QUESTION: I enjoy your weekly column. You not only give an answer, but also provide an in-depth discussion of the subject matter, including many different views. My question, which relates to the upcoming mitzvah of counting the Omer, is as follows: In my synagogue, and I assume in most others, we all stand at attention as the rabbi or chazzan recites the blessing of Sefirat HaOmer and then proceeds to count the Omer. How can we recite the blessing afterwards when we already clearly heard it before (and thus, presumably, were yotzei with it)?
Miami Beach, FL
Last week, we noted that Israeli Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzchok Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Hilchot Sefira, 13) explains that the rabbi can say the blessing aloud because everyone in the congregation intends to say the blessing himself afterwards. The congregation benefits from the rabbi counting aloud first because he reminds them what night of the Omer it is.
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There is a halachic principle called shome’a k’oneh, which literally means hearing is like answering. Under this principle, a person who hears someone count the Omer and say its blessing is considered to have done so himself just like a person who hears another read Megillah on Purim, say birkat Kohanim, leyn Parshat Zachor, or make a birkat ha’nehenin is considered to have done so himself.
Thus, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Hilchot Sefirah, 13) asks, “Should we not be concerned that since the congregation is listening to the chazzan’s blessing and count, they have already discharged their requirement and thus unable to recite the blessing themselves?”
Rabbi Y. Yosef answers that since all the members of the congregation want to say the blessing and count on their own (as they proceed to do after the rabbi is done), they are considered to have specifically intended not to discharge their obligation with the rabbi’s counting. Rabbi Yosef cites Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah (first chapter of Tractate Berachot) who rules that shome’a k’oneh is not effective when one specifically intends not to discharge one’s obligation by listening to another person perform the mitzvah.
A number of years ago, I discussed this matter with my late dear colleague and fellow Torah columnist, Rabbi Simcha Cohen, zt”l, and he suggested that the rabbi (or chazzan) counting the Omer first is in accord with the principle of “b’rov am hadras melech – In a multitude of people is a king’s glory” (Proverbs 14:28).
(This principle is found often in the Talmud. For example, on Motzei Shabbos, if a flame is brought into the study hall, Beit Shammai rules that every person present should recite his own Borei Me’orei Ha’eish blessing, but Beit Hillel rules that one person should say it on behalf of everyone because b’rov am hadras melech.)
I later learned that Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch offered the same explanation as Rabbi Cohen (Teshuvot V’Hanhagot, Vol. 1:310). Interestingly, Rabbi Sternbuch notes that he couldn’t find any early halachic authority offering this explanation, but he says it can perhaps be deduced from a comment of the Zohar. The Zohar says that Sefirat HaOmer can be compared to a nidah. Just like she needs to count seven clean days, we during sefirah need to ritually clean and sanctify ourselves in preparation for accepting the Torah on Shavuot. Rabbi Sternbuch writes, “Therefore, it is only proper that we as a congregation join together for this mitzvah so that the merit of the congregation aids us as we spiritually cleanse ourselves.”
Rabbi Sternbuch also writes that the rabbi counts the Omer first because, due to his diligence and responsibility, he will make sure that his count is accurate. The chazzan, in contrast, might not remember what night of the Omer it is, which will cause him great embarrassment.
Rabbi Sternbuch adds that the rabbi is an expert and thus more well-versed in the proper intentions necessary to discharge the obligation of any individual in the congregation who may have forgotten to count on a previous night and thus is no longer able to count with a blessing.
May our counting of the Omer this year also serve as a count to the coming of Moshiach and our final deliverance.