Rabbi Yitzchak Neriya
Former Rosh Kollel in Montreal
In this article, we will address an issue pertaining to the period of the Omer and the mitzvah of counting the Omer. Specifically, we will explain why it is necessary to count both days and weeks. After all, would it not be sufficient to simply count the forty-nine days? What is gained by counting the weeks as well?
In Parshat Emor, the Torah says:
“You shall count for yourselves, from the day after the rest day, from the day you bring the Omer of the waving; seven weeks, they shall be complete. Until the day after the seventh rest day, you shall count fifty days.”
As these verses – the source for the mitzvah of counting the Omer – clearly indicate, there are actually two mitzvot: one to count fifty days and one to count seven weeks. [Originally, the Sefirah (literally, counting) period was designated as a time of joy, between Pesach and Shavuot – rather like a long Chol HaMoed. However, over the ages, our rejoicing was transformed into grief, and now, the Sefirah period has become synonymous with mourning.]
In Tractate Menachot, Abaye says:
“It is a mitzvah to count days and a mitzvah to count weeks.”
His statement is evidently based on our verses above, which obviously describe two counts:
1. Seven weeks
2. Fifty days
The Rishonim disagreed whether these two counts comprise two separate mitzvot or one mitzvah, which includes both counts. Although some Rishonim felt that the mitzvah of counting the weeks only applies to complete weeks (i.e. on the 7th, 14th, 21stdays, etc.), the halachah is that both days and weeks are recited daily. In any event, several poskim ruled that if a person accidentally only counted the days, he nonetheless fulfilled his obligation bediavad.
So, what is the purpose of the counting?
The Abudraham provides an interesting technical answer. According to him, the Torah established the Sefirah, because during this period, a person working in his fields is likely to forget the date of Shavuot and thereby not remember to go up to Yerushalayim to bring his bikurim.
In contrast, the Sefer HaChinuch emphasizes Sefirah’s profundity. He notes that this is the period between Yetziat Mitzrayim (the Exodus from Egypt) – which was liberation from physical slavery – and Matan Torah, which was absolute liberation and freedom. Thus, there is a deep-seated connection between the two festivals. Furthermore, the Torah does not record the actual date ofShavuot. Instead, we are simply taught that it arrives forty-nine days after Pesach. In addition, Sefirah is an expression of the purification that Bnei Yisrael underwent prior to receiving the Torah – when they rose from the forty-nine Shaarei Tumah up to the forty-nine Shaarei Taharah. Accordingly, the Chinuch opines that Sefirah is not simply a technical matter. Rather, it is a purification process that extends until Matan Torah.
One must count at night with a blessing. However, if a person forgot at night, he should count during the following day without a blessing, and then, on the next night, he may continue counting with a blessing. But if he did not remember during the day either, then he may no longer count with a blessing. In the latter case, one should be yotzei with the Chazan, who should have all those who so desire in mind.
Some Israeli batei knesset have a nice custom of announcing the number of days each morning following the tefilah.
Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer)
Shulchan Aruch and Mishneh Brura 489
Rav Lau, Yahadut Halachah LiMaaseh