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Shabbat Parashat Emor 5781

Ask the Rabbi: Hineni Muchan Umezuman before Sefirat Haomer

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I am not consistent about saying “Hineni muchan u’mezuman” (=hmum) before sefirat ha’omer. Should I decide one way or the other, and which way is better?  


Answer: The practice of saying “Hmum” before mitzvot, like many “extra” ritual recitations, can be traced to the Arizal (16th century) and a small elite group of his disciples until it spread broadly especially among Sephardim and Hasidim. Some gedolim opposed this introduction to mitzvot (sometimes as part of the opposition to mystically-oriented Hasidic practices, although some detractors predated Hasidism– see Chok Yaakov 489:11 and the Maharshal he cites.)

The most prominent critic is the Noda B’yehuda (Yoreh Deah I, 93). His main concern was the recitation’s first line (“L’shem yichud…”), which relates to a difficult kabbalistic idea that we want the performance of the mitzva to “unite Hashem and His Presence.” The Noda B’yehuda argued that this concept is too deep and secret to share with the masses, which could be philosophically dangerous. He also reasons that it is unnecessary to verbalize such ideas, as the “unifying” power of mitzvot occurs by itself when one does the mitzva with the intention to serve Hashem.

Beyond l’shem yichud, hmum is a statement that we are doing the mitzva because Hashem commanded us to do so. The Noda B’yehuda does not see that as bad, but unnecessary. If one indeed is doing the mitzva because Hashem commanded it, he does not need to verbalize it. However, his own practice was to distinguish – he would state his intention to do a mitzva before mitzvot that do not have a beracha. When there are berachot, we can trust Chazal to compose them with all the worthwhile elements. Instituting a text that Chazal did not disturbed him.

The practice of hmum is much less polarizing now than it was 200 years ago. While the Mishna Berura does not mention it, the (non-Hasidic) Aruch Hashulchan (OC 489:6) does, noting the opposition to it and his viewpoint that at his time it was widespread and done positively. It has mainly become a matter of communal minhag and/or personal preference, which are fine in such a matter, as is reciting it sporadically. Hopefully, you had in mind not to do it as a practice that could bind you through neder.

It is interesting that many people recite hmum regularly before some mitzvot and not other mitzvot, and sefirat ha’omer is one of the more popular times. There is actually more opposition by some (see Yalkut Yosef, Sefirat Ha’omer 1; Teshuvot V’hanhagot II:247) to reciting the standard version for sefirat ha’omer – because of the mention of “mitzvat aseh” and “k’mo shekatuv baTorah” (a positive commandment, as it says in the Torah). Rishonim dispute whether sefirat ha’omer is a mitzva from the Torah in a time when there are no korban ha’omer and korban shtei halechem to count between (see Vayikra 23:15). While the Rambam (Temidin 7:22) says that it is still from the Torah, Tosafot (Menachot 66a) follows the opinion (ibid.) that it is Rabbinic, and the Beit Yosef (OC 489) views that as the primary opinion. When we ask after counting that Hashem should return us to service in the Beit Hamikdah, we infer that only then will sefira once again be from the Torah). The Rambam (Mamrim 2:9) says that presenting a Rabbinic law as one from the Torah violates bal tosif (adding on to the Torah). Our common text either relies on the possible reading that it is a Rabbinic positive mitzva and is thereby an extension of the p’sukim or on the fact that the Rambam’s contention that it is from the Torah might be correct (Halichot Shlomo, Moadim 11:2).

We will now conjecture why many recite hmum specifically for sefirat ha’omer: 1. There are other additional recitations that one may already be doing (see Magen Avraham 489:5); 2. The mystical elements of sefirat ha’omer might be stronger than for most mitzvot; 3. It has a catchy tune (which happens not to include “L’shem yichud…”) that people like to sing. In any case, there is little halachic importance whether one does or does not recites it.

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