Shabbat Parashat Behar| 5766
Ask the Rabbi
Question: If I am unsure what day of the omer it is, may I count both possible days in order to “cover my bases”?
Answer: Several poskim mention that it is preferable to recite sefirat haomer with a minyan. Your question provides one more reason to do so, as someone in shul will certainly know the correct count. Nowadays, even people who are traveling (the case discussed in the poskim) can and should normally call someone to find out the count if they are in doubt. However, we will deal with the question, which still arises, and touches on important concepts.
The matter begins with the question of the Ba’al Hamaor and Ran (very end of Pesachim). They ask why, in chutz la’aretz, one does not count two different days of the omer each night in order to take into account the possibility that the second day of Yom Tov was the real day? In other words, when they recite day 5 in Israel, abroad they should be saying 5 and 4. They answer that since if one does this throughout the sefira period,he would have to count day 49 on Shavuot, this would be a disgrace to Shavuot, and so they didn’t institute a count of doubt. The clear implication of these important Rishonim is that, in theory, it is possible to make a “double count” out of doubt, except when additional factors preclude it.
On the other hand, there are Acharonim (see Yabia Omer VIII, OC 45, who cites some) who give a more fundamental answer. They claim that it is not considered counting to recite contradictory numbers without knowing which is correct. Sefirat haomer, they reason,is not a mitzva to recite a text, which would allow one to recite multiple texts out of doubt. Rather, the mitzva is to give verbal expression to the knowledge of the correct day in the series. The Avnei Nezer (YD 248) seems to object mainly to reciting contradictory numbers. Some go further, saying that even if one guesses correctly and counts only the correct day, he does not fulfill the mitzva with the recitation because he guessed rather than knew.
Despite the appeal of the Acharonim’s logic, the prominence of the Rishonim’s opinion seems tooutweigh theirs (see D’var Avraham I, 34). Therefore, if a person remains in doubt, he can perform a double count and continue a normal count with a beracha upon finding out the correct one on a subsequent night (Yabia Omer, ibid.). (Remember that it is a machloket whether one who did not count or counted wrong one night can count on other nights with a beracha).
The remaining question is whether one can make a beracha on the double count while he is in doubt. There are two hesitations. Firstly, as we saw, some question such a counting’s validity, and we avoid making berachot when there is a question whether the mitzva will be done properly (safek berachot l’hakel). Secondly, if the first number recited turns out to be wrong, it might be considered a hefsek (a problematic break) between the beracha and the correct number. This may depend on the nature of a hefsek and whether something done to try to fulfill a mitzva but turns out to be improper creates a hefsek (see Mikraei Kodesh, Pesach II 67). Rav Kook (Orach Mishpat 126) has an idea to obviate the problem, which could work in at least some cases. Although (or because) it is hard to decide on the matter, we suggest that one refrain from a beracha if and when he is forced to make such a double count. (Lack of a beracha in no way disqualifies the mitzva.)
When carrying out such a count, it is better to try to decide which number one thinks is more likely to be correct and recite it first with as much conviction as he can muster. If one is anyway not making a beracha, it is proper to break for several seconds between the first count and the second. If the counts are separated, it is possible that the Avnei Nezer and others would not consider it a self-contradictory count.
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