Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Counting the Sefira

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

It seems that it is primarily the Rambam who is of the opinion that the Sefirat Ha’omer count is required by Torah law today, despite the fact that we lack a functioning Temple in Jerusalem. Most other authorities rule that Sefirat Ha’omer has the status of a rabbinical mitzva. There’s even a third opinion that tries to reconcile this dispute and suggests that the counting of the days is a biblical mitzva, while the counting of the weeks is a rabbinical one.[1]

In the event that one counted only the days of the Omer and made no mention of the weeks, one still fulfills the requirement to count.[2] One does not fulfill the mitzva, however, if one only counted the weeks.[3] It is commendable to repeat to oneself the day's Sefira count numerous times throughout the day.[4]In most communities that Chazzan or Rabbi is the first one to recite the blessing and count out loud, while in others it is the congregation that counts first and only then the Chazzan or Rabbi.[5] One who arrives late for Ma'ariv should count the Sefira along with the congregation and only then begin to daven Ma'ariv.[6]

Click here to read moreIt is a matter of dispute as to when those in the Diaspora who have to count the first Sefira as well as hold a second Seder should count on the first night. Some authorities suggest counting the Sefira after Ma'ariv before the Seder, while others suggest doing so only after the Seder.[7] It is noted that it is somewhat contradictory to count the Sefira after Ma'ariv which essentially declares that the first day of Pesach is over and then hurry home to go conduct a Seder as if it is the first night of Pesach all over again. Notwithstanding the apparent contradiction, common custom is to count the Sefira at Ma'ariv,[8] though one will find Haggadas that print the counting of the Sefira towards the end of the evening.[9] Furthering the case that one should count after the Seder, it is noted that in the Beit Hamikdash it is likely that everyone counted late the first night anyways. This is because they were required to wait for the holiday to end in order to cut the Omer offering. Both approaches are grounded in halacha and kabbala.[10]

Although one often recites a "Shehecheyanu" blessing before performing an infrequent mitzva, a Shehecheyanu is not recited before counting the Sefirat Ha'omer for the first time. Among the reasons cited for this oddity, is that the Shehecheyanu blessing is only recited prior to performing an infrequent mitzva that is both an action and pleasurable. The counting of the Sefira is not deemed a pleasurable mitzva per se, and speaking/counting is not considered an "activity" in halacha.[11] Some suggest that the Shehecheyanu recited at the start of Pesach serves as the Shehecheyanu for Sefirat Ha'omer as well.[12]

While women are permitted to count the Sefira if they choose to do so,[13] they are not obligated to count and in fact, many authorities encourage them not to do so for Kabbalistic reasons.[14] After one has counted the Sefira, one should recite a prayer that God speedily rebuild the Beit Hamikdash.[15] Some individuals recite a "L'shem Yichud" before counting Sefira and some have the custom to recite the Scriptural passages dealing with the Omer offering as well.[16]

One who is unsure whether to count 'x' or 'y' knowing that one of them is right and one is wrong, should count them both without reciting a blessing and continue this way until one has become sure of the day's true count. One can continue counting thereafter with a blessing, as a day has not truly been missed.[17] In Syrian and Lebanese communities there is a custom to open the Aron Kodesh when counting the Sefira in order that it serve as a reminder that we are counting down (up?) to "Kabbalat Hatorah". There is also a Sefardic custom to ensure that one is holding a grain of salt when counting the Sefira each night. This salt should then be kept in one's pocket or wallet all year long as a segula for success.[18]

NEXT WEEK: "Restrictions During Sefira". Please send me your lesser-known and obscure sources as well as anecdotes for inclusion. rabbiari@hotmail.com


[1] Rabbeinu Yerucham.
[2] Mishna Berura 489:7
[3] Mishna Berura 489:7, though some poskim suggest that if one counted only the weeks at a full week (i.e. "Today is three weeks of the Omer) then one discharges one's obligation.
[4] Minhag Yisrael Torah 589:5
[5] Nitei Gavriel 23:3, Kaf Hachaim 489:14, Minhag Yisrael Torah 489:4
[6] Mitei Gavriel 23:6
[7] Minhag Yisrael Torah 489:2
[8] O.C. 589:2
[9] See Kaf Hachaim 489:2 who resolves the apparent contradiction
[10] Kaf Hachaim 489:6, Minhag Yisrael Torah 489:1
[11] Be'er Heitiv 489:5
[12] Kaf Hachaim 489:2
[13] Mishna Berura 489:3
[14] Magen Avraham 489, Rav Pealim 1:12. See also Minhag Yisrael Torah 489:2
[15] Mishna Berura 489:10
[16] Kaf Hachaim 489:7. See there for elaborate prayers to be recited before and after counting. Highly recommended for the kabbalistically inclined.
[17] Piskei Teshuvot 489:17
[18] Nitei Gavriel 23:9

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