Loaves and Lambs Waving and Lifting
On Shavuot in the Beit Hamikdash there was a special service in which two loaves of bread were lifted by the kohen along with two lambs which were offered as shlamim sacrifices.
Two issues are discussed in our gemara in regard to this lifting. The first deals with the question of which was on top the loaves or the lambs. There seem to be conflicting signals in the passage describing this service. On the one hand the passage states "You shall lift them (the lambs) on the bread" which would indicate that it is the lambs which were on top. But the passage concludes its instructions regarding the loaves with the phrase "on the two lambs" (Vayikra 23:20) which indicates that the loaves were on top of the lambs.
The conclusion of our Sages is that it is the loaves which were on top because this is the order we find in the initiation of the kohanim described elsewhere (Shmot 29:22-24). That same chapter is also the source for clarification of the second issue the methodology of the lifting. This lifting is there summed up as "that which was waved and which was lifted" (ibid. 29:27).
The mishna (Zevachim 61a) describes this as waving forward and back, and lifting up and lowering. What this waving in four directions and lifting symbolizes is given two different explanations. Rabbi Yochanan saw in it an expression of recognition of G-ds mastery waving in all directions to the One to whom all those directions belong, and lifting and lowering to the One to whom Heaven and earth belong. The Sages in Eretz Yisrael saw the waving as a protection against the dangerous winds which might come from those directions, and the lifting as a safeguard against dangerous precipitation from above.
The Sage Rabba pointed out that this same waving and lifting is done with the four species on Succot and with the same symbolism.
The Counting that Counts
The mitzvah of counting the days and weeks between the festivals of Pesach and Shavuot which we know as sefirat haomer is traditionally performed by every male Jew at the conclusion of his Maariv evening service. An interesting question arises as to whether one Jew can do the counting by declaring how many days and weeks have passed, and another Jew can fulfill his obligation by simply listening to his declaration. This is what is done in regard to the Shabbat and Festival kiddush, and in regard to other blessings, with one saying the words while others fulfill their obligation through the rule that "listening is equivalent to saying". Whether this rule also applies to sefirat haomer depends on how we understand the gemaras interpretation of the Torah passage in which this mitzvah appears.
The Torahs use of the plural form in the command of "You shall count" (Vayikra 23:15) led our Sages to conclude that each and every Jew must do the counting. Some commentaries understood this to mean that in contrast to other mitzvot performed through speech, the rule of listening being equivalent to speaking does not apply to this counting and everyone must do the counting by himself. Other commentaries, however, contend that this mitzvah is not an exception to that rule and one can fulfill his obligation by listening to another do the counting.
Why, then, according to this approach did the gemara stress that every Jew must do counting based on the plural form of "you"? The answer is that in regard to counting the years leading to the Jubilee Year the Torah used the singular form in "You shall count" (Vayikra 25:8) to indicate that this is the responsibility of the Sanhedrin and is not incumbent on every individual Jew. In order to stress that the mitzvah of sefirat haomer is indeed incumbent on every Jew the Torah used the plural term.
It should be noted that this debate deals only with the actual declaration of the day and week counted. In regard to the blessing made before the counting, however, there is a consensus that, as in the case of all blessings, one can fulfill this by hearing the one leading the service or any other Jew make that blessing. The widespread custom nevertheless is for every individual Jew to fulfill this mitzvah which reminds us of the omer service in the Beit Hamkidash by himself making the blessing and doing the counting.