Sefirat Ha-omer and the Shita of the Behag

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
 
Note: This article is a summary of the Rav's zt"l Torah as it appears in Rav Shachter's sefer entitled 'Eretz Zvi'.  In addition a synopsis of the article appeared in the Torah journal Messora (published by the OU), vol. 3, Nissan 5750.  Any changes are purely my mistake.
 
            Our minhag during sefirat ha-omer is to recite a berakha only if counting at night.  If one forgets to count, the count is performed during the course of the next day - but without a berakha.  What is the source of this halakha?
 
            The mishna in Megilla (20b) cites two lists - one of mitzvot which have to be performed during the day and one of mitzvot which must be performed at night.  Though the second list is considerably shorter, it does contain the mitzva of KETZIRAT ha-omer - cutting the grain to be used for the korban omer.  The gemara in Megilla and Menachot expands this period to counting the omer as well.  From this the Rabenu Tam (cited in Tosafot 20b) extrapolates, that if sefirat ha-omer is not performed during the night no berakha is recited.  Tosafot, after citing the Rabenu Tam cites the related position of the Behag.  He also maintains that no berakha is recited if one counts during the day.  The Behag does, however, recognize this counting to be of some value.  One who entirely forgets to count a day may not count the remainder of omer with a berakha.  If, however, he neglected to count during the night but counted during the day, he has maintained his ability to continue counting with a berakha.  This position, then, serves as the source for our minhag.
          
  Regarding this position the question which immediately presents itself is as follows:  If counting during the day is not considered a mitzva (as indicated by the lack of berakha) why does it preserve his ability to continue counting with a berakha on upcoming nights?  How are we to justify this split in light of the overall shita of the Behag?  Of course, the initial step is to arrive at some understanding of this shita and particularly why one who ENTIRELY omits a day may not continue counting with a berakha.
 
            The Chinukh (mitzva 306) cites the Behag and explains "de-kula mitzva achat hi it is all considered one mitzva."  According to this view, the Behag defined all 49 days of counting as ONE mitzva.  Ample precedent for this type of definition exists; we notice other areas in which multiple mitzvot are actually defined as one extended mitzva.  The most classic example, of course, is the mitzva of 4 minim which, though including four different components, is indeed, classified as one mitzva.  One who does not include hadassim within his bundle has not been yotzei any part of the mitzva; complete integration exists.  Similarly, the Chinukh suggests, according to the Behag all 49 acts of counting comprise one elongated mitzva.  One who omits the 22nd part of that integrated whole, cannot continue, for he cannot possibly be yotzei the mitzva in its entirety.
        
    Some hesitation must be raised with this position in light of the gemara Menachot (42b) which offers a formula for reciting berakhot during the performance of mitzvot.  The gemara asserts that "kol mitzva she-assiyata hi gemar mitzvata - any mitzva which represents the conclusion of that mitzva" such as mila (which is completed during the performance) - we recite a berakha.  In contrast, any act of mitzva which doesn't mark the conclusion of the mitzva - such as the manufacture of tefillin - which, in an of itself, does not conclude the mitzva - (the conclusion is delayed until the actual hanachat tefillin), on this form of mitzva we do not recite a berakha.  According to this view of the Behag, if the mitzva (the lone mitzva) is not completed until day 49, no berakha should be recited until that point.
           
In truth, though, we may reconcile the gemara with the Behag.  Making tefillin is disqualified from a berakha not merely because the mitzva has not yet been completed but because, effectively, it hasn't really begun.  The manufacture of tefillin can only be considered 'hekhsher mitzva' the preparatory phase of the mitzva.  By contrast, each day of counting is a FRACTION or an INSTALLMENT toward fulfilling the large integrated mitzva.  Quite possibly, performing this installment would warrant reciting a berakha. (NOTE: This answer did not appear in either article and is the personal suggestion of the author).
     
       It is more difficult, however, to reconcile the inner logic of the Behag's position.  If, indeed, all 49 installments are integrated why does a day counting maintain this integrity?  If one doesn't recite a berakha over such counting it should be considered as if he missed the counting entirely!!!
 
            The Rav zt"l suggested an alternate explanation for the Behag's position.  Like the Chinukh's view this position bases the Behag's shita upon some form of integrity between the various days of the omer.  However, the integration exists not at the level of 'MITZVA" but at the level of 'COUNTING'.  Even if we were to regard the mitzvot as 49 independent ones, the mitzva is still defined by a COUNTING OF NUMBERS.  Any counting deals with a numeric series which, by its nature, must exhibit some form of integrity.  For example, one who counts 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 14, 16, 18. . has violated the integrity of his list because he omitted 10.  The series, in this instance, is undermined.  Similarly, one who counts and omits day 23 cannot continue counting since his numeric series has been compromised.  The number 24 looses its significance and is considered 'OUT OF CONTEXT' if it doesn't follow day 23.
 
            It follows from this description that each of the 49 mitzvot do not necessarily have to be fulfilled in order for the numeric series to be maintained.  As long as each particular day was counted, the integrity of the series is preserved.  Even if the day was counted outside the context if the mitzva, the series still is maintained.  The Rav zt"l noted two such examples.  The first concerns retroactive counting.  The position of Rabenu Hai Gaon (quoted in several Geonic works) maintains that if a day was entirely omitted, on the ensuing day one should state "Last night was 23 and tonight is 24."  Clearly, in this context, counting le-mafreia is not considered a kiyum ha-mitzva.  The mitzva of the 23rd has not been fulfilled.  However, the day of 23 has been counted and has been addressed, and hence the count may continue.
 
            A converse situation would entail, not retroactive counting, but prospective.  The Machzor Vitri (a student of Rashi who wrote a Sefer of halakhot surrounding tefilla) cites the following halakha.  What happens if one davens ma'ariv with a minyan prior to the onset of evening (as is common in many shuls in the summer)?  Ideally, the counting of the omer should be delayed until nightfall.  Practically, however, the danger arises that, having davened ma'ariv already, the person will forget to count at night.  The following suggestion is raised: count during the day without a berakha and stipulate that if you forget to count at night this 'early counting' should be considered the counting for that day.  If you remember at night you may recount with a berakha.  Clearly, counting BEFORE the day has arrived does not fulfill that day's mitzva. 
This is confirmed by the ability, if one remembers, to recount at night with a berakha.  If so, how can this count allow future counting with a berakha when a complete omission entirely disrupts the count?  The Rav zt"l suggested that in this instance as well, although the mitzva of the day isn't fulfilled by counting before the day arrives, the number itself has been 'factored into the series' and the numeric series has been maintained.
 
            Given this background, we may return to explain the position of the Behag.  Indeed, according to Behag, one who counts during the day does not fulfill the mitzva of that day.  However he HAS counted that day and the numeric series is continuous.
 
            The Rav suggested another permutation for this possibility of not fulfilling the mitzva but preserving the series by counting the actual day.  The Minchat Chinukh suggests that according to the Behag a katan who becomes bar mitzva during the omer, even if he counted prior to his bar mitzva, does not continue counting.  Since he didn't fulfill all 49 installments of the mitzva (those before his bar mitzva) there is no sense in continuing counting after the bar mitzva.  Evidently, he interpreted the Behag as did the Chinukh.  Since they are all one mitzva, one who doesn't perform all of them can not perform any of them.  Given the alternate understanding of the Behag - they are separate mitzvot but one numeric series - one might arrive at a different conclusion within the Behag.  This katan, though he didn't fulfill all the mitzvot, has counted the entire series.  Although his pre-bar mitzva counting was not considered a fulfillment of the mitzva it still maintains the integrity of the series.
 
METHODOLOGICAL POINTS:
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1. Whenever one has a group or a series (of mitzvot, halakhot etc.) which are affiliated, one must test the level and degree of integration.  This can be done quantitatively (i.e. how integrated are they) or qualitatively (in what aspect does their integration express itself).