Question: What if one counted the omer but forgot to utter the blessing – has the obligation been fulfilled?
Why do we recite a blessing for this counting, when we find that for the zayin nekiyim – the seven clean days – there is no such blessing? Is the counting not similar?
Miami Beach, Fla
Synopsis: Last week (citing Berachot 15a) we noted the rule of “ein beracha me’akevet – that the proper performance of mitzvot is not dependent on whether one recites a blessing or not. Citing Pnei Yehoshua, we noted that this remains true whether one considers blessings to be rabbinical in nature or even if they are biblical. We also noted the leeway one is afforded if one counted at dusk that such counting would be valid; even though it is suggested not to do so a priori, nevertheless, after the fact we aver to lenience.
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Answer: As for your second question, we had a similar query several years ago. That correspondent compared the omer to the Jubilee Year. Because of your question’s timeliness, we will review that discussion.
The mitzvah to count the omer is incumbent upon all men (women are exempt since it is in the category of mitzvat aseh she’hazeman gerama, a positive precept dependent upon time). We are commanded in parashat Emor (Leviticus 23:15), “You shall count from the morrow after the Sabbath (i.e., the first day of Passover), from the day when you bring the omer of the wave offering, seven complete weeks shall there be.”
The Mechaber (R. Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Aruch) states (Orach Chayyim 489:1): “… [I]t is incumbent [it is a mitzvah] upon each and everyone to count by himself; he has to count while standing; he has to recite a blessing before the counting; and he has to count the days as well as the weeks.
The Taz adds that the counting of the omer is different from the counting toward the Jubilee Year, which is stated in parashat Behar (Leviticus 25:8), “You shall count [for yourself] seven cycles of sabbatical years, seven years seven times . . .” The counting of the omer is also different from counting the days toward purification by a person who has become contaminated due to an impure discharge, as stated in parashat Metzora (ibid. 15:13), “When the person … ceases his discharge, he shall count seven days from his cessation …” In these two cases, the purpose of the counting is to attain the conclusion of a finite time period, whereas in Sefirat HaOmer the act of counting is itself a mitzvah and therefore requires a bracha.
The Magen Avraham notes that we derive that counting the omer is an obligation incumbent upon each individual from the fact that it states (Leviticus 23:15), “U’sefartem lachem,” similar to the language used for the commandment (Leviticus 23:40) to take the Four Species on Sukkot, “U’lekachtem lachem.”
The Talmud (Menachot 65b) discusses the two verses in parashat Emor that deal with the counting of the omer: The first (Leviticus 23:15) “You shall count for yourselves – from the morrow after the Sabbath – from the day when bring the omer of the waving – seven complete weeks shall there be,” and the verse immediately following (23:16) “Until the morrow of the seventh week shall you count fifty days, and you shall offer a new meal-offering to Hashem.” The Gemara concludes that the first verse, using the phrase “seven complete weeks,” refers to the case when the first day of Passover happens to fall on a Sabbath, with the result that the weeks counted are seven full weeks, like the seven days of creation, each starting on a Sunday – whereas the second verse indicates that the counting of the fifty days starts on the second day of Passover – “the morrow after the Sabbath,” meaning the morrow after the [first] day [of rest] of the Festival of Passover – no matter what day it falls on, and the Festival of Shavuot thus occurs when fifty days have been counted. This, indeed, is how we proceed with the counting of the Omer.
The Talmud (ibid.) also cites the verse in parashat Re’eh (Deuteronomy 16:9), “Seven weeks shall you count; from such time that the sickle is put to the standing crop shall you begin counting seven weeks.” The Gemara notes that this verse teaches us that the counting depends on [the decision of] the Beth Din. Rashi explains that the Beth Din determines when the holiday is to occur (depending on when the New Moon is seen and attested to before the Beth Din), and we must of necessity ask when Passover begins in order to be able to start counting the omer on the morrow of the first day of Passover.
How do we arrive at the different interpretations and uses of these verses? The answer is to be found in the text itself. Whenever we find the term lachem, the plural form of “you,” the implication is an obligation incumbent upon the entire house of Israel – every individual [as well as the requirement to recite a bracha].
Whenever the word lach, the singular form of “you,” is used, this indicates in this case a command to a particular entity in the house of Israel – namely Beth Din. In the latter case, there is thus no specific command to individuals to count. This reasoning applies to counting for the Yovel as well [where lach is used], since it is the Beth Din’s function to designate the Jubilee Year.
As regards the person who has had an impure discharge (Leviticus 15:13), counting the days toward purification obviously cannot be the function of the Beth Din [although the singular pronoun lo – or lah – is used] but must be the responsibility of the individual. However, Tosafot (loc. cit, s.v. U’sefartem) offer a good reason why in such case there is no bracha recited, since the entire process of counting toward purification can be overturned in the event one sees a fresh discharge, thus requiring a fresh counting. Thus there is no possibility to recite a bracha.
On the other hand, as we noted, the term lachem refers to the obligation incumbent upon each individual. The Magen Avraham (supra, op.cit.) therefore compares Sefirat HaOmer (U’sefartem lachem) to the mitzvah of lulav and etrog on Sukkot, when we are commanded (Leviticus 23:40), “You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree …,” each person has to fulfill this mitzvah. Similarly as relates to Sefirat HaOmer, the obligation is incumbent upon every Jew.