- Peninei Halakha
By counting the omer, we draw a line that ascends continuously from Pesaĥ to Shavu’ot. The festival of Pesaĥ represents Israel’s national aspect: the Exodus revealed Israel’s uniqueness, in that God chose us from among all the other nations despite the fact that we were mired in 49 levels of impurity. The festival of Shavu’ot, however, represents Israel’s spiritual aspect, because that is when we reached the spiritual pinnacle of receiving the Torah. On Pesaĥ, we began the process of liberation from the yoke of Egypt, while on Shavu’ot we became completely liberated from the yoke of human perceptions and impulses by receiving the divine Torah, which makes all who engage in it truly free (m. Avot 6:2).
Let us present another dimension of this ascent. On Pesaĥ, the simple, natural faith that is hidden in the soul of every Jew, and which was preserved even during the years of Egyptian bondage, is revealed. On Shavu’ot, however, we rise to a more sophisticated form of faith, one that is clarified and expanded by the Torah. Natural faith is very powerful – indeed, it is the very foundation of life – but it cannot give direction to life or improve it. Through the Torah and the mitzvot, we are able to link all aspects of our lives – intellectual, emotional, and practical – to faith.
Thus, by counting the omer we gradually elevate ourselves in two ways: from nationalism to spirituality and from natural faith to a sophisticated faith based on Torah and mitzvot.
It is impossible to reach Shavu’ot without Pesaĥ. Only by recognizing Israel’s uniqueness can we rise to be worthy of the Torah. Only once we realize that Israel is the chosen nation, as the Exodus demonstrated, can we receive the Torah. As we say in the berakha over the Torah, “Blessed are You, Lord…Who chose us from among all the nations” and only then “gave us His Torah.” Similarly, it is impossible to grasp complex, developed, cognitive faith without first discovering simple, natural faith. Therefore, it is very important to connect the festival of Pesaĥ to the festival of Shavu’ot. Counting the omer is the link and the ladder that connects these two festivals.
 There is an allusion to this idea in the fact that we are commanded to count “from the day on which you bring the omer of elevation offering” (Vayikra 23:15). The omer offering is unique in that it is made from barley, an animal food, which represents the material, national aspect of Israel. Before we received the Torah and attained knowledge of God, we were like mindless animals. When we finish counting fifty days, we receive the Torah and reach a lofty spiritual state, then, “You shall bring an offering of new grain to the Lord” (ibid. 23:16). Similarly, matza is called the “bread of affliction,” and the Zohar teaches that it is bread of faith, that is, natural faith. The offering of new grain brought on Shavu’ot is made of leavened wheat; it is rich and developed, alluding to the complete revelation of divinity in every aspect of this world. On Pesaĥ, the revelation of natural faith occurs through limitation: the restriction against leavened bread. On Shavu’ot, however, it occurs through expansion (see Orot Yisrael 8:1).
Perhaps we can say that this is the basis of the dispute about whether sefirat ha-omer nowadays is mandated by Torah law or rabbinically (below, section 4). If the purpose of counting is to rise from simple faith to sophisticated faith through Torah study, then it is mandated by Torah law even today. But if the purpose is to elevate us from a revelation of faith by way of limitation and abstinence, which expresses itself in the prohibition of ĥametz on Pesaĥ (see Peninei Halakha: Pesaĥ 1:5-6), to a level of faith that reveals itself in all areas of life – in the physical world with all its pleasures – then it requires the existence of the Temple, which connects heaven and earth. Therefore, as long as we are unable to bring the omer offering, which represents material forces and from which we can rise to the point where we may bring the “new” offering of two loaves, it is impossible for us to express faith in every aspect of life. Therefore, sefirat ha-omer is of rabbinic provenance only.