Counting on Getting it Right this Year!
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
On the one hand, the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer is relatively easy – it takes only a few moments, it doesn’t cost a thing, and it takes no skill or training to perform. Yet, on the other hand, it is something that many people invariably find themselves not being able to complete from beginning to end. So much so that the poskim write that if a woman is uncertain whether or not she will be able to count the whole way through, she should begin the counting from the first night without a bracha. As many misconceptions abound regarding these halachos, it would be instructive to review some of these halachos for this year’s count. [Any discussion of a bracha being recited does not apply to Sepharadi women; they do not make a bracha on this mitzvah at all.]
The Torah tells us [Vayikra 23:15] that starting on the second day of Pesach, we are to count 7 full weeks until Shavuos. There is a well known machlokes between the Baal Halachos Gedolos, usually known as the BAHAG, on the one hand, and Tosafos on the other, regarding how to look at the mitzvah of sefirah. The Torah tells us that the counting has to be for “Sheva shabbasos temimos,” seven full weeks. [If you find this explanation complex and you would like to see what the bottom line halacha is, there is a summary at the end.]
We can see this mitzvah in one of two ways:
· Approach number one: Sefiras HaOmer is one long mitzvah. This is the understanding of the BAHAG.
When a person counts each night, he or she is counting in order to fulfill one “seven-week-long mitzvah.” We do not look at each act of counting as its own separate mitzvah. One fulfills the mitzvah only upon completing the full seven weeks of counting.
According to the BAHAG if a person skipped a day of counting, he has lost the mitzvah. Even if he continues from then on, since one day was missed, his seven week counting is not complete. According to the BAHAG, the mitzvah of sefiras Haomer is “all or nothing.” The BAHAG holds that once a person missed a night, there is no reason at all to go on counting for the rest of sefirah.
When to count according to the BAHAG – According to the BAHAG, a person can count at any point during the Hebrew calendar date (from evening through the following daylight hours). As long as a person counts each day of the 49 days, the mitzvah is completed.
· Approach number two: There are 49 separate and distinct mitzvos. This is the understanding of Tosafos.
This approach disagrees with the BAHAG and sees the mitzvah in the Torah as a commandment to count each and every night of the seven weeks. Since each night is required to be counted, each night is considered to be its own, distinct mitzvah. Over the course of the seven weeks, according to Tosafos, we actually get 49 separate mitzvos! So, according to TOSAFOS, because each night is its own mitzvah, even if a person skipped a night, he would be required to go on counting on all the later nights. Since each mitzvah stands on its own, it makes no difference what happened on other nights. Each night is a brand new mitzvah.
When to count according to Tosafos – As opposed to the BAHAG who requires the entire seven weeks of counting to be “temimos,” complete, according to Tosafos the counting of each and every night has to be complete. Meaning, one has to count at the beginning of the evening so that each day’s count is a count of a complete day. According to TOSAFOS, one is not allowed to count sefira during the day. It is too late. Once the night has already passed, it is too late to count a tamim, complete day.
So we see that based on their perspectives of the mitzvah of sefirah, there are two halachos that the BAHAG and Tosafos argue on.
1. The first is regarding what happens if a person missed a day. According to the BAHAG, if a person skipped a full day, he does not continue to count after that. According to Tosafos, he would still have to count every night until the end. In fact, according to Tosafos, even if a person missed the whole sefirah until the very last night, he still is required to count then.
2. The second halacha that the BAHAG and Tosafos disagree on is when during the day or night a person can count. According to the BAHAG, a person can fulfill the mitzvah of counting anytime of the night or following day. As long as that day of the omer was counted, it does not matter when a person counts. According to Tosafos, a person can only count at night. There is no mitzvah to count during the day at all.
Which opinion do we follow? What is the halacha if a person missed a day of sefirah? Is a person allowed to count during the day time?
The Shulchan Aruch [Orach Chaim 489:8] tells us that the halacha is as follows:
We are required to fulfill the mitzvah of counting any time either opinion holds we should count. That means, if we forget to count at night and remember the following morning, we will count. Even though Tosafos say there is no mitzvah then, in that situation we will count because according to the BAHAG there is a mitzvah to count during the day time.
Likewise, if a person missed a whole day, he will continue to count on all other nights. Even though the BAHAG holds there is no more mitzvah if a person missed a day, the halacha is that we continue to count because Tosafos holds that we should.
That is the halacha regarding counting.
When it comes to making a bracha on the counting, however, the Shulchan Aruch tells us something different. The Shulchan Aruch writes that we only make a bracha if both the BAHAG and Tosafos agree that there is a mitzvah then. This is because of the general rule of safeik brachos lihakeil – meaning, any time we have a situation where there is a question regarding the bracha, we do not say the bracha.
Take, for example, a person who did not count at night. We saw that the halacha is that he should count during the day, in accordance with the opinion of the BAHAG. But when he counts, he will not make a bracha. Likewise, if a person missed a full night and day of counting, he will continue to count every other night – like the opinion of Tosafos, but he will not make a bracha on those nights.
· Summary of the halachos:
1. A person should count every night of the Omer, in the evening, as close to nightfall as possible. If one counts anytime from sunset to dawn, she recites a bracha.
2. If one forgot to count at night, she is required to count at some point during the following day. this counting is done without a bracha. However that evening (meaning the following “day’s” count), and any evening thereafter, a bracha must be said on the counting.
3. If one missed an entire count – meaning not only was the counting not done at night with a bracha, but it was forgotten the entire next day as well, and only realized after sunset – she is required to continue counting.
It is very important to remember that even if one missed a count and is no longer making a bracha, the Shulchan Aruch maintains it is still a requirement to continue counting each subsequent night. Unfortunately, some people are discouraged by the fact that they are no longer making the bracha and drop the counting all together. What a shame! Such an easy, accessible mitzvah that we can do every day between Yitzias Mitzrayim and Kabbalas HaTorah!