same idea.
Transgressing of Shabbat – As opposed to the Sectarians, the Sages were not bothered by the potential transgressing of Shabbat when the day of the offering of the Omer falls on it.52 As such, it was more important to have a set monthly date rather than a set day of the week for the offering.
Shavuot and Matan Torah – It is possible that part of the Pharisees disagreement with the Karaites related to the desire to connect Shavuot with the revelation at Sinai. Counting the Omer from the 16th of Nisan causes Shavuot to fall out on the 6th (or 7th) of Sivan, which was also the date the Sages associated with the Sinaitic revelation.
Who counts? If the date of the bringing of the Omer and Shavuot were variable, the fifty day count would have a practical purpose and one would assume that the calculations be done not by individuals but by the courts, as is done for the Jubilee year. Since the Sages hold that Shavuot has a set date, though, they assume the count is not purely utilitarian but rather has inherent religious value. As such, they maintain that every individual must count, and not just the central court.
Last Yom Tov
The Omer is sacrificed on the 22nd of Nisan, the day following the last day of Chag HaMatzot.
Why the Second Yom Tov – These sources read the passage regarding the Omer as following chronologically from the previous passage54 regarding Chag HaMatzot, and thus they naturally assume that its dating should follow it.
Meaning of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – This position, as above, might point to other holidays which are referred to as a "שַׁבָּתוֹן" to support the possibility that a secondary meaning of the word "Shabbat" is Yom Tov.
Various mentions of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – According to this position, only the first mention of Shabbat refers to Yom Tov, while the others mean "week". As above, the variation might be simply attributed to the Torah's literary artistry.
Lack of date for Shavuot – According to this approach, Shavuot always falls out on the 12th of Sivan. As above, one can explain that the Torah nonetheless leaves out the date since the fifty day count makes it superfluous.
"וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" – This position might explain that Pesach in this verse refers to the entire seven day holiday and not just the day that the Pesach sacrifice was brought. If so, the "morrow of the Pesach" is the 22nd of Nisan, when the Omer is brought and new grain is permitted. Nowhere in Tanakh, though, is the week long festival referred to as Pesach, making this a difficult reading.
"תִּסְפׇּר לָךְ מֵהָחֵל חֶרְמֵשׁ בַּקָּמָה"
Morrow of a Cessation
The word Shabbat refers to something which ceased, and the Omer offering is brought on the day following this event.
Leavened bread – According to HaKetav VeHaKabbalah56 the 15th of Nisan is referred to as a Shabbat since it is a day in which one is obligated to desist from leavened bread.
The manna – Lichtenschtadt and I. Kislev assert that the Torah is referring to the future57 cessation of the manna,58 which took place on the 15th of Nisan in the year of the nation's arrival in Israel.59
Meaning of "הַשַּׁבָּת" – There is much evidence to support the idea that the root שבת refers to stopping. Its very first occurrence in Torah (Bereshit 2:3) speaks of Hashem ceasing his creative work. In noun form, too, many verses can uphold this meaning. See, for example, Shemot 15:23-24, Shemot 20:9, Shemot 31:15, and Vayikra 23:3.60
Why refer to the 15th in this manner?
Essence of the day – According to HaKetav VeHaKabbalah, the entire essence of the first day of Yom Tov is the cessation from leavened bread. This was especially true during the year of the Exodus when leavened bread was only prohibited for that one day. HaKetav VeHaKabbalah does not explain, though, why it is only here that the first Yom Tov is called this.
Recall the manna – According to I. Kislev, the Torah purposely wants to connect the bringing of the Omer to the cessation of the manna. In fact, the entire ritual comes, in part, to commemorate the miracle and the subsequent transition from supernatural providence to natural living. Giving a calendrical date would have obscured the connection. In addition, at this point, it was not yet known what specific date the people were to enter the land and stop eating manna.
Connections between the Omer and the manna
Date – By dating one event to the other, the Torah connects them.
Amount – The specific measure of an omer's worth of the harvest recalls the omer's worth of manna that was allotted to each Israelite each day.
Food source – While the harvest focuses on man's natural food supply, the manna represents Hashem's supernatural source of sustenance. The cessation of the latter is what led to man's harvesting.
Why is the cessation of the manna worthy of commemoration? Throughout the forty years in the desert, the manna served as a constant reminder of Hashem's providence. Its absence on Shabbat and the provision of a double portion the day before reinforced the nation's dependence on God. Upon entry to the land and the transition to natural providence with the cessation of the manna, the likelihood grew that the nation would forget its reliance on Hashem.61 Thus, at the moment of harvest, when man is most likely to attribute his success to himself, the Torah commands to bring the Omer Offering and remember the lessons of the manna.62
Why commemorate the event only on the following day? I. Kislev suggests that this was a practical decision. If the commemoration took place on the actual day of cessation, Nisan 15, the meaning of the day would be obscured by the celebration of the Yom Tov of Chag HaMatzot
"וַיֹּאכְלוּ מֵעֲבוּר הָאָרֶץ מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" – Kislev understands "מִמׇּחֳרַת הַפֶּסַח" to refer to the 15th and suggests that in the year of entry the nation did eat from the new grain already on that day, because that year it was the cessation of the manna itself that permitted the eating. Only in future years did one need to wait for the bringing of the Omer, which is only a commemoration of this original event (a day late).63
Lack of date for Shavuot – It is possible that at the time of the giving of the command, the exact entry date into the land (and the related ceasing of supernatural sustenance) was unknown. Thus no set date could be given for either the bringing of the Omer or Shavuot.