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Q & A: Sefirat HaOmer – When To Start Counting (Part II)

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Question: Why do we start counting sefirat ha’omer in chutz la’aretz on the second night of Pesach when the omer in the times of the Beit Hamikdash was cut on Chol HaMoed?

M. Goldman (Via E-Mail)

            Summary of our response up to this point: The Kesef Mishnah essentially asks your question. Since the cutting of the omer is a weekday activity, how can we start counting sefirah – which commemorates the omer – on a holiday? Aren’t we thereby demeaning the holiday? It is because of this very logic that we do not say “leishev basukkah” on Shemini Atzeret. If we did, we would be demeaning the day by implying that it is not Shemini Ateret but rather Chol HaMoed Sukkot.

The Kesef Mishneh explains, however, that there is a difference between the two cases. On Shemini Atzeret we would be contradicting ourselves if in the very same Kiddush we said both “yom Shemini Atzeret hachag hazeh” and “leishev basukkah” (since leishev basukah implies that the day is really Sukkot, not Shemini Atzeret). There is no similar problem in regards to counting the omer.

Furthermore, we have a set calendar today. Therefore, we know that the second evening of Pesach is the 16th of Nissan, and it is on the 16th of Nissan that the Torah commands us to start counting sefirah.

* * * * *

As simple as the Kesef Mishneh’s second answer to our question seems, the Chatam Sofer (Yoreh De’ah, conclusion of Responsa 250) notes that if a fixed calendar settled all matters, we would recite Havdalah between the first and second days on Yom Tov. We don’t, however, because of the contradiction it would present. Saying Havdalah would signify the end of Yom Tov while making Kiddush that night would signify the beginning of Yom Tov. We see, therefore, that having a fixed calendar does not determine all our actions on Yom Tov in chutz la’aretz.

The Chatam Sofer concludes that only the first answer of the Kesef Mishneh is satisfactory.

Regarding the Kesef Mishneh’s second answer, the Chatam Sofer, interestingly, does not ask why – according to the Kesef Mishneh – we don’t recite Havdalah in the Amidah of Ma’ariv on the second evening of the holiday. This would not present a contradiction as we do recite Havdalah when the first day of the holiday is Shabbat.

Rav Zvi Cohen, whom we quoted last week, alludes to this question when he cites the Rabad (Temim De’im, siman 245, Glosses on Razeh – R. Zerachya b. Yitzhak HaLevi) who asks a question similar to that of the Kesef Mishneh. In answering it, he mentions the rule that “after you have already sanctified something (asito kodesh), you may not subsequently make it mundane (chol).” The converse, however, is not true. After a person has made something chol, we do not say that he may not subsequently make it kodesh, as kedushah always follows chol. (This only further strengthens our question on the Chatam Sofer since Havdalah precedes kedushat hayom in the Amidah.)

Rav Cohen cites the Sha’ar Yissachar (Ma’amar Zeman Cherutenu, also found in Nimukei Orach Chayim 489:1), who explains the Rabad’s view as follows: “All is fine and well when our discussion concerns Kiddush on Shemini Atzeret when a person recites ‘mekaddesh Yisrael veha’zemanim – who has sanctified Israel and the festivals’ – i.e., since he sanctified the festival, he shouldn’t subsequently make it chol by saying ‘leishev basukkah’ – which indicates that the day is still Chol HaMoed Sukkot.

“However, regarding sefirat ha’omer, after a person has ‘made it chol’ – i.e., he counted sefirat ha’omer, which signifies that it is already the 16th of Nissan [which is Chol HaMoed] – he may now sanctify the day by davening Ma’ariv.”

The obvious question is, when counting the omer on the second night of Pesach, the day has already been sanctified in the Amidah. How, therefore, can we subsequently “make it chol” by counting the omer? Is this not a case of “Where you have sanctified it, you may not now make it mundane”?

The answer is simple. One may theoretically count sefirah before davening Ma’ariv (as long as three stars have appeared). Therefore, even if a person davens Ma’ariv before sefirat ha’omer, we do not consider his Amidah as having sanctified the day. The same is true regarding the Seder on the second night of Pesach. A person can, in theory, count sefirah beforehand. Indeed, those who follow the custom of counting the omer with their family at the Seder – as is indicated in some haggadot – should do so before Kiddush, not after the Seder.

However, concerning this explanation of the Sha’ar Yissachar – “After you have made it mundane, you may subsequently sanctify it” – we have two questions: First, why don’t we first say Havdalah and then recite the sanctification of “mekaddesh Yisrael veha’zemanim” in Kiddush? Second, how does he deduce that one may count sefirah after the appearance of three stars but before Ma’ariv? Do we not have the rule of “Tadir veshe’eino tadir, tadir kodem” – that given the choice, a mitzvah that happens frequently takes precedence over a mitzvah that occurs only occasionally? Accordingly, how could one count sefirah, which is only seasonal, before Ma’ariv, which is a daily prayer?

Finally, how did the Sha’ar Yissachar deduce that “asito kodesh – once he sanctified it” only refers to Kiddush and the Seder? Why not Ma’ariv, which is usually recited before sefirat ha’omer?

(To be continued)

Rabbi Yaakov Klass

About the Author: Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.

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