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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)?

M. Goldblum
Miami Beach, FL



Synopsis: We are commanded to count each day from the day of the Omer offering on the second day of Pesach until Shavuot, seven weeks of seven days in all, as stated in Parashat Emor (Leviticus 23:15-16). The Gemara (Menachot 65b) derives from the wording of the mitzvah that this is a unique counting where each and every individual is required to count. Common practice (Orach Chayyim 489) is that after the Maariv Amidah, the chazzan recites the blessing of Sefirat HaOmer and afterwards he counts, followed by the congregation blessing and counting.

In attempt to explain how the individuals may bless after the collective blessing by the rabbi, we turn to various sources. Rabbi Yitzchok Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Hilchot Sefira, at 13) discusses this and cites his father, the Gaon Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef (Responsa Yabia Omer Vol. 5, 17:4). He reports that some congregations bless individually before the collective blessing, but stresses that there is no problem with the opposite, more prevalent, and in his opinion, correct custom because the congregation’s intention is to eventually bless on their own, and adds the benefit that the rabbi’s count ensures the accuracy of the congregants’ count.

We continue with an examination of other issues regarding the chazzan or rabbi reciting the blessing for and counting the Omer followed by the congregation doing the same.


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Answer: Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef continues with a detailed discussion of the concept of shomei’ah k’oneh (literally, hearing is akin to answering). This means that one who hears the counting of the Omer and its blessing is considered the same as a person reciting it himself. This is relevant to other mitzvot where one recites a blessing and another person who hears it is discharged of his obligation.

Examples of this include Megillah on Purim, Birkat Kohanim, Parashat Zachor, and Birkat Ha’nehenin (the blessings recited on food). In all of these instances, shomei’ah k’oneh is clearly operable and the one who hears fulfills the obligation of the mitzvah just as the one who recites does.

The difficulty we are now faced with is that according to the rules of shomei’ah k’oneh, after the congregation hears the chazzan or rav bless and count the Omer, their obligation to bless and count should now have been discharged. If so, how can they subsequently bless and count individually? Is this not a bracha levatalah – a blessing said in vain, which is forbidden? This corresponds to the question you asked.

Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef addresses this concern as he concludes his comments (Yalkut Yosef, Hilchot Sefirah, ot 13): “Let us return to our matter at hand. Should we not apprehend that since the congregation is listening to the chazzan’s blessing and count, they have already discharged their requirement, and they are thus unable to recite the blessing?” Rabbi Yosef offers a very logical solution to this dilemma. Perhaps since the desire of each and every person in the congregation is to bless and count on his own, it is as if each person had a specific intention not to be discharged of the mitzvah of blessing and counting the Omer when they heard it.

Now, if we will question the legality of this explanation, Rabbi Yosef cites Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (first chapter of Tractate Berachot) who rule that where one had a specific intention not to discharge his own obligation through hearing another’s recitation of a blessing, he is not discharged of his obligation. In such an instance, where there is an express desire not to be discharged, all are in agreement.

The question still facing us is where is this express desire by the congregation not to be discharged of the mitzvah of both the counting and its blessing? The answer is rather simple – we see it from their subsequent recitations of the blessing and counting. There can be no greater demonstration of an express desire, for surely an entire congregation would not wish to utter a blessing in vain.

A number of years ago in one of our many conversations, I had discussed this matter with my late dear colleague and fellow Torah columnist in The Jewish Press, Rabbi Simcha Cohen, zt”l (author of the Halachic Questions column), and he offered that the reason for the chazzan reciting the sefirah with its blessing and the congregation responding before they each bless and count on their own is in accord with the premise of “B’rov am hadras melech” – In a multitude of people is a king’s glory (Proverbs 14:28).

Indeed, this premise regarding the benefit of performing a mitzvah with many people present is the basis of halachot throughout our Talmud. One example is the Gemara in Berachot (53a). There the dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel is highlighted as regards the blessing of Borei me’orei ha’esh – He who created fire – recited at havdala on Motza’ei Shabbat.

In the instance where a flame was brought into the study hall, Beit Shammai ruled that each and every person present recites his own blessing. Beit Hillel, however, ruled that one person is to bless for all of them. Beit Hillel’s reason is the principle of B’rov am hadras melech.

When I subsequently referred to the responsa of Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvot V’Hanhagot Vol. 1:310), I learned that Rabbi Cohen had offered a solution that Rabbi Sternbuch offers as well. Interestingly, Rabbi Sternbuch notes that he has not been able to find any halachic source for this solution from the early halachic authorities. However, citing Zohar, he constructs a source.

Rabbi Sternbuch relates Zohar’s statement that the mystical source of Sefirat HaOmer is compared to a niddah, a menstruating woman, who needs a count of seven days. The period of the counting of the Omer is likewise the time for our ritual cleansing and sanctification toward the goal of accepting the Torah on Shavuot. Rabbi Sternbuch notes, “Therefore, it is only proper that we as a congregation join in together in this mitzvah in order that the merit of the congregation aids us as we spiritually cleanse ourselves.” It is obvious that Rabbi Sternbuch views Kabbalat HaTorah (the receiving of the Torah) as a communal endeavor, just as it was originally at Mt. Sinai.

In addition, Rabbi Sternbuch refers to the reason the rabbi recites the sefirah in many congregations, and this reflects one of the reasons we mentioned earlier. The rabbi, due to his diligence and responsibility, will take extra care not to forget to count the sefirah on any night, as opposed to the chazzan (here he refers to an individual who leads the services on just one night rather than a person who always serves as the chazzan) who might forget (or count the wrong amount of days), and this may cause the (interim) chazzan great embarrassment.

Rabbi Sternbuch also mentions 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 one night and thus is no longer able to count with a blessing.

Therefore, it is proper for every congregational rabbi (and chazzan) to have in mind to discharge the obligations of any who wish to be so discharged, and indeed, as we noted earlier, for any who wish not to be discharged, for the rabbi to have in mind not to discharge them of their obligations. Their counting and blessing afterward is taken as a clear statement of the latter desire.

Indeed, as we count the days of the Omer this year, may our days count and lead us to the coming of Moshiach and our final deliverance speedily in our days.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.