Question: Is there a requirement to say “Hineni muchan u’mezuman…” before Sefirat HaOmer? Also if a person arrives late for Maariv, should he count sefirah first with the minyan or proceed immediately to Maariv?
The gaon Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggrot Moshe, Orach Chayyim vol.4, 93:1) discusses an individual who wishes to eat when night falls but wonders whether he should count sefirah first or wait until he attends his regular Maariv minyan later in the evening. Since counting sefirah is not dependent on a minyan, Rabbi Feinstein first assumes that he should count sefirah first. He concludes, though, that Maariv should come first since tadir v’she’eino tadir tadir kodem – when faced with two mitzvot one should do the more common one first.
It is obvious that Rabbi Feinstein would rule similarly regarding someone who comes to shul as the minyan is about to count sefirah. He should follow the rule of tadir v’she’eino tadir tadir kodem and daven Maariv first.
We don’t follow this rule regarding saying Hallel (for reasons we will soon explain). A person who comes to shul as the minyan is about to say Hallel should say it with the congregation and only afterward daven Shacharit (even though davening Shacharit is a more common mitzvah than saying Hallel). See Magen Avraham (422:6), citing Lechem Chamudot, and Ba’er Heitev (422:7), Mishneh Berurah (422:16; 488:3), and Aruch Hashulchan (422:8). The Mishnah Berurah (488:3) notes that he should of course only do so if he won’t, as a result, miss the deadlines for saying Keriat Shema and Shemoneh Esreh.
Why should this person say Hallel considering that we have a rule that tadir v’she’eino tadir tadir kodem? Because Hallel is supposed to be said with a tzibbur. As the Mechaber writes regarding saying Hallel on the first night of Pesach (487:4): “we complete Hallel with the congregation.” In other words, the proper setting for saying Hallel is a congregation. Sha’ar Hatziyun (488:4), citing Derech Hachayyim, goes so far as to instruct a person in between Yishtabach and Yotzer Ohr to join the congregation if it is about to start Hallel if he knows he won’t otherwise be able to say Hallel with a tzibbur.
The Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. 422:8) notes that some authorities (such as Rashi and Rambam) maintain that the blessing for Hallel should not be said on Rosh Chodesh and the last six days of Pesach. The Rif writes that an individual shouldn’t but a congregation should. In any event, it is clear that reciting Hallel with a congregation is preferable and important – important enough that the rule of tadir v’she’eino tadir is overridden.
Why isn’t it overridden for Sefirat Ha’omer? Because there’s no real reason to count sefirah with a congregation. As Rabbi Yitzchok Yaakov Weiss (Responsa Minchat Yitzhok vol 9, 55:2) writes: “In truth, we do not find the Shulchan Aruch or any of the nos’ei keilim or later authorities ruling that Sefirat Ha’omer be recited with a congregation. It is only the Shelah (cited in Siddur Beit Yaakov – of Rabbi Yaakov Emden, seder Yom Tov Rishon shel Pesach) who notes that we recite Sefirat Ha’omer in a synagogue because of “b’rov am hadrat melech – amongst the multitude is the king’s glory.” Yet he does not require a congregation [a minyan of 10]. It would seem that reciting it in the synagogue is merely for the purposes of hiddur – to beautify the mitzvah. That’s why it became customary to connect it to Maariv.”
Since Maariv is a tefillah b’tzibbur and Sefirat Ha’omer is obviously not, there is no question that the rule of tadir v’she’eino tadir remains in place. Thus, a person who comes to shul as the minyan is about to count sefirah should not count with it. Rather, he should daven Maariv first and count sefirah afterward.