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Sefirat HaOmer: Miscellaneous Issues

Translated by David Silverberg
A.   Shulchan Arukh 489:5: Optimally, one must know the number day to be counted while he recites the berakha.  If, however, one does not, he has nevertheless fulfilled his obligation.
B.   One who counts only the weeks, without mentioning the days, has not fulfilled his obligation (Mishna Berura 489:7).  By contrast, one who says, "Today is X weeks and X days" has fulfilled his obligation (Mishna Berura 9).
C.   If one counted only the days, he must count again, mentioning both days and weeks.  If, however, he failed to do so until the day's end, he may nevertheless continue counting with a berakha (Mishna Berura 7).
  1. What to do when asked by a friend regarding the number day in the omer (before having counted oneself):
     The Avudraham (Hilkhot Sefirat Ha-omer, p. 242) writes that in such a situation one should respond by informing his friend of the previous day's count; the Shulchan Arukh adopts this ruling.  The reason given is that if he replies directly, he will thereby fulfill his obligation and may therefore no longer count with a berakha.
     The Acharonim questioned this ruling in light of the Shulchan Arukh's own conclusion regarding the mitzva of shema (60:4) that "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana" - the performance of mitzvot requires specific intention therefor.  Therefore, why may one not inform his questioner of that day's count?  After all, he has no intention to perform the mitzva of counting the omer by simply providing this information. 
     The Taz answers that although the Shulchan Arukh rules that a mitzva performance requires specific intent, he nevertheless felt that optimally one should not inform another of the count even without intention for the mitzva.  Thus, if he did reply directly, he may nevertheless count with a berakha, since his lack of intent for the mitzva rendered his response halakhically meaningless insofar as sefirat ha-omer is concerned.
     The Magen Avraham answers by qualifying the Shulchan Arukh's ruling regarding the need for intent.  He adopts the "mitzvot tzerikhot kavana" requirement only as a stringency, not when it yields a leniency.  In our case, requiring intent for the performance of a mitzva allows one to continue counting with a berakha.  Since "safek berakhot le-hakel" (we do not recite berakhot whose requirement is uncertain), the Shulchan Arukh took into account the opposing view, which does not require intent for the performance of mitzvot and would thus not allow for further counting with a berakha. 
     The Peri Chadash distinguishes between Biblically and rabbinically ordained obligations.  Regarding shema and other mitzvot "de-oraita" (mandated by Torah law), the Shulchan Arukh views intent as indispensable for the fulfillment of one's obligation.  When it comes to rabbinic decrees, such as sefirat ha-omer in the post-Temple era, he rules that one fulfills the obligation even without intent.  As such, after informing another of that day's count one would not longer be able to count with a berakha.
     Accepted halakha rules against the position of the Taz.  Therefore, one who did respond directly to his friend's query may no longer count that day with a berakha.  We do, however, take the Taz's view into account as an additional factor of consideration.  Thus, one may count again with a berakha in the following instances:
  • If he stated only the number of the count, without specifying, "Today is… "
  • If he did not mention the weeks.  Since he did not count in the optimum fashion, he clearly demonstrated his specific intention not to fulfill his obligation through his response (Bei'ur Halakha).
  • If this exchange occurred during bein ha-shemashot, the period between sunset and nightfall, whose identity as day or night is uncertain.  Even if one recited the full counting, and despite the fact that a counting during this period is generally accepted ("be-di'avad" - ex post facto), we add the Taz's ruling to the doubt concerning the validity of counting during this time.  Therefore, we allow one to count later with a berakha.
     Furthermore, if the individual specifically had in mind not to fulfill the obligation through his response, he may certainly count later with a berakha.
     Nevertheless, accepted practice dictates to preferably refrain from stating the day's count prior to actually counting with a berakha.  (Room for leniency appears to exist to respond even optimally by only stating the number.  However, it may be worthwhile to always inform the questioner of the previous day's count so as to teach this halakha to others.)  Likewise, on the night before Lag Ba-omer, one should refrain from saying, "Today is Lag Ba-omer" before formally counting.  Similarly, on the final night of the omer, one should not recite in the introductory "Hineni mukhan u-mezuman" paragraph before counting the text of, "sheva shabbatot" (seven weeks), which may constitute a counting of the weeks.  Additionally, on the first, seventh, eighth and fourteenth days of the omer one should not, before counting, study out loud the text of the Shulchan Arukh 489:1.  There the Shulchan Arukh discusses the precise text with which one counts and as examples presents the formula for counting on these days.  Therefore, recitation of this segment in the Shulchan Arukh may be considered counting, thus prohibiting one from counting thereafter with a berakha.
E.  The proper time for counting: One may count from nightfall until daybreak the next morning (see Mishna, Megila 20a).  Although Chazal did not introduce a precautionary deadline at "chatzot" (midnight as defined by halakha) as they did regarding shema, one should preferably count towards the beginning of the night (Shulchan Arukh 489:1, Mishna Berura 489:2,18, Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 120:1).
     As mentioned earlier, an unresolved doubt exists as to whether the period of bein ha-shemashot is considered daytime or nighttime.  Given that the requirement of counting nowadays is a rabbinic obligation, regarding which we rule leniently in instances of doubt, there appears to be room to allow counting the omer during this period (Tosafot, Menachot 66a).  Nevertheless, one should preferably count after nightfall (Bei'ur Halakha 489:1).  However, one may, for purposes of counting the omer, adopt the view espousing the earlier time of nightfall, 18 - or perhaps 13.5 - minutes after sunset.  (See Yechaveh Da'at, 1:23.)
     One should recite arvit before counting the omer, in light of the principle of "tadir ve-she'eino tadir - tadir kodem" - we always afford precedence to the more frequent obligation (Rokei'ach 294; Maharil, Shulchan Arukh 1).  This applies even to one who participates in a late minyan for arvit, if this minyan runs on a regular basis (Iggerot Moshe O.C. vol. 4, 99).  From here it would seem that one who does not have a regular, fixed time for arvit, such as one serving in the army, or one who plans to go to some "shteibel" later that night, should preferably count the omer earlier in the evening. 
     However, when one has the option of counting the omer with a minyan, this perhaps deserves preference due to "be-rov am hadrat Melekh" - public performance of mitzvot shows honor to God and His mitzvot.  The Shela, in Pesachim 3a (cited in Be'er Heiteiv 2), notes the particular significance of counting together with a minyan.  (On this basis, the work "Mo'ed Le-kol Chai" [5:12] rules that one who arrives in the Bet Kenesset towards the end of arvit should count with the minyan and thereafter recite arvit.)  Therefore, in situations such as the army, where a minyan can be arranged, one may consider either delaying the counting until the minyan recites arvit together, or at least reminding the others to count.
F. Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson, in Sho'el U-meishiv (Mahadura 4, vol. 3, 127), addresses a question concerning one who is unsure as to whether or not he counted the omer.  In the parallel situation regarding the recitation of "mashiv ha-ru'ach," the halakha states that within the first thirty days since we begin adding "mashiv ha-ru'ach" one should assume he mistakenly omitted the recitation.  After that point, the recitation has presumably become habitual.  Therefore, when in doubt, one should assume that he did, in fact, include "mashiv ha-ru'ach."  Why do we find no source applying this same guideline to sefirat ha-omer?  Why do we not say that within the first thirty days of counting, one should assume that he neglected to count, whereas thereafter he presumably has counted?  (See Rav Nathanson's answer there.)
     It appears to me that the answer is obvious.  We employ the aforementioned system when dealing with a standardized text within which we make changes at given points during the year.  Then we assume that until the new text has become habitual, the individual recited the old version.  This assumption cannot apply to an independent recitation that is not within a standardized text to which one's tongue grows accustomed over the course of time.  Regarding sefirat ha-omer, we deal with something that requires specific thought and cannot be performed by rote.  The halakha concerning the point at which we presume the establishment of habitual recitation thus bears no relevance to counting the omer.
G. In order to avoid the passage of a full day without having counted, some have the practice of counting again by day (i.e. the chazan counts out loud after tefila).  Indeed, the Yam Shel Shelomo writes (at the end of Bava Kama) that whereas the Jews in Babylonia counted only at night, in Eretz Yisrael the custom was to count again by day.  Other sources, including the Kaf Ha-chayim (80), record this custom, as well, and, indeed, it appears to be an admirable practice to follow.

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