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The verse in Vayikra says that one must count 7 weeks until after the 7th week one would count up to 50 days (i.e., a total of 49 days).

Is each day counted considered its own separate mitzvah, or does one fulfill the mitzvah once only when he completes the full count of 49 days?

One implication of this difference - If at the start of the counting, one knows that he won't be able to complete it (say he will have major surgery, or a boy that becomes Bar Mitzvah in the middle of the Omer)

If it is one mitzvah, and he has been saying the bracha each day, if there is no completion, wouldn't all the brachot said, say, prior to the Bar Mitzvah be considered bracha levatala - a bracha in vain?

  • related judaism.stackexchange.com/q/57515/759 – Double AA May 2 '16 at 3:29
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    Re "If at the start of the counting, one knows that he won't be able to complete it (say he will have major surgery, or a boy that becomes Bar Mitzvah in the middle of the Omer)": I don't understand why a bar mitzva would be unable to complete it. – msh210 May 2 '16 at 13:54
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    Re "Is each day counted considered its own separate mitzvah, or does one fulfill the mitzvah once only when he completes the full count of 49 days?... If it is one mitzvah, and he has been saying the bracha each day, if there is no completion, wouldn't all the brachot said... be considered bracha levatala - a bracha in vain?": Maybe, but maybe it's one mitzva but the blessing is on each act that makes up the mitzva. For example, if someone says the blessing al biur chametz before searching for chametz and dies before burning it, is the blessing in vain? Maybe it is, I don't know. – msh210 May 2 '16 at 13:58
  • Very beautiful question! I will searsh Bli neder. What do you think about Vesafra lah 7 yamim? – kouty May 2 '16 at 14:14
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Technically, the answer to your question can be "yes". That is it is a machlokes as to what exactly the mitzvah is.

We can also say that the answer can be technically "no", in that it is not necessarily an "either or" situation.

We basically treat it as a single mitzvah with 49 parts. That is, we say the mitzvah each day (even though we cannot be certain that we will complete it), but we do not continue with the bracha if we do miss a day (safek bracha lehakel). However, we do continue saying it (without a bracha) if we miss a day.

There is also a machlokes whether or not it is currently a Torah Mitzvah (since it is explicitly commanded) or a rabbinic mitzvah (since it is connected with korbon omer which we can no longer bring).

This actually brings up the case of the bar mitzvah boy or a ger who become chayav mitzvos in the middle of the omer period. Whether or not it is one long mitzvah or 49 separate mitzvos will make a difference in the halacha. Also whether the mitzva today is rabbinic or not will make a difference. In fact there can be logic that would allow the bar mitzvah boy to continue saying with a bracha, but not allow the ger to start saying with a bracha. There is also logic to allow both to say with a bracha or to prevent both from saying with a bracha.

A Sefirah Dilemma

The Mitzvah of Counting the Omer

1) In the Temple Era, when the Beis Ha-Mikdash stood and the Omer offering was brought, there was a Torah mitzvah to count the Omer Count, which spans from the bringing of the offering until the festival of Shavuos, as the verse states: “You shall count for yourselves from the morrow of the Sabbath, from the day on which you brought the Omer offering—seven complete weeks they shall be—until the morrow of the seventh week, you shall count fifty days.”

2) In times when the Temple does not stand, and the Omer offering is not brought, rishonim dispute concerning whether the Torah mitzvah of counting the Omer applies, or whether the obligation is rabbinic.

3) Most authorities maintain that in the absence of the Temple, the mitzvah is only a rabbinic enactment. Nevertheless, one must follow stringencies based on the opinions that counting is a Torah mitzvah.

4) Rishonim also dispute whether or not a distinct mitzvah of counting the Omer applies each day, or whether the entire counting period is included in one continuous mitzvah.

A Separate Mitzvah Count Each Day or One 49 Day Counting Mitzvah?

There is quite an interesting discussion amongst the Gaonim and Rishonim regarding the nature of the counting of the Omer in terms of seeing each day as a separate mitzvah or seeing the entire 7 weeks as one big mitzvah. There are three main approaches in the Rishonim to this question.

Tosafos [23], The Rosh [24], and Rav Hai Gaon [25] explain that there is no clear indication in the verses to support the conclusion that this is one 49 Day Mitzvah. Rather each day of counting is a mitzvah in its own right. The concept of temimos indicates that the counting should be done at night and perhaps has other ramifications but isn’t relevant to this particular point.

Rav Yehudai Gaon [26] explains that due to the tenet of temimos the entire counting of all 49 days must also be complete. That is to say that if a person misses counting one day out of the 49 he has thus lost the entire mitzvah of counting the Omer.

Rav Sadyah Gaon [27] takes a position somewhat in the middle. He agrees with Rav Yehudai Gaon to a degree that all 49 days are bound together as one and require temimos. However, the limit of this qualification is only with regards to starting the count on the 16th of Nissan. If a person counts the first night of the Omer correctly, then even if he misses other nights during the rest of the 49 days we look at it as if he is “still in the process of counting 49 days from the 16th of Nissan. However, if a person missed counting the first night on the 16th of Nissan then he has lost the entire opportunity to fulfill this mitzvah for this year. The reason is because once he missed the first night we can no longer see him as being “in the process” of counting the 49 days from the 16th of Nissan until Shavuos.

The Shulchan Aruch [28] writes that the halacha lemaseh is that if a person missed a day of counting (both night and subsequent day) he must still keep counting for the rest of the 49 days but he may not make a blessing out of deference to the opinions that this is One 49 Day Mitzvah.

The Terumas Hadeshen [29] writes that if a person has a doubt as to whether he counted on a particular day (i.e. he is truly uncertain one way or another whether he counted) in such a case since there is a double doubt he may continue to count on the remaining days with a blessing. The rationale is that maybe the halacha follows the Tosafos and the Rosh, and even if it follows the Gaonim it is possible that he counted yesterday. This is in fact the halacha Lemaseh found in Shulchan Aruch30).

Another outgrowth of this disagreement relates to a person who converted to Judaism or even a young boy he became 13 during the middle of the Omer period. According to the view that it is a separate mitzvah each day then he may surely count from the point at which he becomes obligated in mitzvos. If it is one long 49 day mitzvah then how can he achieve temimos in which case he should count the rest of the time without a bracha.

The prevailing custom regarding a Bar Mitzvah is that provided he started the count when he was still before Bar Mitzvah he can continue the rest of the count with a bracha. The rationale here is that perhaps the halacha is like those who say each day is a separate mitzvah and furthermore, there are poskim who add another facet that since until now the boy wasn’t obligated, so from here on if he counts without missing that is called temimos for him.

[23]. ↑ Gemara Menachos 66a “Zecher” and Megillah 20b “Kol Halaylah”
[24]. ↑ Pesachim Ch 10 Siman 41
[25]. ↑ See Maharitz Geus Vol 2 pg 109 and Tshuvos Hagaonim Vol 2 pg 212
[26]. ↑ Ba’al Halachos Gedolos “Atzeres”
[27]. ↑ Sidddur Harasag pg 155
[28]. ↑ Orach Chaim 489:8
[29]. ↑ Vol 1 Siman 37

The obligation to count the Omer

Biblically, it only applies in Temple times (when the Omer offering is brought) but we continue to perform it today by rabbinic enactment. This mitzvah is discussed in the Talmud in tractate Menachos on page 66a and is codified in the Shulchan Aruch in Orach Chaim 489. It is #161 of the 248 positive mitzvos in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and #26 of the 77 positive mitzvos that can be fulfilled today as listed in the Chofetz Chaim’s Sefer HaMitzvos HaKatzar.

Sefiras Haomer Connects thie mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer to the mitzvah of tefillin. Rabbi Winston explains that the mitzvah of tefillin is renewed each day that that there is no question about saying the bracha even if a day has been missed.

At the root of this discussion is one’s understanding of the mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer: is it one long, continuous mitzvah with fifty parts, or, does each day’s counting stand as a separate mitzvah? If the former, then the blessing has been lost because the mitzvah is no longer complete (though you still count each subsequent day without its blessing); if the latter, then, what was, was, but, what is coming up is what counts now and therefore, say the blessing.

When it comes to Tefillin, a mitzvah that is also performed most days, missing one day does not change tomorrow’s obligation in any way. What was missed is lost, but, every new day is a new chance to do the same mitzvah, and therefore all blessings must be said. How many single mitzvos are there that are performed over such a long period of time?

Halachically, we have decided to treat Sefiras HaOmer, which lasts over FORTY-NINE days, like a single mitzvah, which means miss a day, lose the blessing for the rest of the counting. It’s a phenomenal concept which certainly puts pressure on males to make sure that, for forty-nine days, they do not forget to count the omer — which some do, for one reason or another!

However, one can understand why when comparing the mitzvah of Tefillin, for example, and, the mitzvah to count the omer. Tefillin is the same mitzvah each and every day, though, one should be using that ‘same mitzvah’ to grow spiritually so that, the next time Tefillin are worn, it is a different, spiritually more elevated act than all other times before. However, the actual performance of the mitzvah remains the same.

Not so with Sefiras HaOmer, for, though each day the counting-process is the same, the wording is different for each count, revealing an obvious build-up toward the holiday of Shavuos. The Omer-Count is a spiritual construction process, whereby the end result justifies all the ‘work’ and ‘expenditure’ until that end-result is realized.

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In his "Ha-Mo'adim Ba-Halakha", Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin discusses this question ("בגדר תמימות בספירת העומר"):

  • if one knows that he will not be able to count one day during sefirah, does he start counting anyhow or not?

This would only be a question according to the Behag, who holds that if you miss one day you cannot continue counting (see Tosfos in Menachos 66a).
However according to all the rishonim who argue with the Behag, obviously one would count all the days that he can even if he will miss a day in the middle.

Rav Zevin explains that even according to the Behag, this is not one mitzvah (if it was, why would we make a separate berakha each night?). Rather, each night is a separate mitzvah of counting, but there is a halakha that there must be continuity in the counting. This is what תמימות means--the count is not isolated but continuous. According to this explanation, even if one knows that he will miss a night, it does not affect his previous count.

Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik explains the view of the Behag in the same way (as quoted in Harerei Kedem). According to this explanation, all agree that sefirah is not one long mitzvah but 49 separate mitzvah acts.

Other acharonim, however, interpret the Behag to mean that it is one long mitzvah and therefore if one would miss a night, the berakhot of the previous nights would be considered berakhot le-vatalah (this is the view of Chida, Moreh b'Etzba, siman 7). According to this interpretation, one who e.g. knows he will have surgery in the middle of sefirat ha-omer and therefore miss an entire day should begin counting without a berakha.

  • I've heard that the Mishna berurah holds that women can't count with a brachah because they're bound to miss a day. The others who don't say so probably either hold that it's a safek if they'll finish, in which case they'd say a brachah (sfeik sfeika) or maybe innocent until proven guilty (kol Yisroel bechezkas kashrus) or maybe as you explained – user613 May 12 '16 at 22:52
  • @user613 the mishna berura doesn't say that they can't count with a beracha b/c they will miss a day, but b/c they are likely to count the wrong day, which would certainly be a beracha levatala. Poskim nowadays say that this no longer applies, as there are reminders all over which tell you what day to count – wfb May 13 '16 at 16:26
  • OK, I've never looked it up. Practically, it doesn't affect me as my minhag is that women say the brocho as the Shu"a harav says – user613 May 14 '16 at 8:53

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