Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Counting the Omer.....Why the Rabbi?

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

It is customary for the rabbi to lead the congregation in the counting of the omer. The origins of this practice are quite interesting. It is explained that the one leading the counting of the omer is supposed to have in mind not to discharge the mitzva on behalf of the congregation in order that they be able to perform the mitzva themselves. As such, there was some concern that the one serving as the baal tefilla, which were often unlearned individuals, might be ignorant of this halacha and accidentally discharge the mitzva of counting the omer on behalf of everyone in the congregation. As such, it evolved that the rabbi be the one to lead the counting as he would no doubt be aware of this halacha and arrange his thoughts and intentions accordingly.[1]

Click here to read moreAnother reason that the rabbi leads the counting of the omer is because one who missed a day and did not count the omer is no longer permitted to recite the blessing when counting the omer on consecutive nights. As such, in order not to embarrass the one leading the services who may have missed a day in the sefira count and would be embarrassed if this information was made public, the rabbi is designated to lead the sefirat ha'omer service, as it is unlikely that he would have missed counting a day of the omer.[2]

Finally, as with many other mitzvot which are somewhat infrequent, it is customary to honor the rabbi with leading the congregation in the mitzva. Doing so is considered a way of bestowing honor upon the local rabbi. Indeed, if the honor of leading the sefirat ha'omer was to be delegated out on a nightly basis it could conceivably lead to power and popularity struggles amongst congregants competing for the honor.

Nevertheless, there are a number of congregations where the custom is that whoever leads the ma'ariv service is the one who is to count the omer. Only in the event that the one leading ma'ariv is unable to count with a blessing, does the rabbi then do so. It is interesting to note that there does exist a custom in a minority of communities for the congregation to count first and only then for the rabbi to count.[3]

No one should be embarrassed or feel inferior for having missed counting the omer and thereby disqualified from reciting the blessing. We're all only human.


[1] Rivevot Ephraim 2:129:16, 3:542:4
[2] Rivevot Ephraim 1:334
[3] Nitei Gavriel 23:3, Kaf Hachaim 489:14, Minhag Yisrael Torah 489:4

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