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

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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 Mishneh 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 basukkah 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.

But this still leaves us with a problem: After we have sanctified the day (Yom Tov Sheni) in the Ma’ariv Amidah and Kiddush, how can we make it mundane (chol) by counting the omer?

* * * * *             We find in Shibbolei HaLeket Hashalem (chap. 234) that the early halachist Rabbenu Yeshaya addresses our question. He notes that since sefirat ha’omer is a mitzvah min HaTorah, its fulfillment does not result in making the day chol. Had it been a mitzvah d’rabbanan, however, its fulfillment would indeed create a chol situation.

Rav Tzidkiya b. Abraham HaRofei, the author of Shibbolei HaLeket, challenges this answer by quoting his brother, Rav Binyamin: “On the contrary, since the mitzvah of sefirat ha’omer is biblical, it supersedes the status of the second day of the holiday, which is only rabbinic.”

Rabbenu Yeshaya perhaps means that since sefirah is a biblical mitzvah, generated by the biblical calendar, a person counting sefirah is not creating anything chol; rather, the Torah’s commandment creates the chol. However, when it is a rabbinical mitzvah, the onus is on the person since he should not perform a mitzvah that causes a diminution in the sanctity of the holiday.

In any event, we are left with no answer to our question. Shibbolei HaLeket concludes that we must simply answer that unless we start counting sefirah from the second night of Pesach we won’t be able to perform the mitzvah of counting for the biblically-mandated “seven complete weeks.” Shibbolei HaLeket does not find counting on the second night of Pesach to be a diminution of the sanctity of Yom Tov, as the phrasing of the sefirah blessing is the same each night – whether the night is kodesh or chol.

We also find in Tosefot Chachmei Anglia (end of Masechet Pesachim, Machon Yerushalayim edition, page 96) the following answer to our question: “One cannot connect this [objection – i.e., since you already sanctified it, can you now make it mundane?] to anything but the Amidah. Since you sanctified it with your prayer, you may not now make it mundane with your prayer, just as we read in tractate Ta’anit (2a) regarding Gevurat Geshamim. However, regarding sefirah, the rule of “once you have sanctified it” does not apply since it is not part of the Amidah.

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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