Question: We celebrate two days of Passover in chutz la’aretz [the Diaspora – outside the land of Israel] because we are unsure which one is the first day of the holiday. If so, what is the basis for beginning the count of sefirat ha’omer in chutz la’aretz on the second night of Passover?
Answer: Your question is indeed intriguing and worthy of proper discussion. We begin by noting that we start counting sefirat ha’omer on the eve of the 16th of Nissan, due to the Torah’s specific instruction as found in parashat Emor (Leviticus 23:15): “You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Sabbath day from the day you bring the omer waving, seven complete weeks shall they be.” Rashi (ad loc.) explains that “the Sabbath day” means the first festival day – that is, the first day of Passover.
The Torah (Leviticus, supra 23:5-7) had already established when the Passover festival starts by stating, “In the first month, on the 14th day of the month in the afternoon is the time of the Pesach offering to Hashem. And on the 15th day of this month is the Festival of Matzot to Hashem; you shall eat matzot for a seven-day period. On the first day, you shall have a holy convocation; you shall do no laborious work.”
Thus we see that the Passover festival commences on the 15th day of the first month. The 15th is a day of holy convocation, a sanctified festival day. Since we start the cutting of the barley and bringing of the omer offering on the 16th day, we begin our count the evening before.
Your question is cause for a serious discussion, one which we find in the fine halachic work of Rav Zvi Cohen, Sefirat Ha’omer – Halachot U’Minhagim Hashalem (available in many bookstores or directly from the author at 17 Rashbam Street, Bnei Brak 51600, Israel).
Rav Cohen notes the following question asked by the Kesef Mishneh (Hilchot Sukkah 6:13, which is cited by the Magen Avraham, Orach Chayyim 489:1, and in Kaf Hachayyim ad loc. 489:2): “How do we bless the sefirah [counting] on the second day of the holiday [in the Diaspora] without worrying about demeaning the holiday? For that very same reason we do not bless on [eating in] the sukkah on the eighth day [of Sukkot, which is] Shemini Atzeret [in the Diaspora], which is a ‘sefeika deyoma – a doubtful day,’ [i.e., it is questionable whether it is] the seventh day of Sukkot, which is an Intermediate Day [chol hamoed], or Shemini Atzeret, a festival day.”
The Gemara (Sukkah 47a) concludes its discussion on this matter with the following ruling: “Indeed, we do sit in the sukkah on the eighth day [Shemini Atzeret], but we do not utter the blessing leishev basukkah.” This is in agreement with the Gemara (Bezah 4b), since we are now acquainted with the fixing of the new moon (“yad’inan bike’via de’yarcha”). Nevertheless, the Gemara exhorts us to follow the minhag (custom) of our fathers. Thus, we continue to observe two days of the holiday in the Diaspora, just as we did before Hillel the Second established the fixed calendar (which established the exact dates of all holidays for thousands of years, removing any doubt as to when each one starts).
Thus, the Gemara’s reasoning for not blessing leishev basukkah is that by doing so we would be demeaning the holiday. We would be inferring that the day is not actually a festive day, but rather a chol hamoed day. We would come to violate the holiday by performing labors that are prohibited on the festival days.
Similarly, if we agree that the second day of Passover in the Diaspora is a holiday, how do we begin to count the omer on that day? The omer symbolizes cutting the wheat and bringing it to the Beit HaMikdash – clearly a matter that can be done only on a weekday (chol).
The Kesef Mishneh offers two answers: First, on Shemini Atzeret the blessing is on the kos, the cup of wine over which a person recites Kiddush and states, “Yom Shemini Atzeret hachag hazeh” – affirming that Shemini Atzeret is a festive day. Now, if a person were to bless “leishev basukkah” on that same cup, it would be a contradiction in his Kiddush: he would be declaring that the day was still part of Sukkot but only as chol homoed, an Intermediate Day.
However, in our case, where the counting of the omer is a separate blessing not connected to any other prayer or blessing, that problem does not exist.
Clearly, the Kesef Mishneh is entertaining the opinion that the only difficulty is the uttering of two contradictory blessings on the same cup of wine.
He offers yet another answer that is simple enough: since now we are well acquainted with the fixing of the new moon – yad’inan bi’ke’via de’yarcha – and have a set calendar, according to halacha we are not required to sit in the sukkah on the eighth day. We know exactly when Sukkot commences and so there is no longer a real sefeika deyoma. Therefore, surely we do not recite the blessing leishev basukkah. Nevertheless, in the case of sefirat ha’omer there is no doubt, as the halacha is clear that we must commence the count on the 16th of Nissan.
(To be continued)