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21 Iyar 5764 - May 12, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Every Day Counts: Unusual Circumstances of Sefiras HaOmer

by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis

Keeping Track of Time

The Chasam Sofer was a Torah giant, and chidushim on Shas, Shulchan Oruch and Chumash, as well as many volumes of halachic responsa were among his numerous published works. He was both the rosh yeshiva and the rov of Pressburg, a city which was home to one of the largest yeshivas and communities of his day. Generations of Torah personalities descended from him, and even today his offspring continue on his path.

Awed by his numerous accomplishments, someone once asked the Chasam Sofer how he found time to do so many things. The rov responded that it had taken him exactly five minutes. Startled by this response, the questioner asked him to explain himself. The Chasam Sofer replied that the five minutes here and there that others tend to waste, he invested in learning.

We would all like to emulate the achievements of the Chasam Sofer, but most of us have difficulty keeping track of time so meticulously. Once a year however, before accepting the Torah, we are provided with a gentle reminder that unless we are cognizant of time, we cannot achieve greatness in Torah. Counting each day and week helps us to appreciate the fundamental role that time plays in our relationship with Hashem, and prepares us to reaccept His Torah on the yom tov of Shavuos.

Missing Days

Most mitzvas are performed on a daily basis; not fulfilling a mitzvah on one day won't stop a person doing it the next day. The exception is Sefiras HaOmer. Since it is performed over a forty-nine day period, missing one day affects all the days afterward.

The poskim discuss a number of cases where a person may find himself in doubt as to whether he fulfilled the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer. In order to clarify the halochoh in these cases, we must first determine what happens if one day of counting is missed. Does this spoil the entire mitzvah, or may he continue counting?

Many Rishonim rule that each night of Sefiras HaOmer is a separate mitzvah (Tosafos Menochos 66a; Rosh Pesochim 10:41). According to this understanding, even if a person misses one or more days, he still has a mitzvah to count the rest of the days.

However, some Rishonim rule that if a person misses one day he has lost his whole mitzvah of counting (Bahag Menochos 133:3 as cited in Tosafos ibid.).

Based on the above opinions, if a person missed a day of Sefirah the Shulchan Oruch gives the following compromise: Since according to the first opinion the mitzvah is still relevant, he should continue to count. However since according to the second opinion the mitzvah no longer applies, he should not make a brochoh (Orach Chaim 489:8). Halachic literature contains many fascinating cases where rabbonim throughout the centuries were called on to determine whether someone in such a situation should continue counting with a brochoh or not.

Across the Halachic Date Line

Mr. Gold loves exotic vacations, and for years has been longing to take his family to New Zealand. Shortly before Pesach he calls up his travel agent, who informs him about a special discount ticket available right after yom tov. Should Mr. Gold seize this opportunity?

One of the most perplexing issues in halochoh is how to relate to the Date Line. The Halachic Date Line is located someplace near the accepted International Date Line, but even the most basic question of where exactly it is located is a major dispute among the poskim, and there are many different opinions about it. Some rule that New Zealand is actually beyond the point where the date changes, which means that the day they call "Sunday" over there is really Shabbos.

The poskim grapple with the problem of one who started counting on one side of the line and in the middle crossed to the other. According to the above ruling of the Shulchan Oruch, some rule that if a person went back a day, he should count the previous day again, though without a brochoh, and on the following days count with a brochoh (just like the residents on that side of the date line). If the person went forward in time and an entire day was skipped, he should continue counting without a brochoh (Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as cited in Halichos Shlomo 16:23; Responsa Betzeil Chochmoh 5:96).

Since there are many differing opinions about this issue, Mr. Gold should preferably delay crossing the dateline till after Sefiras HaOmer thus eliminating all issues. After Shavuos the issue of Sefirah is no longer applicable. On the other hand, keeping Shabbos and Moadim across the dateline is an even more complicated issue. For example, on the east coast of Australia, they are not allowed to go swimming in the ocean on Sunday because it is still Shabbos in the water. Before traveling, a halachic authority should be consulted.

On and Off the Operating Table

Mr. Green has surgery scheduled towards the end of Sefiras HaOmer. For a thirty-six hour stretch of time during that period he will be under anesthesia and unable to talk. Should he forgo counting with a brochoh from the outset, or should he count with a brochoh as long as he is able to?

Most poskim agree that even under such conditions Mr. Green may start to count with a brochoh. Since at the beginning he is capable of counting he is obligated to do so. In any event an operation is never certain, and perhaps in the merit of the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer he'll be spared from the operation.

Mr. Green's surgery was successful, and the next day the anesthesia wore off. Unfortunately he found himself confined to a place where the conditions were unsuitable for davening or making brochos, and his doctors told him that he could be moved for twenty-four hours. Mr. Green should nonetheless count Sefiras HaOmer without a brochoh.

Early Shabbos

In the summer months, when Shabbos comes in very late, Mr. Silver and his family have the custom to bring in Shabbos early and eat before nightfall (See Taz and Graz Orach Chaim 291; Magen Avrohom Orach Chaim 267). This raises something of a predicament regarding Sefiras HaOmer.

On the one hand, after accepting Shabbos it is considered to be Shabbos. On the other hand, since it is still daylight it cannot really be considered the next day of Sefiras HaOmer (Shulchan Oruch 489:4).

The halochoh is that one should wait until nightfall to count. In order to avoid the possibility of missing out on the mitzvah of Sefirah, Mr. Silver should try to take every precaution to make sure that he will not forget to count. Some have suggested to count at a specific point in the meal every Shabbos e.g. right before dessert. Once Sefiras HaOmer has become a part of the meal, it is much less likely that it will be forgotten.

If a person brings in Shabbos and then suddenly remembers that he forgot to count yesterday, he may still count for the previous day without a brochoh, and continue counting the following days (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:89,3; Kaf HaChaim 489:82.)

Starting from Scratch

A young couple who were not yet mitzvah-observant were guests of the Silvers for the Friday night Shabbos meal. During the seudah, Mr. Silver explained the importance of the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer, and how it expresses our heartfelt desire to receive the Torah. The young couple were so moved by his words that they decided to start keeping this mitzvah.

A convert or a baal teshuvoh who started counting in the middle of the Sefirah has the same status as someone who missed a day of counting. Since they have not counted at all until now, they should not make a brochoh on their counting (Sha'arei Teshuvoh in the name of the Birkei Yosef 489:20).

Some poskim say a boy who became bar mitzva during the Sefirah is in the same position, and he may not count with a brochoh (Chidushei HaRim as cited in the Response of MaHarash Engel 7:112; and other poskim).

However many poskim dispute this ruling. They write that if the bar mitzvah boy counted the initial days because of the mitzvah of chinuch, he may continue counting the ensuing days with a brochoh (Response Maharam Shick 269; Har Zvi 2:76; Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as cited in Halichos Shlomo 15:18; and other poskim).

Double Counting

The next day during the morning seudah, Mr. Silver's son Shlomo asked the following question: During the times of the Beis Hamikdosh after Beis Din established when Rosh Chodesh was, messengers would travel throughout Israel to let everyone know the date of the festivals. Since it was not possible to inform those living outside of Eretz Yisroel as to the exact date of the new month, all of the chagim were celebrated for two days.

If so, asked Shlomo, why wasn't Sefiras HaOmer originally established to be two days i.e. each day to count two days? Mr. Silver replied that this would not be appropriate as it would result in having to count on Shavuos itself, leading to an inevitable laxity in the honor of the Chag (Baal Hamaor end of Pesochim).

A similar question is applicable today in a situation where one is unsure as to the exact day of Sefirah, but can narrow it down to one of two days. Some poskim suggest that in such a case one may make a brochoh and count twice (Responsa Devar Avrohom 1:34). However, the majority of poskim do not accept this. They say that, knowing the exact day of Sefirah is a prerequisite to the mitzvah and "double-counting" is not considered to be a proper counting (Avnei Nezer Yoreh Deah 248:3 and other poskim).

Mathematically Speaking

Everyone agrees that it is preferable to count in the normal manner laid out in the siddur. The poskim enumerate a few ways of mentioning the day of Sefirah besides the standard way of doing so. However, all of the following examples only come into consideration if one already counted in this manner. They are not desirable ways to count.

What if instead of saying that "Today is the thirty-ninth day of the Omer" one said, "Today is forty minus one days of the Omer?" The Mishnah Berurah (489:11) writes that he will have fulfilled his obligation. The reason is that this is commonly accepted as a method of counting, as we find that our Sages refer to the thirty-nine melochos of Shabbos as forty minus one melochos (Halichos Shlomo 16:46).

In Hebrew all of the letters have numerical value. Therefore when one says today is "Lag B'Omer," he is in essence proclaiming that it is the thirty-third day of the Omer, but he should still count formally again without a brochoh (Sha'arei Teshuva 489:4). However this is not the case if one asked his friend "Are you going to be going to Meron for Lag B'Omer"" or alternatively "Is today Lag B'Omer"? Since there is no counting implied here, he may count again with a brochoh (Maharshom 489:4).

Some have the minhag to record the number of Sefiras HaOmer in their letters (Responsa Minchas Yitzchok 6:45). This gives rise to an interesting question: If one wrote the number of the Sefirah before verbally counting, may he still make a brochoh on the verbal Sefirah? The consensus of the poskim is that one may count with a brochoh, for one does not fulfill the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer via writing (Responsa Rav Akiva Eiger 29-32 and others). This is similar to the mitzvos of Krias Shema and tefilloh which one may only fulfill verbally (Oruch HaShulchan 489:9).

All's Well That Ends Well

Mr. White's youngest son Shmuel counted properly the first forty-eight days of the Omer and on the last day as he was about to count, out of jubilation he exclaimed "This is the last day of the Omer. I don't believe I was able to count every day of Sefiras HaOmer without missing one day!" Has his statement "This is the last day of the Omer" taken away the possibility of counting the last day with a brochoh?

Mr. White consulted his rov who told him that he had not lost his mitzvah. Simply declaring that it is the last day of the Omer is not considered counting. Shmuel may still make a brochoh and count the forty-ninth day (Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv shlit"a as cited in Siddur Pesach KeHilchoso 11:21).

In the merit of learning the halochos of Sefiras HaOmer, may we merit to count all of the days of the Omer, and to offer the special korbonos of the Omer and the Shtei Halechem in the newly rebuilt Beis Hamikdosh.

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