Rav Moshe Aberman
Former Rosh Kollel in Chicago
Though to most people the period between Pesach and Shavuot is identified with the custom of mourning, the true identity of this period is expressed through the mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’omer. The counting of the days from Pesach to Shavuot is meant to create a bond of the miracles of Pesach with the giving of Torah that occurred on Shavuot. The mitzvah of Sfirat Haomer is a mitzvah de’oritah (of biblical origin) mentioned in Vayikrah (23/15) “U’sfartem lachem mi’mochorat ha’shabbat …ti’speru chamishim yom”, you shall count from the day following the sabbatical day …count fifty days. Later it is mentioned in Devarim (16/9) “Shivah shavuot tispor lechaVe’asita chag Shavuot”, seven weeks you shall count…and you shall celebrate Shavuot.
Chazal derive, from the different wording in these two sources, that there are two aspects to the mitzvah. One aspect is the counting of days which is derived from Vayikrah where it is stated “ti’speru chamishim yom” count fifty days. The other is the counting of weeks which is derived from Devarim, “shavuot tispor”, count weeks.
The mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’omer is correlated in the pesukim with the bringing of the Omer. “Usfartem…mi’yom haviachem et Omer Ha’tenufa”, and you shall count… from the day of bringing the Omer offering. The correlation of these two mitzvot raises the question: Is Sfirat Ha’omer dependent on bringing the Omer, or are these two independent mitzvot correlated only in their time frame? The significance of this question is, whether the mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’omer mi’deorita applies nowadays or do we count today only due to a rabbinic decree to commemorate the Mikdash.
On the question of the status of Sfirat Ha’omer today we find three different opinions in the Rishonim. Most Rishonim are of the opinion that nowadays the mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’omer is only of rabbinic origin. On the other end of the spectrum we find the Rambam (Tmidim U’musafim 7/22,24) who is of the opinion that mitzvat Sfirat Ha’omer is Mideorita even in the absence of a Mikdash and the bringing of Omer. According to Rabenu Yerucham the counting of days is mideorita at all times while the counting of weeks is mideorita at the time of the Mikdash and only of rabbinic origin today. The rational behind this distinction is that the passuk which mentions the Omer speaks of “U’sfartem…sheva shabatot”, count seven shabatot, namely weeks not days. The next passuk which states “tisperu chamishim yom”, count fifty days, does not speak of the Omer at all.
The Or Sameach (on Hilchot Temidim U’musafim) suggests another explanation for the distinction between the counting of days and weeks. Based on a Gemarah in Rosh Hashana (5a), the Or Samech establishes that the counting of days leads to Shavuot as a day of kedusha that is expressed by refraining from Melacha. On the other hand, the counting of weeks leads up to the week of Shavuot (starting with Shavuot) in which the individual’s korbanot (sacrifices) of Chag may be brought. Since the prohibition of melacha applies even after the destruction of the Mikdash, the counting of days would apply at all times as well. On the other hand the counting of weeks, which leads to the bringing of sacrifices, applies (mi’deorita) only when sacrifices are offered.
The three above Rishonim vary accordingly in their understanding of the Gemarah in Menachot (66a).We find in the Gemarah that Abayei states it is incumbent to count days and it is incumbent to count the weeks. Though this was the custom of the students of Rav Ashi, Ameimar counted days but did not count weeks, stating “it is in remembrance of the Mikdash”. (It should be noted that Abayei, Rav Ashi and Ameimar are of the Amoraic period namely after the destruction of the Mikdash.)
Most commentators understand that Ameimar’s statement “it is in remembrance of the Mikdash” applies to the entire mitzvah of Sfirat Ha’omer. That being the case, Ameimar is saying, that to fulfill the rabbinic requirement of counting in commemoration of the Mikdash, a minimal form of counting, namely only days, is sufficient. Rabenu Yerucham understands Ameimars statement as referring to the counting of weeks, commenting that since it is only in commemoration of the mikdash one can be lenient with the counting of weeks. The Rambam’s understanding is similar to that of most Rishonim, except, he is of the opinion that we accept the position of Abayei over that of Ameimar.
In practice, according to all the above opinions, we must count both days and weeks accepting the opinion of Abayei and Rav Ashi. According to the Rambam, this is done to fulfill the de’oritah requirement of counting days and weeks, while most poskim would say it is a fulfillment of a rabbinic decree. Rabenu Yerucham would explain that we count the days as a mitzvah de’oritah and include the weeks to fulfill the rabbinic decree.