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Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Counting Sefira with a Beracha When One Expects to Miss a Day

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I rarely succeed in counting all 49 days of sefirat ha’omer. Considering that I seem to always discontinue making a beracha at some point, should I refrain from making one from the outset?

 

Answer: Your idea to not say the beracha from the outset is based on the thesis that sefirat ha’omer is one long “all-or-nothing” mitzva; i.e., if you miss a day, you will not have fulfilled any mitzva, retroactively rendering your berachot l’vatala. We will build up this reasonable conclusion (before rejecting it).

Tosafot (Ketubot 72a) asks why a zava does not make a beracha upon counting seven days toward purification and answers that it is because “if she sees, the count will be undone.” In contrast, regarding sefirat ha’omer and beit din’s counting of 50 years toward yovel, there is nothing to stop the count. Some Acharonim infer from this that it is forbidden to make a beracha on a mitzva when there is real concern it will later turn out that it was irrelevant. In our context, the Chida (Avodat Hakodesh, Moreh B’etzba 217) warns people to take precautions not to forget a day of sefira, for if they do, their berachot will retroactively be l’vatala.

Nevertheless, there are several reasons to allow counting with a beracha until one misses, even if we were certain he will be unable to finish with a beracha. (B’tzel Hachochma V:45 discusses a man who was told he had only a few days to live; Shraga Hameir VI:31 discusses someone scheduled for surgery that would incapacitate him for an entire day.) First, we note that the ruling that one cannot continue with a beracha after missing a day (the Behag’s opinion) is far from unanimous (see Tur, Orach Chayim 489). The Shulchan Aruch (OC 489:8) accepts it only out of doubt and says that if one is not sure if he missed a day, he should continue with a beracha due to a double doubt (maybe he didn’t miss; maybe it does not disqualify the mitzva- Mishna Berura 489:38).

Second, even if one may not continue with a beracha, it does not necessarily mean the count was worthless. While some explain this approach as positing that the 49 countings constitute a single mitzva, this may be an overstatement. One indication (not a proof) is the fact that we make a berachot 49 times. Rav Soloveitchik (Mesorah, ed. III, p. 35) explains that the Behag agrees there is a mitzva every day, just that the counting must be consecutive in order to fulfill the mitzva. Therefore the mitzva ceases to be operative only after one misses a day.

Third, the Rav Pealim (III, OC 32) suggest that the fact that we recite the beracha on sefirat haomer without an assurance we will succeed in completing the mitzva shows that the value of a partial fulfillment of a mitzva prevents the berachot from being retroactively l’vatala. Why then does Tosafot say that concern of non-completion precludes a beracha on a zava’s count? Some say the Behag does not agree with Tosafot. Some distinguish between a nominal value of a partial sefirat ha’omer as opposed to no value for a suspended count for a zava. Still others say that a future problem does not retroactively invalidate berachot, and Tosafot was only explaining that the Rabbis chose not to institute a beracha for a mitzva that lends itself to suspension (see discussion in Yabia Omer I, YD 21).

There are also philosophical arguments to reject consideration of the assumptions in almost all scenarios. How can one decide he will not survive to the end of the count or when surgery will incapacitate him? Certainly, how can one not recite the beracha in which the Rabbis obligated him if nothing prevents from success (especially if he can adopt practices, e.g., davening with a minyan every night, that mitigate the concern)?

Practically, there is a clear consensus among poskim and in minhag for men (see Mishna Berura 489:3) to start saying sefirat haomer with a beracha. Even the Chida, the most prominent apparent naysayer, did not write to start without a beracha; he just warned not to miss a day (see B’tzel Hachochma ibid. who distinguishes).

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