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Forgetting to Count the Omer

Rav Doniel Schreiber


Translated and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass 


     Discussions and arguments about what to do if one forgets to count the omer prove to be very helpful in illuminating some of the basic concepts of the mitzva.  We will relate to three questions:


A. What if one forgets to count at night but remembers the following day?

B.  If one forgot to count at night and counted the following day without a blessing, does he continue counting the rest of the omer with a blessing?

C.  What if one forgot to count a complete day? 


A. What if one forgets to count at night but remembers the following day?


     Rishonim argue about this based on two seemingly contradictory mishnayot, one in Menachot and one in Megilla. The mishna in Menachot (71a) says that the barley sheaves for the omer sacrifice were to be cut at night, but if they were cut on the following day the sacrifice is still acceptable.  It follows, say some rishonim, that if one did not count the omer at night it can still be counted the following day.  (This of course assumes that the laws of counting the omer are parallel to the laws of cutting the omer.) A mishna in Megilla (20b), on the other hand, says without qualification that "All night is fitting for cutting the (barley for the) omer."  Taking this mishna at face value (and building on the connection between cutting and counting), we would conclude that the omer can be counted only at night.


     The rishonim offer three opinions about what one should do if he forgets to count the omer at night but remembers the next day:


1. to count during the day with a blessing (based on the mishna in Menachot) - the Behag, the Rambam (Temidin U-musafin 7:23), the Meiri (Megilla 20b), and later the Mishkenot Yaakov (OC 123);

2. not to count, since it is halakhically meaningless to count in the daytime (based on the mishna in Megilla) - Rabbeinu Tam and the Semag (Positive Mitzvot #199);

3. to count during the day without a blessing - the Mordekhai (Megilla #247, #802), Tosafot (Megilla 20b), the Raavia (Part II #526), Tashbetz (#307), Rabbeinu Yerucham (Netiv 5, Part 4), the Rosh (Pesachim, quoted by the Tur OC 489), and the Ran (Megilla 20b).  The Shulchan Arukh (OC 489:7) and a number of acharonim take this approach, and it has become the normative ruling. 


B.  If one forgot to count at night and counted the following day without a blessing, does he continue counting the rest of the omer with a blessing?


     The Terumat Ha-deshen (#37) rules that one should definitely continue to count subsequent nights with a blessing.  First of all, the mitzva of counting might apply all day and not just at night (based on the mishna in Menachot).  Even if it applies only at night, the halakha might follow the approach that every night's counting is a separate mitzva and missing one day in no way affects the counting of the rest of the omer.  This double doubt (sefeik sefeika) would favor counting with a blessing on the rest of the nights.  This is the ruling followed by most of the acharonim for instance, the Levush (OC 489:8) and the Mishneh Berura (OC 489:34).  However, the Peri Chadash (OC 489:7) argues that the rest of the counting should be done without a blessing. 


C.    What if one forgot to count a complete day? 


     Two radically different approaches were taken by different groups of geonim and rishonim.  The Behag rules that there is no need to continue counting; Rav Hai Gaon, the Ri, and the Meiri rule that the count should be continued with a blessing. 




     Their argument seems to revolve around how to explain the Torah's expression, "They should be seven COMPLETE ('temimot') weeks."  The simplest reading is that of the Behag, that no day should be missing in the count, which would render the seven weeks incomplete.  Rav Hai Gaon and the Ri must view "temimot" as referring to each individual day: every day must be complete, meaning that the count must therefore be performed at night. The Meiri has a novel approach: "temimot," making the count complete, is a separate mitzva fulfillment - beyond that of counting itself.  This results in an interesting ruling: not only if one forgets to count at night must he count during the day with a blessing (to fulfill "temimot"), but even if one totally forgets a day he counts the next night with a blessing (the standard mitzva of counting the omer). 




     At the conceptual core of the argument between the two camps, explain the Tur and the Beit Yosef (OC 489), is whether counting the omer is one mitzva (to count forty-nine days) or forty-nine separate mitzvot.  According to the Behag, it is all one mitzva, such that forgetting one day invalidates the mitzva entirely.  (The Sefer Ha-chinuch, Mitzva #306 explains the Behag likewise).  Rav Hai Gaon and the Ri see counting the omer as forty-nine independent acts.  Forgetting one day involves losing only that day's mitzva; the mitzvot of counting the rest of the days still remain in effect (and can be performed with a blessing).  




     Proof of the every-day-is-a-separate-mitzva approach, says the Tosafot Rid, is the daily blessing.  If the whole count is one long mitzva (as the Behag seems to say), then why not just make one blessing at its beginning?  The fact that we recite the blessing "Al sefirat ha-omer" (On counting the omer) every day indicates that every day is its own independent mitzva, supporting Rav Hai Gaon and the Ri. 


     How do we explain the Behag's seemingly contradictory approach?  Why do we recite the blessing every night if all of sefirat ha-omer is one long mitzva? Rav Yitzchak Zev Soloveitchik, the Griz, explains that these rishonim and geonim have a fundamental dispute regarding the blessings recited over mitzvot.  He first distinguishes between two aspects of mitzvot, the mitzva ACT (ma'aseh), and its FULFILLMENT (kiyyum).  A mitzva act is what practically must be done, and fulfillment is what has been conceptually commanded.  For many mitzvot (eating matza, taking the four species on Sukkot) these are identical, but this is not always the case.  For instance, the mitzva act of Keriat Shema is reading the words, while its fulfillment is "Kabbalat ol Malkhut Shamayim," accepting on ourselves (in our hearts) the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. 


     The two camps of rishonim and geonim have a double argument: (1) what is the kiyyum ha-mitzva of sefirat ha-omer, and (2) to which of the two aspects of the mitzva does the blessing relate. According to the Behag, there is one united fulfillment (kiyyum) of counting the omer with forty-nine acts (ma'asim) while Rav Hai Gaon and the Ri believe there are forty-nine separate fulfillments.  However, they also have a rundamental disagreement about what the blessing of the mitzva relates to: its act (ma'aseh) or its fulfillment (kiyyum).  According to Rav Hai Gaon and the Ri, the blessing of the mitzva relates to its fulfillment, so the fact that we make a blessing on every day of the omer indicates that each day's counting is a separate mitzva, a separate kiyyum.  The Behag, though, says that we make a blessing before every mitzva act; so that therefore even though we fulfill only one mitzva through all of sefirat ha-omer, we make a blessing on every day's counting. 




     There is another problem with the Behag's approach.  According to Tosafot's presentation of the Behag (Megilla 20b, s.v. Kol Halayla), if one forgot to count at night but remembered during the day, he counts during the day without a blessing and continues to count the rest of the nights with a blessing.  If, however, one forgot to count both at night and on the subsequent day, he does not continue to count with a blessing.  This seems inconsistent.  If the Behag agrees with Rabbeinu Tam that one does not fulfill the obligation of sefirat ha-omer during the day (and therefore a blessing is not recited), why should we recite a blessing on the counting on subsequent nights?  Furthermore, why count during the day at all when one forgot at night, if no mitzva is thereby fulfilled? 


     One possible but unlikely way of resolving the Behag's approach is to claim that he makes a compromise similar to one the Shulchan Arukh makes, according to a number of acharonim. The Shulchan Arukh's ruling (OC 489:7) happens to coincide with Tosafot's understanding of the Behag, namely, if one forgot at night he counts the next day without a blessing but continues to make a blessing on subsequent nights. However, if one forgot a night and a day he can no longer count with a blessing. The Peri Chadash and the Peri Megadim say that because the issue was a matter of dispute between earlier authorities, the Shulchan Arukh ruled to take both sides of the argument into account.  Therefore, if one forgot at night he should count during the day without a blessing, in accordance with those who say that counting during the day has relevance.  However, he counts on subsequent nights with a blessing, in accordance with the Terumat Ha-deshen's double doubt we mentioned earlier - perhaps counting can be performed during the daytime, and even if not, perhaps the halakha follows those who say that each day is a separate mitzva.  Applying this logic to the Behag is unlikely, says Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, because such compromise approaches are rarely taken by the rishonim and certainly the geonim.  Also, Tosafot do not present the Behag's approach as a compromise.


     Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt"l offered an explanation of the Behag that runs counter to our previous assumption that all of sefirat ha-omer is one long mitzva.  He suggests that the Behag agrees that the counting of the omer consists of forty-nine separate mitzvot.  How, then, can we explain the Behag's opinion that one does not make a blessing on subsequent nights if he forgot to count both a night and a day?  If every night is an independent mitzva, shouldn't we recite a blessing the next night regardless of whether we forgot previously?


     Rav Soloveitchik introduces another concept into the discussion: the simple act of counting.  If a person forgets one whole night and day of the omer and then picks up the count on the next night, his count was, for instance, 26, 27, 29, 30.  That is not a normal way of counting.  Even if every night of the omer is a separate mitzva, this mitzva must be considered counting, a steady progression.  Counting the omer is a mitzva act, but that mitzva act must entail simple counting!  That means that one number must follow the next without skipping.  This is the reason that the Behag says that if one forgot to count at night he should count during the following day - to make sure that his counting on the next night will be normal counting, one number after the other.  Counting during the day after missing it at night is not a fulfillment of a mitzva.  It is still relevant, though, because it allows you to retain a simple count so that the next night you are able to fulfill the mitzva.  The Torah's expression "temimot tihiyena" - "they should be complete" - teaches us that the count must be a constant progression.  The simple act of counting must be complete, without skipping.  Therefore, he explains, when one misses a day, he cannot continue counting with a blessing.  He is not counting.  When he counts normally, though, every night is its own mitzva. 




     This concept, the halakhic relevance of the simple act of counting, is helpful in explaining a number of problematic issues.


1.  Rav Saadia Gaon (quoted in the Tur OC 489) has a seemingly difficult position.  He says that if one forgets to count on the first day, he does not count with a blessing on the rest of the nights, but if any of the other nights were missed the count can continue with a blessing.  Why is the first night different than the rest?  Rav Soloveitchik explains that if one did not count the first night, then the act of counting never got off the ground.  A progression must at least have its starting point.  Rav Saadia Gaon's innovation is that once a count has begun, missing days do not destroy it.  One can fill in the blanks and consider the skipped days as implicit as long as the foundation of a count already exists. 


2.  Rav Hai Gaon (quoted in the Biur Halakha OC 489:8, s.v. Sofer) says that if one forgot a complete day's count, on the subsequent night he should say, "Yesterday's count was . . . , and today's is . . ."  What is the relevance of yesterday's count to today?  Every day's count is certainly a mitzva only on its own day!  Once again Rav Soloveitchik explains that counting yesterday's number enables one to retain the progression, the act of simple counting that is essential to the mitzva of the omer.  Saying, "Yesterday's count was . . ." is not the fulfillment of a mitzva but rather a way of insuring that there is a sequential, progressive count - thereby saving tonight's mitzva.


3.  Rashi's custom (quoted by Machzor Vitri - see Beit Yosef OC 489) was to count in late afternoon after "pelag ha-mincha" (an hour and a quarter before sunset, where an hour lasts one twelfth of daylight time) and then to repeat the  same count at night, after the stars had come out, with a blessing.  The Rashba (quoted by the Magen Avraham OC 489) found this difficult.  If the earlier count is relevant, the blessing should be pronounced; if not, why perform the earlier count at all?  Rav Soloveitchik explains Rashi's position along similar lines.  The early count is not accompanied by a blessing because Rashi rules that the true mitzva must be performed when it is actually night, after the stars come out ("tzeit ha-kokhavim"). Rashi was worried that he might not count later that night and would therefore lose his count.  The period after pelag ha-mincha has some halakhic relevance as night - one may begin Shabbat or pray Maariv after pelag ha-mincha.  Thus, if the count will be forgotten later on, the progression will still have been retained even though one did not fulfill that day's mitzva.


4.  The Minchat Chinukh (Mitzva 306) wondered whether a child who had begun counting and then became bar mitzva during the omer should continue counting with a blessing.  On the one hand, as a child, the obligation to count did not apply to him; on the other, he never skipped a day.  Rav Soloveitchik explained that the question is based on whether sefirat ha-omer is one or forty-nine mitzvot.  If one, a blessing should not be said, because the whole mitzva was not performed by one obligated in mitzvot.  If it is forty-nine mitzvot, then the mitzvot in which he is obligated after his bar mitzva can be performed completely.  Rav Soloveitchik points out that the Minchat Chinukh only asks his question about a boy who had been counting before his bar-mitzva.  Why not ask about one who had not counted at all?  If each day is a separate mitzva, he should be able to count the rest of them with a blessing.  Rather, explains Rav Soloveitchik, without having started the count even as a child, a basic component of counting, constant progression, is lacking.  How can 26, 27, 28, etc. be considered a legitimate counting of the omer?  The count of the omer begins with one and ends with forty-nine. However, if a child began before bar mitzva, the count he finishes after his bar mitzva can still be considered complete. 


5.  Based on Rav Soloveitchik's presentation, we can solve a problem the acharonim raised in understanding the Behag's approach.  If the whole count is one mitzva and one day is missed, then all of the blessings made on previous days should be considered "berakhot le-vatala," unnecessary blessings (the Chida holds that they actually are), because he ended up never having fulfilled the mitzva.  If so, why did the sages decree to say a blessing over sefirat ha-omer?  Why were they not worried about people forgetting and retroactively finding their blessings to have been for naught?  Tosafot (Menachot 66a) explain that the sages did not decree a blessing over the seven day count of a zava precisely because the count might become discontinued (if she sees blood) and thereby render her blessings unnecessary.  The acharonim contrast zava with sefirat ha-omer.  They explain that it is within one's power to finish counting the omer, but whether a zava sees blood or not is out of her control.


     According to Rav Soloveitchik, though, the question does not begin.  According to him the Behag agrees that the counting of the omer consists of forty-nine separate mitzvot.  The blessings made on those days previously counted were not in vain.  Each one was made on a separate, completed mitzva.  There is now also no need to make the assumption of the Griz in order to explain the need for a blessing on every day of the omer according to the Behag, namely, that the blessing relates to the mitzva act and not to its fulfillment.  The Behag, says Rav Soloveitchik, agrees that each day is a separate, independent fulfillment of a mitzva.


(Adapted from Daf Kesher #547, vol.6 p.192, Iyar 5756.)


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