Is Sefirat Ha-omer a Time-Bound Mitzva?

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

Among the list of mitzvot considered 'zeman geramah' (time-related), Sefirat Ha-omer would seem to be the most 'classic.'  First of all the mitzva is performed at night and not during the day - itself sufficient to confer 'zeman geramah' status upon the mitzva.  Second, the mitzva can be performed only during the weeks between Pesach and Shavu'ot.  Finally, we might even give some consideration to the fact that the very purpose of this mitzva is to measure time between two festivals and two korbanot.  This association with time might secure its status as zeman geramah.  This shiur will explore the question of Sefirat Ha-omer's definition as zeman geramah. 

 

     The Rambam, in Hilkhot Temidin U'mussafin 7:20, excuses women from the mitzva of Omer presumably because it is defined as zeman geramah.  The Chinuch, as well, in mitzva 306 excuses women from the mitzva.  As stated above, this would be the most intuitive or obvious position and indeed is the one that is adopted by most of the Rishonim.  The Ramban, however, in his commentary to Kiddushin (34a) lists several mitzvot which are NOT zeman geramah and among them, cites Sefirat Ha-omer.  Presumably women might be obligated to count Sefira.  (Interestingly enough, the Ramban does not address this issue directly).  Given the introduction, how could the Ramban possibly have not considered Sefira as zeman geramah?

 

In truth, we might render Sefira a zeman geramah for one of two reasons:

 

1)      The counting is performed at night.

2)      The counting is only performed during a specific period during the year – namely between Pesach and Shavu'ot.

 

If the Ramban is to reject the Omer's definition as zeman geramah he would have to 'contend' with each of these factors. 

 

Is the mitzva to count the Omer limited to the night or can there also be a mitzva to count during the day?  The mishna in Megilla (20b) lists ketzirat ha-omer (cutting the barley which would ultimately compose the korban Omer) as a mitzva to be fulfilled during the night of the 16th of Nissan.  The ensuing gemara (Megilla 21a) extrapolates to counting the Omer which is also performed at night.  No possibility of a secondary counting during the day is mentioned.  This gemara suggests that the Omer may be counted only during the night time and would warrant a zeman geramah status for the Omer.  Alternatively, the gemara in Menachot (66a) claims that if the cutting of the Omer was forgotten at night, it may be performed (bedi'eved) during the day of the 16th.  If we are to maintain the association between cutting the Omer and reciting the Omer, we might similarly allow the Omer to be counted during the day, if forgotten at night.  Tosafot in Megilla (20b) cite the position of the Behag who allows counting during the day (albeit without a berakha).  This would lend some support for the Omer's classification as a non-zeman geramah mitzva. 

 

     Even the Rabenu Tam, cited by Tosafot in Megilla, who rejects the Behag's leniency, might not necessarily define the Omer as zeman geramah because it must be counted at night.  The Rabenu Tam wrestles with the gemara in Menachot which seems to license counting the Omer during the day.  At first he suggests a machloket between two different sugyot: Megilla (21a) might not tolerate a day-counting while Menachot (66a) might allow it.  He suggests ruling in accordance with the gemara (and mishna) in Megilla.  Subsequently he suggests differentiating between COUNTING and CUTTING.  Even if we validate a day-cutting we might reject a day-counting because the counting of the Omer must be performed in the manner of temimot - "complete" counting.  In Parashat Emor the Torah refers to the counting of the Omer as 'sheva shabbatot temimot' - seven complete weeks.  Now, this need for completeness might refer to the inception of the Omer (to count from its very onset rather than delaying and STARTING the count late), or to its conclusion (wait until the 7 weeks have completely expired to finish the count).  The Rabenu Tam reads this word as referring to the COUNTING OF EACH DAY.  Only by counting at night, as the day begins, can a person insure a counting of complete days.  Hence even if we embrace a day-cutting, we would deny a day-counting. 

 

     How does this theory impact upon the Omer's designation as zeman geramah? If the scheduling of a mitzva at night is due to alternate reasons, do we still consider that mitzva as a zeman geramah?  It would have been feasible to count the Omer during the day, but this might compromise the type of counting we are expected to perform.  Had the day begun at dawn, we might have counted at that stage.  Being that nothing formal schedules the counting of the Omer during the evening, can we consider this a form of zeman geramah?

 

Interestingly enough, it would appear that Tosafot do not accept this distinction.  The gemara in Menachot (92b) exempts women from 'semikha' (leaning upon an animal before its sacrifice) because of a pasuk.  Tosafot suggest that they should be excluded because semikha is zeman geramah; it can be performed only immediately prior to shechita which itself can be performed only during the day.  This type of scheduling constraint is sufficient to assure semikha's status as zeman geramah.  There are no formal reasons dictating semikha's scheduling during the day; peripheral reasons (the need to be proximal to shekhita) necessitate this schedule and we still classify this as zeman geramah, according to Tosafot.  Quite possibly the Ramban argued with Tosafot and refused to consider sefira a zeman geramah because it is performed at night.  This scheduling doesn't reflect an internal trait but merely external factors.

 

What about the second factor - the Omer being considered a zeman geramah because it must be enacted in the intervening weeks between Pesach and Shavu'ot? Why might the Ramban not accept this definition? Regarding this aspect as well, two issues suggest themselves.  The Avnei Nezer (Orach Chayim 384) asserts that we might obligate women for the Omer DESPITE its being defined as zeman geramah.  After all, women must eat matza even though this is clearly a of zeman geramah mitzva.  The gemara derives the obligation of women to eat matza from a comparison between chametz and matza – just as women are obligated in chametz (being a lo ta'aseh for which women are obligated), similarly they are responsible to eat matza.  Many have taken this gemara as a source for obligating women in ALL Pesach mitzvot.  For example the Chinukh obligates women in the mitzva of sippur yetziat Mitzrayim since they maintain a comprehensive obligation for all Pesach mitzvot.  Might we extend this clause to include women in counting the Omer judging it similar to a Pesach mitzva?  After all, the Torah demands that we begin counting the Omer 'mi-macharat ha-shabbat' - the day after "Shabbat" - which in this context refers to Pesach.  The Me'iri in Pesachim questions the lack of a She-hecheyanu for the mitzva of counting the Omer.  One answer he provides is that we have already recited a She-hecheyanu during Pesach and do not have to repeat one for the Omer.  This ruling highlights the status of the Omer as a Pesach mitzva.  Might this status be responsible for women's obligation to count the Omer according to the Ramban? Though the logic seems viable, the language of the Ramban suggests otherwise.  The Ramban claims that the Omer cannot be defined as zeman geramah.  According to the Avnei Nezer the mitzva is in fact a zeman geramah but one which women are not excused from (since we view it as a Pesach mitzva)!!

 

An additional reason might be found to disregard the 'period-of–year' limitation in defining Omer as zeman geramah. The son of the Maharam Chalavah, cited by the Rabenu Tam in his commentary to Bava Kamma, (see also Rav Yerucham Fishe Perle in his introduction to the Sefer Ha-mitzvot of the Rabenu Sa'adiah Ga'on) explains as follows.  The designated time period in which we count the Omer is a product of when the new barley is harvested and when the Korban Omer is sacrificed.  As the time factor is not inherent, but rather a derivative of another factor, we cannot define this as zeman geramah.  Whereas the Ramban did not explicitly claim that women are obligated in Sefirat Ha-omer (he merely defined the Omer as non-zeman geramah), the Maharam Chalavah actually obligates women to count sefira. 

 

The Seridei Eish 2:116 (Rav Yechiel Weinberg) suggests another intriguing way by which we might neutralize the time period as a zeman geramah factor.  Most mitzvot which are zeman geramah are absolute and independent acts which happen to be bounded within a certain time.  The Omer, however, is a mitzva to count the actual time period.  Necessarily it cannot be performed outside of this period.  Does this make it more or less of a zeman geramah?  The Seridei Eish suggests that it diminishes the status of zeman geramah.