Question: I have long wondered why we don’t say Shehecheyanu when we start counting the Omer. Can you explain the reasoning behind this practice?
Although all poskim rule that we don’t say Shehecheyanu before counting the Omer, they offer different reasons for not doing so. An overview of these opinions is found in Rav Zvi Cohen’s Sefirat HaOmer: Halachot U’Minhagim Hashalem.
HaIttur, authored by R. Ze’ev Wolf Goldingen, the father of R. Yisrael of Salant, states (end of Hilchot Matza U’Maror) that we usually recite Shehecheyanu on a mitzvah which causes pleasure because its endearing quality and which is connected with an action (such as shaking a lulav, sitting in a sukkah, or blowing a shofar). Counting the Omer involves neither pleasure nor action.
Manhig Olam, popularly known as Sefer HaManhig (by Rabbenu Avraham b. Natan HaYarhi of Lunel, 12th century – Hilchot Pesach 64), reasons that we recite Shehecheyanu only over matters that provide both pleasure and simcha, such as reading Megillas Esther or redeeming the firstborn. Sefirat HaOmer provides no pleasure.
HaMaor (by Rabbenu Zerahiah b. Isaac Gerondi, Lunel, 12th century) commenting on the Rif (end of Tractate Pesachim) offers a similar reason, adding that not only does counting the Omer not afford us pleasure comparable to the joy that permeates us when we wave a lulav, read Megillas Esther, or listen to the shofar (which reminds us of our close relationship with Hashem), but it actually brings sorrow to the fore as we recall the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.
He does not explain why counting the Omer occasions feelings of anguish over the destruction of the Temple. Some (e.g., the Kol Bo, the Akedah) suggest that we counts the days in relation to the Omer which we can no longer bring because we are bereft of the Beit Hamikdash. This daily reminder causes us anguish.
The kabbalistic Leshem Yichud prayer preceding the counting highlights the absence of the Beit Hamikdash as it states that counting is all we can do today when the Beit Hamikdash does not exist – which is why in the HaRachaman prayer that immediately follows the Omer count we beseech Hashem to restore the service of the Temple.
The Ba’al HaMaor is cited as the source for those who follow the prevailing custom of not saying Shehecheyanu at the brit Milah of one’s son due to the pain the infant feels. The Beit Yosef to the Tur (Yoreh De’ah 265, Hilchot Milah s.v. Shadar Rav Zemach Gaon), though, quotes the Rambam (end of Hilchot Milah) who states that the father should say Shehecheyanu at the circumcision. The Beit Yosef notes that in Eretz Yisrael and Syria and surrounding areas, fathers do say Shehecheyanu. Most Sefardim today do so too.
Another reason for not saying Shehecheyanu before counting the Omer is because we count nowadays in commemoration of the Beit Hamikdash, and we usually only recite this beracha for a deed (an asiah), not a remembrance (a zecher).
Shibbolei Haleket Hashalem offers a different reason in the name of his brother Rabbi Binyamin: Counting the Omer depends on Pesach – “U’sefartem lachem mimochorat haShabbat – You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of [Pesach]” – and we already fulfilled our Shehecheyanu obligation by saying it on the first night of Pesach.
Similarly, the Meiri (Pesachim 7a s.v. “sha’alu”) argues that one fulfills the Shehecheyanu requirement for counting the Omer with the Shehecheyanu recited during the kiddush of Pesach – provided one had the intention, when reciting kiddush, that the blessing of Shehecheyanu should apply to counting the Omer as well.
Mishnat Yaavetz (authored by Rabbi Bezalel Zolti, the late chief rabbi of Jerusalem) cites the Meiri but finds great difficulty with his explanation since the Shehecheyanu for Pesach is recited before the obligation for counting the Omer exists (op. cit. Orach Chayyim 25:5).
Rav Zolti suggests the Meiri follows the opinion of the Baal Halachot Gedolot who is quoted by the Rosh (Sukkah 4:2) as saying that the Shehecheyanu recited for the commandment to sit in the sukkah (leishev basukkah) covers the mitzvah of waving the lulav too even though that mitzvah can only be fulfilled the next morning.
The Meiri parts ways with other Rishonim. He maintains that the Omer offering is part of the festival sacrifices and therefore the Shehecheyanu of Pesach may be applied to counting the Omer. Those who disagree do not consider the Omer offering to be part of the festival sacrifices; thus, the Shehecheyanu of Yom Tov cannot be construed to include the counting of the Omer.
We will conclude by quoting yet another reason for not reciting Shehecheyanu when we start counting the Omer. The Orchot Chayim (by Rabbenu Aharon HaKohen of Lunel, 13th-14th cent.) remarks that Shavuot depends on Sefirat HaOmer since it is celebrated on the 50th day, at the conclusion of the counting. We usually recite Shehecheyanu when the mitzvah we intend to fulfill will be done immediately. In this case, we attain our goal much later, when the counting is completed on Shavuot, and therefore the Shehecheyanu we recite for that festival applies to the counting of the Omer as well.
May this discussion be a preliminary to the fulfillment, in the near future, of the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer with great joy, when we will again be able to bring the wave offering – Hava’at HaOmer – in our restored Holy Temple.