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2 – The Laws of Counting the Omer

1 – The Mitzvah and its Meaning

Starting from the night of the Omer harvest, there is a mitzvah to count forty-nine days, which are seven weeks.  The Omer is harvested on the sixteenth of Nissan, which coincides with the night after the first day of Pesach.  That night, [our ancestors] would go out [to the fields], cut down stalks of barley, bring them to the Temple courtyard, thresh them, winnow them, separate out the chaff, toast the grains, grind them well, produce a tenth of an eifah of flour, sift it in thirteen sifters, mix it with a log [measure] of oil, and place upon it a kometz (around ¾ of a handful) of levonah (frankincense).  The next day, [part of the mixture] would be offered on the altar.  First, a kohen (priest) would wave it; and then he would separate a kometz [approximately ¾ of a handful, from the mixture] and burn it on the altar.  After the kometz was burnt up, everyone was permitted to eat from the new grains.

It is important to know that the holiday of Shavu’ot does not have a calendar date like the other holidays do.  For example, Pesach begins on the 15th of Nissan and Sukkot on the 15th of Tishrei.  The date on which Shavu’ot falls, however, is determined by the Omer count.  The holiday arrives after the seven-week count is completed, which is why it is called Shavu’ot – the Festival of Weeks.  This is the meaning of the verse: You shall count for yourself seven weeks; from when the sickle begins [to cut] the standing crop shall you begin to count seven weeks.  Then you shall observe the Festival of Weeks for the Lord your God (Devarim 16:9-10).  It also says, You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the “Sabbath” – from the day you bring the Omer of waving – seven weeks; they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week, you shall count fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal offering to the Lord (VaYikra 23:15-16).

This mitzvah is not incumbent upon the [Supreme] Rabbinic Court alone; rather, every Jew is commanded to count forty-nine days.  And everyone must verbalize the sefirah (count) himself.  In general, we have a rule when it comes to mitzvot that involve speech: “One who hears is as one who responds.”  Therefore, for example, one can fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amalek by hearing the reader [read Parashah Zachor].  Similarly, one can fulfill his obligation to recite a blessing over the counting of the Omer by hearing the leader’s blessing.  With regard to the counting itself, however, several poskim hold that everyone must enunciate the count himself, as it says, You shall count for yourselves (Levush, Chok Ya’akov).  True, others hold that the law of sefirah is identical to that of other speech-related mitzvot and one may therefore discharge his obligation by hearing someone else’s count (Pri Chadash, Birkei Yosef).  Nevertheless, ideally, we try to satisfy all opinions; therefore, everyone must count for himself (see M.B. 489:5 and B.H. s.v. u’mitzvah).

The foundation of this mitzvah is rooted in our national inception. Chazal explain that the Children of Israel descended to the forty-ninth level of impurity during their bondage in Egypt.  This made them unworthy of receiving the Torah and necessitated a purification process.  Therefore, HaKadosh Baruch Hu waited seven weeks to enable them to purify themselves from the defilement of Egypt and reach a state in which they could receive the Torah (based on Zohar, Emor 97).  The sefirah also expresses our anticipation for the giving of the Torah.  The Midrash relates that when Moshe told the Jews that after leaving Egypt they would serve God on Mount Sinai and receive the Torah, they asked, “When will this service take place?”  Moshe answered, “Fifty days later.”  Then, due to their great love [for HaShem], they counted every day and said, “Behold, one day has passed; two days have passed,” and so on.  On account of their love and anticipation for the Torah, it seemed to them as a long time (Shibolei HaLeket 236).

Thus, Sefirat HaOmer expresses our yearning for that great day, the day on which HaShem gave us the Torah, while we simultaneously undergo a process of purification in all the forty-nine levels of which man is comprised.  The purer and “cleaner” one is, the more he will be able to absorb the Torah’s light.  In this way, we prepare ourselves every year for the receiving of the Torah by way of the Omer count (see the end of halachah 3, below).

2 – The Process of Ascension from Nationalism to Spirituality

By counting the Omer, we draw a line that continuously ascends from Pesach to Shavu’ot.  The holiday of Pesach represents Israel’s national side, for the Exodus from Egypt revealed Israel’s uniqueness, in that HaShem chose us from among all the other nations, despite the fact that we were sunken in the forty-nine levels of impurity.  The holiday of Shavu’ot, on the other hand, represents Israel’s spiritual side, for that is when we reached the spiritual pinnacle of receiving the Torah.  On Pesach, we began the process of liberation from the yoke of Egypt, and on Shavu’ot we completed our freedom from the yoke of desire and human perceptions, receiving a heavenly Torah, which makes all those who engage in it truly free (Avot 6:2).

Another angle:  On the holiday of Pesach, the simple, natural faith that is hidden in the soul of every Jew, and remained hidden in the Jewish people’s [collective soul] even when they were enslaved in Egypt, comes to the fore.  On Shavu’ot, however, we rise to a more developed faith, one that is clarified and expanded by virtue of the Torah.  Natural faith is very powerful, and it is the foundation of life, but it is not capable of guiding and perfecting life.  By way of the Torah and its commandments, we are able to link all aspects of our lives – those related to thought, emotions, and actions – to faith.

It comes out, then, that by counting the Omer we gradually elevate ourselves in two ways, ascending from a level of nationalism to that of spirituality and from natural faith to a sophisticated faith based on Torah and mitzvot.

It is impossible to reach Shavu’ot without Pesach.  Once we recognize Israel’s unique nature (segulah), we can rise up [and attain] the Torah.  Once [we realize that] Israel is the chosen nation, as the Exodus from Egypt demonstrated, we can receive the Torah, as we say in the blessing over the Torah, “[Blessed are You, O Lord…] Who has chosen us from all the nations,” and subsequently “has given us His Torah.”  Similarly, it is impossible to absorb the complex, developed faith that is assimilated in the intellect without first discovering the simple, natural faith.  Therefore, it is very important to connect the holiday of Pesach to that of Shavu’ot.  The counting of the Omer is the link and the ladder that connects these two holidays.[1]

[1]. This idea is alluded to in the fact that we are commanded to count “from the day you bring the Omer of waving” (VaYikra 23:15).  The Omer is a unique offering made from barley, which is animal food.  This represents the physical-national side of Israel.  Before we receive the Torah and attain knowledge of the Divine, we are like animals, which have no intellect.  When we finish counting fifty days and are privileged to receive the Torah and reach a lofty spiritual state, then, You shall offer a new meal-offering to the Lord (ibid. 23:16).  Similarly, matzah is bread of affliction, and the Zohar teaches that it is bread of faith, that is, natural faith.  The new meal-offering brought on Shavu’ot is made of leavened wheat; it is rich and developed, alluding to the complete revelation of faith in every aspect of this world.  On Pesach, the revelation of natural faith occurs through limitation – the restriction against leavened bread.  On Shavu’ot, however, it occurs through expansion (see [Rav Kook’s] Orot Yisrael 8:1).

Perhaps it is possible to say that this is the basis of the dispute whether counting the Omer today is a Biblical or Rabbinic mitzvah (below, 2:4).  If the purpose of the count is to raise ourselves from simple faith to intellectual faith, by way of Torah study, then it is Biblically ordained 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 leavened bread (see Peninei Halachah, Pesach 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 the matter depends on [the existence of] the Holy Temple, which connects heaven and earth.  Therefore, as long as we are unable to offer the Omer, which represents the material forces and which enables us to rise to [the level needed to] offer the Two Loaves [on Shavu’ot], we cannot completely reveal faith in all areas of life.  Therefore, the counting is only Rabbinically mandated.

3 – The Mechanics of Counting

Before counting the Omer, one recites the following blessing: “Blessed are you, O Lord, our God, King of the Universe, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us regarding the counting of the Omer.”  Both the blessing and the counting are said, le’chatchilah, in a standing position.  If one said them while sitting, he has nonetheless fulfilled his obligation (Sh.A. 489:1).[2]

There are two components to the count – counting the days and counting the weeks, as it says, You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the “Sabbath” – from the day you bring the Omer of waving – seven weeks; they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week, you shall count fifty days (VaYikra 23:15-16).

Therefore, one must mention the tally of days and weeks when counting the Omer (Menachot 61a).  For example, on the seventh day, one says, “Today is seven days, which are one week, [of the Omer],” and on the fourteenth day, one says, “Today is fourteen days, which are two weeks.”  We mention the number of days and weeks even in the middle of a week.  For example, on the tenth day, we say, “Today is ten days, which are one week and three days.”[3]

There are several versions of the text of the Omer count.  Some say, laOmer (“of the Omer”), while others say baOmer (“in the Omer”).  Some say, “Today is fourteen days of/in the Omer, which are two weeks,” and some say, “Today is fourteen days, which are two weeks, of/in the Omer.”  One fulfills his obligation no matter which version he uses.  The custom is to add the LeSheim Yichud paragraph before counting, as well as various other prayers afterwards, but one is not obligated to do so.  The main components are the actual counting and the blessing preceding it.

The number seven alludes to a complete phenomenon, for the world was created in seven days.  Indeed, every physical entity has six sides – four sides, a top, and a bottom – plus a seventh aspect, its inner core.  Man, as well, has seven sides, which is why it takes seven days to go from a state of impurity to one of purity.  For seven days, a person prepares all of his aspects to make this transformation.

The same is true of purifying oneself for sacred endeavors in this world, like eating terumah and sacrificial foods, as well as a woman’s purification process for her husband.  However, in order to absorb God’s Torah, whose lofty stature belongs to the supernal worlds, we need to count much deeper – seven weeks instead of seven days.  In this count, each one of the seven numbers appears in all of its seven facets.  This way, our purification in advance of the giving of the Torah is complete.  Every aspect of our character undergoes refinement and expresses its yearning and anticipation for the receiving of the Torah.

[2]. The Rishonim find a support for this in the verse From when the sickle begins [to cut] the standing crop (בקמה) shall you begin to count seven weeks (Devarim 16:9) – do not read בקמה, rather בקימה (while standing).  The author of Sefer HaEshkol (Hilchot Pesach 159:1) writes that we do not recite the Shehechiyanu blessing on the Omer count because [we count] in anticipation of the holiday of Shavu’ot, and the Shehechiyanu recited on Shavu’ot covers the count as well.  The Maharil suggests that it is because the Omer count is [only] a preliminary mitzvah, which culminates on Shavu’ot.  The Radvaz (4:256), Maharsham (1:213), and Rav Poalim (3, O.C. 32) offer these reasons, as well.  The Maharil adds that we are worried that one may forget to count one day and forfeit the entire count.  How, then, can [such a person] recite the Shehechiyanu blessing at the beginning?  The author of Kol Bo (145) explains that [we omit the blessing] because the mitzvah is [only] Rabbinic nowadays.  The Rashba writes in his Responsa (1:126) that [Shehechiyanu is recited only if the mitzvah gives one pleasure].  The lulav is taken [to express] joy; the shofar is [blown] as a remembrance; but the Omer count is merely a preparatory act, which provides no pleasure.  Furthermore, we perform it today in mournful commemoration of the Temple’s destruction.  Rabbeinu Yerucham gives the same reason, quoting the Razah.
[3]. At the completion of every week, one is obligated to mention the number of days and weeks, e.g., “Today is seven days, which are one week.”  [There is a dispute,] however, regarding the middle of a week, like the eighth day.  According to the Razah and other Rishonim, one must count only the days and say, “Today is eight days.”  Rabbi Efrayim holds that one must count only the weeks and say, “Today is one week and one day.”  According to the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh, one enumerates both counts every day, and that is our custom, as the Shulchan Aruch writes (489:1).If, at the end of a week, one forgets to count the days, he does not discharge his obligation, even be’di’avad, and he must re-count with a blessing.  And if he fails to rectify his mistake that day, he must count without a blessing from then on.  If, at the end of a week, one forgets to count the weeks, some say he fulfills his obligation, be’di’avad, while others say he does not.  In the middle of a week, however, like the eighth day, if one says merely, “Today is eight days,” he fulfills his obligation, be’di’avad.  And if he says, “Today is one week and one day,” some maintain that he fulfills his obligation.  In all of these scenarios, one should re-count properly without a blessing, but if he failed to do so that day, he counts the next day with a blessing (based on M.B. 489:7, Sha’ar HaTziyun 9, 19, and halachah 2.8, below).

4 – The Status of the Mitzvah after the Temple’s Destruction

A fundamental question regarding the Omer count is whether the mitzvah is Biblical or Rabbinic ever since the Holy Temple was destroyed.  The verse says, You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the “Sabbath” – from the day you bring the Omer of waving – seven weeks; they shall be complete. (VaYikra 23:15).

According to the Rosh, Ran, and many other Rishonim, the Biblical command to count the Omer is in effect only when we offer the Omer of waving on the sixteenth of Nissan, in the Temple.  Today, however, when we do not bring this offering, the mitzvah is only Rabbinically ordained.  The Rabbis enacted it in commemoration of the Omer count that took place when the Temple stood.  This is why we are accustomed to praying for the rebuilding of the Temple after we finish counting.  After all, when the Temple is rebuilt, we will [once again] perform the mitzvah on a Biblical level, and not just as a Rabbinic decree.

The Rambam and the Ra’avyah believe that the Omer offering is mentioned [in the verse] only to teach us the date on which the Omer count begins.  It is not a necessary condition [for the fulfillment of the mitzvah].  Therefore, we are commanded from the Torah to count the Omer even today when the Temple is in ruins and we are unable to bring the Omer offering.

The practical implication of this halachah concerns situations of doubt.  For example, if one counts during the twilight period – that is, between sunset and the emergence of [three medium-sized] stars – it is questionable whether he fulfills the mitzvah of counting.  If we consider twilight day, he does not fulfill his obligation, because the time for tomorrow’s count did not yet arrive.  If we consider it night, however, he fulfills his obligation.  The Aruch HaShulchan (489:2) and the majority of poskim hold that one who counts during twilight fulfills his obligation, because, in their opinion, the Omer count is a Rabbinic mitzvah nowadays, and we rule leniently when a doubt arises [regarding Rabbinic laws].  However, many Acharonim write that it is proper to act strictly and recount, without a blessing, after the emergence of the stars, in order to fulfill the mitzvah even according to those who hold that the Omer count is a Biblical mitzvah nowadays, which requires one to act strictly in cases of doubt (Eliyah Rabbah; M.B. 489:15; B.H. 489:1, s.v. lispor ha’omer).

5 – When to Count

The Omer count begins on the night of the sixteenth of Nissan, as it says, You shall count for yourself seven weeks; from when the sickle begins [to cut] the standing crop shall you begin to count seven weeks (Devarim 16:9-10).  “From when the sickle begins [to cut] the standing crop” refers to the cutting of the Omer, for the first harvest of the yearly produce is designated for the Omer offering.  And the Omer is harvested on the night after the first day of Pesach, which is the sixteenth of Nissan.  That is when the count begins.

One must count at night, because the Torah says about the Omer count, Seven weeks; they shall be complete (VaYikra 23:15), meaning whole.  As is well known, a calendar day consists of night and day, and if we want to include all the nights and days of the seven weeks, we must start counting on the night of the sixteenth of Nissan (Menachot 66a).  And in order to include all [twenty-four] hours of the day, it is worthy to count at the beginning of the night.  People are careful about this especially at the beginning of the count, on the first night, so that the count will include every hour of the seven weeks.  Nonetheless, it is meritorious to count at the beginning of the night every night, so that each day’s count will be whole and will include the entire 24-hour period.

Even though it is best to count at the beginning of the night, one is not obligated to do so.  Therefore, one who needs to pray Ma’ariv must do so before counting the Omer.  After all, the rule is that more frequent mitzvot take precedence over less frequent ones, and the mitzvot of reading the Shema and praying Ma’ariv are in practice all year round, making them more frequent than the Omer count (Chok Natan; see B.H. 489:1, s.v. achar).[4]

[4]. It seems that the Rambam and the Ran hold that it makes no difference when one counts at night.  However, our Sages say regarding all mitzvot, “The zealous do mitzvot promptly.”  According to Tosafot and the Rosh, it is better to count at the beginning of the night, because then the count is more complete.  The Shulchan Aruch (489:1) rules that one should count at the beginning of the night.  The Mishnah Berurah (2) and Kaf HaChayim (12) agree.  Nevertheless, we pray Ma’ariv first, because the mitzvot of reading the Shema and praying Shemoneh Esrei are more frequent (Chok Ya’akov).  However, the author of Mor U’Ketzi’ah holds that one should count first, because the time for counting is at the very beginning of the night, while Shema and Shemoneh Esrei can be delayed, le’chatchilah, for a half-hour.  In practice, we count after the Ma’ariv prayers (B.H. 489:1), because counting at the beginning of the night is not an obligation, just an embellishment, for as long as one counts at night, he fulfills “They shall be complete.”  Therefore, we give precedence to Shema and Shemoneh Esrei, which are more frequent.

In order to avoid delaying the count, many [poskim] suggest that we count immediately after the “TitkabelKaddish, with which we end the Amidah (standing prayer), before Aleinu, which is an additional prayer.  This is found in the Mishnah Berurah (489:2) and Nahar Mitzrayim, and most Jews follow this custom, including all Ashkenazim and most Jews who come from North Africa.  Nonetheless, many Jews who pray according to the Sefardic version of prayer count after Aleinu, in order to first finish everything that is usually said in the Ma’ariv service.

6 – Until When Can One Count?

One who is accustomed to praying Ma’ariv at a late hour all year round, should [nonetheless] count after his regular prayer service.  If he counts by himself at the beginning of the night, he is liable to make a mistake or forget altogether.  Moreover, there is an advantage to doing the mitzvah together with a congregation.

However, one who cannot – due to time constraints – pray Ma’ariv [with a minyan] after the stars emerge, but intends to pray on his own later on, should preferably count the Omer right after the stars emerge, in order to fulfill the mitzvah as soon as possible.  Furthermore, there is reason to suspect that he might forget to count after he prays Ma’ariv by himself.[5]

There is a dispute among the Rishonim whether one who forgets to count at night can make it up during the day.  The Torah indicates that the time for counting the Omer depends on the time of the Omer harvest, as it says, From when the sickle begins [to cut] the standing crop shall you begin to count seven weeks (Devarim 16:9-10).  According to the Behag (the author of Halachot Gedolot), the halachah follows the opinion cited in Tractate Menachot (71a) that if [the harvester] fails to cut down the Omer at night, he may, be’di’avad, cut it down the next day.  Subsequently, the same is true of the Omer count: if one forgets to count at night, he may, be’di’avad, count the next day.  Rabbeinu Tam, however, holds that the halachah follows the opinion stated in Tractate Megillah (20b, 21a) that the mitzvah of harvesting the Omer applies at night alone.  Therefore, one who forgets to count at night cannot make it up the next day.  In practice, the accepted halachah is that one who forgets to count at night should count during the day without a blessing.  On the one hand, we give credence to the opinion that says that one may count during the day.  But we omit the blessing, in order not to possibly say a blessing in vain (Sh.A., O.C. 489:7).  Each subsequent night, he may count with a blessing (Terumat HaDeshen, M.B. 489:34).

[5]. If one is accustomed to praying later, with a minyan, there is reason to suspect that he might sometimes forget to count on his own [at the beginning of the night], and when the congregation counts, he will think that he already counted and will, thus, miss a day.  There is also concern that he will forget that he already counted and will, therefore, count again, reciting a blessing for no reason.  Furthermore, there is merit in counting with a minyan, as the Shelah writes.  See also Iggrot Moshe, O.C. 4:99; Piskei Teshuvot 2; and Hilchot Chag BeChag 3:3.

There is no reason to elaborate on the issue of eating before counting the Omer, because it is, anyway, forbidden to eat before praying.  Therefore, if it is permissible to eat before prayers – when there is something to remind him, as I explain in Peninei Halachah, Tefillah 25:9 – it is also permissible to eat before counting the Omer.

7 – One Who forgets to Count an Entire Day

The Rishonim debate [the nature of] the Omer count.  According to the Behag, it is one long mitzvah stretching from Pesach to Shavu’ot, as it says, Seven weeks; they shall be complete (VaYikra 23:15).  Therefore, one who forgets to count one day forfeits the mitzvah and may not count thereafter.  However, most poskim maintain that each night’s count is a separate mitzvah.  Hence, one who forgets to count one day loses that day’s mitzvah alone, and he must continue counting the next day, with a blessing (Tosafot, Rosh, Ritva, and more).

In practice, the halachic authorities have determined that even if one forgets to count an entire day, he must continue counting thereafter, in accordance with the majority opinion (that each day stands alone).  However, he counts without a blessing, in deference to the opinion that holds that the entire count is one mitzvah (and when he misses a day, he forfeits the mitzvah).  Thus, in order not to, possibly, recite a blessing in vain, he counts each subsequent day without a blessing (Sh.A. 489:8).

And in order not to forfeit the blessing, one who misses a day must have in mind to fulfill his obligation by way of hearing the cantor’s blessing.[6]

This halachah demonstrates the tension that accompanies the Omer count.  After all, one who skips a day breaks, to a certain degree, the chain that connects the holiday of Pesach to that of Shavu’ot, and forfeits the blessing.  It is very important to connect Pesach, which represents holy Jewish nationalism, with Shavu’ot, the day we received the Torah, for Torah cannot exist without the Jewish people and the Jewish people cannot exist without Torah.

[6]. Further elaboration on this topic:  According to the Behag, one who forgets to count a day forfeits the mitzvah, because his count lacks completeness.  Rav Sa’adya Gaon holds that only one who forgets to count the first day forfeits the mitzvah, while one who skips any other day may continue counting with a blessing.  Tosafot (Menachot 66a) write that the Behag’s opinion is puzzling, [stating] instead that every day is a separate mitzvah.  This is also the opinion of the Ri, Rosh, Ritva, and others.  The Tur writes that Rav Hai Gaon also agrees.  In addition, R. Yitzchak (“Ritz”) Giat writes in the name of Rav Hai Gaon that one who misses a day should count the appropriate number the next day and then make up for the missed count by saying, “And yesterday was so-and-so.”  In practice, we take the Behag’s opinion into account.  Therefore, one who forgets to count a day continues counting without a blessing; so writes the Shulchan Aruch (489:8).  However, some Acharonim rule like the majority of Geonim and Rishonim that one who forgets can continue counting with a blessing.  This is found in She’arim Metzuyanim BeHalachah 120:7.  Still, as mentioned above, most Acharonim hold that one should continue counting without a blessing.

One could ask: why do we say a blessing every day according to the Behag?  We are forced to say that even he admits that each day constitutes a separate mitzvah.  It’s just that skipping a day mars the completeness of the count, making it impossible to continue counting.  The Chida writes (Avodat HaKodesh 7:217) that one who knows [in advance] that he will miss a day – due to some uncontrollable circumstance – should omit the blessing from the start, because, according to the Behag, all of his blessings will be in vain.  Most poskim, however, rule that he should count with a blessing until that day, because even the Behag (with whom the vast majority of Rishonim disagree) holds that the blessings made prior to the omission are not in vain (Kin’at Sofrim, Rav Poalim O.C. 3:32).  This cannot be compared to a zavah’s count, about which Tosafot explain that no blessing is recited because if her count is nullified [by seeing new blood] the entire count is invalidated.  [The difference being] that even if one forgets to count a day, the count continues and Shavu’ot arrives on the fiftieth day.  Therefore, all the days that he counted without interruption were counted properly and the blessings [were warranted].  Only after missing a day, when the person himself will no longer count successively, does the Behag hold that [the blessing should be omitted because] the count is not “complete.”  See Piskei Teshuvot 489:22.

One who forgot to count a day and needs to lead the prayers (because he has a yahrtzeit, for example) should ask someone else to recite the blessing and count [out loud], even though this will cause him discomfort [seeing that everyone will realize that he missed a day].  Others claim that in order to avoid embarrassment, one may rely on the majority of poskim who maintain that even one who forgets a day is obligated to count and may [even] recite the blessing on behalf of others.  See Piskei Teshuvot 489:20.

8 – When in Doubt, Continue Counting with a Blessing

One who is unsure whether he neglected to count one day may continue counting with a blessing, because we worry about the opinion that says that one cannot continue counting with a blessing only when one is certain that he missed a day.

Similarly, one who forgets to count at night but remembers and counts during the course of the day counts with a blessing on all subsequent nights.  Even though there are those who hold that one does not discharge one’s obligation by counting during the day, [we follow] those who maintain that, be’di’avad, one who counts during the day fulfills the mitzvah.[7]

The law of a young boy who becomes bar mitzvah in the middle of the sefirah period is questionable.  Some poskim hold that even if the boy is careful to count every day, he cannot continue counting with a blessing, because the days he counted before becoming bar mitzvah are not considered one continuum with the days he will count after reaching adulthood.  According to most poskim, however, if the boy is careful to count every day before his bar mitzvah, his counting is considered complete and he may continue counting with a blessing.  This is the prevalent custom.[8]

A gentile who converts to Judaism during the sefirah period counts without a blessing, because he did not count at all before his conversion.

[7]. The Terumat HaDeshen (1:37) writes that even though we customarily follow the Behag’s opinion, that is true only when one is certain that he forgot to count.  In a case of doubt, however, we follow the viewpoint of the majority of poskim.  His reasoning:  Some authorities hold that counting the Omer is a Biblical obligation.  Therefore, when a doubt arises, one must act stringently, continue to count, and subsequently recite the blessing.  (The Terumat HaDeshen adds another rationale: saying a blessing in vain is [only] a Rabbinic prohibition.  However, even the Shulchan Aruch, who [in O.C. 215:4] leans towards the opinion that holds that reciting a blessing in vain is forbidden by the Torah, rules [here, in 489:8] in accordance with the Terumat HaDeshen’s opinion.)

According to most poskim, even if one remembers to count only during the twilight period of the day, he may count the following nights with a blessing.  There are two reasons to doubt that one has fulfilled his obligation in such a case:  Some authorities hold that counting during the day is invalid.  And even if we say that one discharges his obligation by counting during the day, it is uncertain whether twilight is part of the day or the beginning of the next night.  Nevertheless, since it is not definite that the person missed a day, he can rely on the majority of poskim who hold that each day is a separate mitzvah and continue counting with a blessing.  Furthermore, according to Rabbeinu Tam, our definition of twilight is definitely daytime, and the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 261:2) codifies this as halachah.  Now, even though we do not follow this ruling, we may use it in a case of doubt in order to rule leniently.  There are those who rule strictly, such as K.H.C. 489:83, but as we stated above, most poskim hold that [one who counts during twilight] may continue counting with a blessing.  This is found in Sho’el U’Meishiv, Yabi’a Omer (vol. 4, O.C. 43), and Hilchot Chag BeChag 6:7.

[8]. The authors of Birkei Yosef, Chiddushei HaRim, Yabi’a Omer (3:28), and others write that the boy cannot continue counting with a blessing after his bar mitzvah.  However, most poskim – including Ketav Sofer (99), Aruch HaShulchan (489:15), Kaf HaChayim (94), Har Tzvi (vol. 2, 76), and Or LeTziyon (vol. 1, 95) – hold that he may continue counting with a blessing, and this is the prevalent custom.  They give several reasons for this:  Since [the Rabbis] obligate a young boy to count for chinuch purposes [i.e., in order to educate him in the performance of mitzvot], his previous counting is significant [and can join with] his post-bar-mitzvah counting.  Moreover, even after his bar mitzvah, he will be obligated to count, at the very least, from a chinuch standpoint.  Furthermore, since he passed the age of twelve, he is considered “mufla samuch l’ish” (a youngster close to adulthood who knows to Whom he takes an oath), whose oaths are Biblically binding.  And since he accustomed himself to counting the Omer, it is as if he took an oath [to count], and he is thereby obligated to do so by Torah law.  Regarding the “completeness” of the count: since he actually counted, why shouldn’t it be considered complete, even though he wasn’t originally obligated to the same degree that he is now?  And even if it is unclear whether his counting as a minor is significant enough, we already learned that whenever there is a doubt, one may continue counting with a blessing.  See Hilchot Chag BeChag 2:8.

9 – Women and the Omer Count

Based on the famous rule that women are exempt from all time-bound mitzvot, women are exempt from the mitzvah of counting the Omer, for it is dependant on time (see Peninei Halachah, Tefillat Nashim, chap. 3, for the logic behind this rule).

However, a woman who so desires may perform time-bound mitzvot, and she receives credit for doing so.  We thus find that women are accustomed to hearing the shofar on Rosh HaShanah and taking a lulav and sitting in a sukkah [on Sukkot].  But the poskim debate the issue of the blessing.  According to the author of Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 589:6), women do not make blessings over such mitzvot, and this is the prevalent custom among most Sefardic women.

The Ashkenazi custom follows the Rama’s opinion, that women who perform time-bound mitzvot are permitted to recite the blessing (see Tefillat Nashim 2:8).  However, some Ashkenazi poskim rule that women should not recite a blessing over the Omer count because they do not pray [Ma’ariv] in the synagogue and are therefore more likely to miss a day.  As we learned above, one who forgets to count a day is not allowed to continue counting with a blessing, and perhaps a particular woman will not realize that she forgot to count and will continue counting with a blessing (M.B. 489:3).  Others say that women shouldn’t count the Omer for kabbalistic reasons (Rav Poalim, part 1, end of 10, 12).  On the other hand, still others claim that the Askenazi custom is for women to count (M.A. 489:1).

Therefore, a woman who knows that she can make it through the entire count, and even if she misses a day, she knows to continue counting without a blessing, may count with a blessing, according to Ashkenazi practice.  This is especially true regarding a woman who prays Ma’ariv every evening or whose family members are in the habit of reminding her to count.  She may count with a blessing, if she is Ashkenazi and so desires, because the chances of her forgetting to count are relatively small.

10 – Specific Laws Regarding the Mitzvah of Counting

If someone asks his friend, at a time when it is permissible to count, “What is today’s Omer count?” the friend should not answer, “Today is day such-and-such in the Omer,” unless he has already counted with a blessing.  After all, if he says this, he will already fulfill his obligation to count and will be unable to recite a blessing over that day’s count.  Rather, one should answer, “Yesterday was day such-and-such in the Omer” (Sh.A. 489:4).

If one tells his friend which day it is in the Omer while having specific intent not to fulfill his obligation, he may count later on with a blessing.  If the day’s count is made up of both days and weeks [i.e., after day six] and one tells his friend the number of days [without mentioning the weeks], he may count later on, be’di’avad, with a blessing.  Since he did not count in the normal fashion, mentioning both the days and the weeks, he has made it clear that he did not intend on discharging his obligation of the mitzvah with this response (M.B. 489:22).

Before reciting the blessing, one should remind himself mentally what day it is in the Omer (see Sh.A. 489:6, Sha’ar HaTziyun 37).  If someone in unsure whether today is day nine or ten [for example], and there is no one available to ask, he should say both numbers, and thus fulfill his obligation either way.  However, the poskim debate whether or not to recite the blessing [in such a case].  Some say that one may recite a blessing only over a clear and definite count.  Others maintain that one may recite a blessing over a doubtful count, because the person knows for sure that one of the numbers is correct (see Piskei Teshuvot 489:17).  In practice, the blessing should be omitted since there is a doubt regarding the matter.

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