Shiur #14: Methods of Performing Sefirat Ha-omer

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


Talmudic Methodology
Yeshivat Har Etzion



Shiur #14: Methods of Performing Sefirat Ha-omer


By Rav Moshe Taragin


            The previous shiur explored the nature of sefirat ha-omer through the prism of an interesting dispute regarding writing the count of the omer on a given day.  We raised the following question: does the Torah demand that we calculate time to anticipate the precise moment of Shavuot's arrival; or is our counting additionally geared toward creating some identity for the intervening period?  This shiur will further examine that issue by studying a second dispute: can a person fulfill the sefira requirement by listening to another's counting? 


            Typically, a person can listen to a text instead of actually reciting it and thereby fulfill his or her halakhic obligation to recite the text; the principle of "shomei'a ke-oneh" renders the listener as equivalent to the speaker.  When one listens to berakhot and oaths with the proper intention, one is considered to have personally iterated them.  Would the same allowance apply to sefirat ha-omer?


            The Ritz Giat (Rabbi Yitzchak Ibn Giat, author of an early medieval work which cites many positions of the Geonim) asserts that shomei'a ke-oneh would apply equally to sefira, and, certainly, logic dictates this position.  If the mitzva of reading Megillat Ester can be performed through listening, certainly the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer should accommodate a similar practice, listening in place of actually reciting the number!


            However, an intriguing gemara in Menachot may contradict this position.  The Gemara (65b) interprets the term "U-sfartem lakhem" (Vayikra 23:15) to mandate "sefira le-khol echad ve-echad," a counting process for each individual. 


            Many Rishonim understand this as a mandate for private counting, rather than a public representative counting on the part of the beit din.  After all, counting the years of the shemitta cycle is also a mitzva, but one which devolves upon the beit din rather than upon each individual.  As such, the derasha of "sefira le-khol echad ve-echad" does not legislate the METHOD of counting but rather the level of obligation (communal or personal).  In truth, the very issue of pubic and private counting may reveal the nature of sefira.  Were sefirat ha-omer designed merely to monitor the passage of time and accurately set the date for Shavuot, it would have been structurally identical to counting shemitta cycles and setting yovel accordingly; as such, it would have been in the domain of the beit din, which acts representatively for the entire people.  By stipulating a personal counting, "sefira le-khol echad ve-echad," the Torah may be assigning this mitzva a function beyond time-calculation; it may be casting this process as one which establishes the inherent identity of the period.  However, this reading of Menachot yields nothing about applying shomei'a ke-oneh to sefirat ha-omer.


            However Rashi's gloss on Menachot 65b, s.v. Le-khol, "That every individual is obligated to count," has led some to maintain that he demands that each person PERSONALLY perform sefirat ha-omer, rather than relying upon the principle of shomei'a ke-oneh.  A work known as Chiddushei Ha-Rashba al Menachot (though not authored by the classic Rashba, Rabbeinu Shelomo ben Adderet) attributes just such a position to Rashi. 


            In many ways, the basic nature of sefirat ha-omer impacts on this question.  Logically, listening should constitute a valid performance of the mitzva.  By demanding personal fulfillment of sefirat ha-omer, what message is the Torah sending about the mitzva?  If the mitzva consists of announcing a certain day's count (and designating a certain quality to that day thereby), listening to that formula should be tantamount to reciting it, through the principle of shomei'a ke-oneh.  However, if the mitzva merely demands the calculation of time (performed in an active manner by speaking or perhaps writing), perhaps the mechanism of shomei'a ke-oneh would not be relevant.  For example, many authorities do not apply shomei'a ke-oneh to shofar sounds, since, unlike berakhot and oaths, there is no ACTUAL text; perhaps shomei'a ke-oneh is only applicable in instances where a specific text exists.  Shofar sounds do not comprise an actual text, and listening to them is not tantamount to actually sounding them personally.  Those who deny shomei'a ke-oneh for shofar articulate the mitzva of shofar as listening rather than actively creating a sound; indeed, this is the form of the berakha we recite before blowing the shofar, declaring that God "commanded us to hear the sound of the shofar."  By hearing someone else blow the shofar, one performs the base mitzva of listening to shofar sounds, but one is not considered to have created the sound, since shomei'a ke-oneh only applies to texts.  A similar logic may disqualify shomei'a ke-oneh for sefirat ha-omer: since the mitzva does not require any proclamation or formal designation, but merely active time-calculation, no distinct formula or text exists for sefira.  In the absence of any text to voice, shomei'a ke-oneh cannot apply!


            Of course, this issue raises an interesting question: is there, in fact, any distinct required formula for counting the omer?  The Gemara (Menachot 66a) maintains that we must count both weeks and days (as both are mentioned in the Torah).  Many Acharonim rule that if one counts days only, omitting weeks, one still performs the mitzva.  However, the Shibbolei Ha-leket (Ch. 234) indicates that in such a case, the entire counting may be flawed and must be repeated (see the Peri Chadash, O.C. 479, who amplifies this position).  Apparently, some authorities DO formalize a phrasing for sefirat ha-omer, while others insist that any active counting which effects proper time-calculation is sufficient.


            A similar question addresses the need to recite "Today is day X of the omer."  Must the person actually recite the word "Today" or merely recite the appropriate number?  The Mishna Berura (489) cites a position of the Shulchan Arukh Ha-rav (the original Lubavitcher Rebbe) that one who counts the omer without beginning "Today" has not fulfilled the obligation.  A similar idea MAY be inferred from the words of the Taz (ibid.), who discusses a case where a person casually informs another of the day's count before the latter has performed the mitzva.  Usually, such information constitutes counting, and the informer may no longer count with a berakha (hence the custom to inform an inquirer of the previous day's count).  The Taz claims that if the informer conveys the current day's count, but does not actually enunciate "Today is day X," he has not yet fulfilled the mitzva (and may still count with a berakha).  Evidently, he also believes that the term "Today" is an essential element of counting sefira.  Had sefira been designed merely to mark the passage of time, it would be odd to demand a proclamation relating to the current day.  Merely maintaining the arithmetic continuity (by mentioning the next number) would be sufficient!


            Presumably, the presence of a specific formula would indicate a concrete text, to which one could apply shomei'a ke-oneh.  The presence of a formulated text may further reflect a function to sefirat ha-omer beyond merely tracking time.