On Sunday night, while most of Israel was cleaning up from the Passover and the Seder ritual, a few families went out to the fields to harvest the barley to be used in the Omer wave offering in precisely seven weeks.
The Temple Institute, the Women of the Temple, and the United Temple Movements, organized the event. The barley was harvested from specially designated fields near Ruhama in the Negev.
As per the Biblical mandate, the harvest took place on the first night of counting the seven-week Omer period. As Passover ends, Jews begin counting 50 days until the holiday of Shavuot, when two loaves made from the barley are brought to the Temple as an offering. The leftovers of the sacrifice are kept by the priest and are listed as one of the twenty-four priestly gifts.
The sheaves of grain were brought to Mitzpeh Yericho where, on Monday, they were beaten, the chaff removed, and sifted through 13 sieves. Finally, the grains were roasted and ground into a coarse meal. Olive oil, specially prepared for temple use, was added, along with frankincense. The reenactment of the Temple ritual was overseen by Rabbi Uri Englander, Rabbi Yehoshua Landau, and Rabbi Baruch Kahane, who frequently heads these rituals and instructs the Kohanim (Jewish men of priestly descent).
The procedure for harvesting and offering up the omer is carefully described by Maimonides, a medieval Torah authority. In the days of the Temple, the Sanhedrin appointed three agents to go to a field to select barley plants and bind them together while the grain remained rooted in the soil. Then they would return to Jerusalem to bring their Passover sacrifice and conduct their seder.
The next night, when the stars came out, the three agents would return to the field with scythes and tools for harvesting the barley. They were accompanied by crowds celebrating the mitzvah. The three representatives of the Sanhedrin would harvest precisely three se’ah – approximately seven-tenths of a bushel – and bring it to the Temple.
That same night, the harvested barley was flailed and winnowed. The edible seeds were roasted and finely ground. The flour was passed through 13 sifters. One-tenth of an ephah, about 14 cups, was set aside.
The next morning, a lug, about two cups, of olive oil, and a handful of frankincense were added.
A kohen then took the omer offering to the eastern side of the Incense Altar, which was inside the Temple sanctuary. He would face the south-western corner of the main altar and wave the grain in a wave offering (korban tnufa). This offering is a prayer that God will send rain and dew in their proper times. The priest would then take one handful of the grain and burn it on the altar.
The omer offering is a grain sacrifice wave offering, brought in the temple in Jerusalem. A Kohen of the priestly caste recreated this offering at a model of the altar erected for this purpose. A handful was then scooped out and burned. In the Temple, a male sheep was brought as a burnt offering.
After this offering is brought, the new grain is permitted to be eaten. The leftover of the sacrifice is kept by the priest and is listed as one of the twenty-four priestly gifts.
Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the former spokesman for the Sanhedrin, emphasized that the harvest was an actual Mizvah (Torah commandment) and not a reenactment.
“The full-dress reenactment that took place in Mitzpeh Yericho was precisely that,” Rabbi Weiss emphasized. “This included the kohanim slaughtering the sheep and sprinkling its blood on a near-full-size model of the altar.”