Question: I enjoy your weekly column. In addition to answering questions, you also discuss the subjects you are asked about in depth, covering many different views. My question is as follows: In my synagogue, and I assume in most others, everyone stands at attention as the rabbi or chazzan recites the blessing for Sefiras HaOmer and then counts the Omer. How can we recite the blessing afterwards ourselves when we already heard it (and thus, presumably, were yotzei with it)?
Miami Beach, FL
Answer: Indeed, common practice as noted by Ba’er Heitev, Aruch HaShulchan and Mishnah Berurah (Orach Chayim 489) is that after the Maariv Amida, the chazzan recites the blessing of Sefirat HaOmer and afterwards counts the Omer followed by the congregation doing the same.
The source for the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer is Leviticus 23:15-16: “U’sefartem lachem mimochorat ha’Shabbat miyom ha’viachem et Omer ha’tenufah sheva shabatot temimot tihiyena. Ad mimochorat ha’Shabbat hashevi’it tisperu chamishim yom v’hikravtem mincha chadasha La’Shem – You should count for yourselves from the morrow of the Sabbath [i.e., Pesach], from the day you bring the Omer wave offering, seven weeks, they shall be complete. Until the morrow of the seventh week shall you count 50 days and then you shall offer a new meal offering to Hashem.”
From the above two verses we derive that the mitzvah comprises two parts: bringing the Omer offering and counting each day from the second day of Pesach until Shavuot.
The Gemara (Menachot 65b) derives from the words “u’sefartem lachem – you shall count for yourselves” that each and every individual is required to count the Omer. Tosafot (s.v. “u’sefartem lachem…”) notes that Beit Din (as the nation’s reresentative) counts the years leading up to the Jubilee year. That counting is a communal obligation. Counting for the Omer, in contrst, is an obligation incumbent on each and every individual.
The Kaf Hachayim (Orach Chayim 489:13) explains that the Torah could have stated rather plainly stated, “V’safarta – You should count.” Had it done so, the law presumbly would be that one individual should count on behalf of all others. Since it states instead, “U’sefartem” – the plural form of the verb – we deduce that everyone must count, not merely the chazzan (or rabbi) on behalf of the congregation.
Why, then, do so many rabbis and chazzanim nowadays say the beracha for sefirah aloud before everyone in the congregation says it themselves? The Rishon LeZion, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef, shlit”a, in his fine work Yalkut Yosef (Hilchot Sefirah, ot 13) discusses this very matter. Citing his father, the late Gaon Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, zt”l (Responsa Yabia Omer Vol. 5, 17:4), he notes the common custom and comments, “V’hu haminhag hanachon – And this is the proper custom.” He also stresses that there is nothing wrong with this practice since no one in the congregation intends to have his obligation discharged by listening to the chazzan or rabbi say the blessing.
In a footnote (19), Rabbi Y. Yosef discusses this matter at great length, and notes, citing Knesset Hagedolah, that there are many different customs in regards to counting the Omer. In some congregations, the chazzan or rabbi says the blessing first, and in others, the congregation does.
He also offers a very logical explanation for the common practice: “The chazzan counts first so that individuals in the congregation not err in the proper count.” Although most won’t err, everyone should ideally join a minyan for Maariv during Sefirah just in case one makes a mistake or forgets to count altogether.
(To be continued)