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Counting Days and Weeks of the Omer (2)

Rav Moshe Taragin


A previous shiur explored the status of sefirat ha-omer (, counting from Pesach to Shavuot, in the era after churban ha-Mikdash (the destruction of the Temple).  The two absolute positions of the Rambam (that the mitzva remains mi-de'oraita, on a biblical level, even without the Mikdash) and Tosafot (that the mitzva applies nowadays mi-derabbanan, on a rabbinical level) were presented.  In addition, we encountered two compromise positions, each based in some measure on the position of Ameimar (Menachot 66a), who would count days but not weeks since the omer serves merely as a zekher (commemoration) of the mitzva's performance in the Mikdash.  According to Rabbeinu Yerucham, the counting of days is independent of the Mikdash, while the counting of weeks exists only as a rabbinic decree after the destruction of Mikdash.  Conversely, the Sefat Emet (based primarily on the verses) claims that the counting of weeks is geared toward scheduling Shavuot and exists independently of the Mikdash; by contrast, the counting of days depends upon the Mikdash and the offerings, and it therefore applies only mi-derabbanan after the Churban.  Each of these positions – as different as they are from one another - assumes a distinction between the two counting schemes, each possessing a unique function.  This issue is not necessarily accepted by all Rishonim.  This shiur will explore the question as to whether the two counting schemes are integrated as one mitzva and one series, or exist alongside each other as separate mitzvot. 


As stated above, Rabbeinu Yerucham premises his stance upon viewing the two counting schemes as different cycles and distinct mitzvot.  In fact, he even questions the absence of two separate berakhot.  The obligation of tefillin contains two different mitzvot (for that of the arm and that of the head) and therefore requires two separate berakhot (at least according to Tosafot).  Shouldn't the same be true of counting days and counting weeks?  Hence, he concludes that the counting of weeks no longer applies on the de'oraita level after the destruction of the Mikdash, and its berakha is therefore suspended.  According to Rabbeinu Yerucham, though, during the time of the Mikdash, two berakhot were indeed recited over sefirat ha-omer: one for the mitzva of counting days and one for the mitzva of counting weeks.  Presumably, the Sefat Emet would also subscribe to this two-mitzva principle - by the very fact that one counting remains mi-de'oraita after the Churban while the other exists only mi-derabbanan.  These positions are heavily based upon the simple reading of Abbayyei's statement in Menachot (ibid.): "There is a mitzva to count days and a mitzva to count weeks."  This formulation implies that two mitzvot, in fact, exist.


By contrast, the Rambam, in his Sefer Ha-mitzvot (Mitzvat Aseh 161), clearly catalogues both counts as one integrated mitzva.  In an extraordinary elaboration upon the structure of this mitzva, the Rambam asserts the incorporation of the two counting schemes as a single mitzva.  He likens this incorporation to the relationship between counting to shemitta (the seventh or sabbatical year) and counting to yovel (the fiftieth or jubilee year) – schemes which are obviously related.  After counting seven rounds of shemitta, the fiftieth year is automatically defined as yovel.  Similarly, after counting seven days, a week of sefirat ha-omer is reached.  As proof to the integration of the two, the Rambam points out the absence of separate berakhot. (Bear in mind that according to Rabbeinu Yerucham, during the times of the Mikdash, when each scheme was indeed mi-de'oraita, two berakhot were, in fact, recited.)  According to the Rambam, a second proof is provided by the fact that we mention the week each night and not just at the conclusion of seven-day units.  This implies that the mention of weeks is meant merely to elaborate the counting of days, but not as a separate, week-based counting.  Interestingly, the Ba'al Ha-ma'or, in his comments to the tenth chapter of Pesachim (Rif, 28a), indeed claims that the weeks should be mentioned only at the end of seven-day units.  Perhaps he concurs with Rabbeinu Yerucham, that the weeks were counted as a separate cycle, and hence there would be no reason to mention them during the midway points. 


In terms of the method of counting, the Mordekhai in Megilla (at the end of the second chapter, 803) cites an interesting variant in the name of the Rabbeinu Efrayim.  Though the number of days must be mentioned leading up to the first week, the day-count may be suspended thereafter.  Namely, on day 8 one should count, "One week and one day," without actually mentioning the number of days.  On day 16, he should say, "Two weeks and two days," rather than mentioning the number sixteen.  On the surface, it would appear that the entire counting revolves solely around the counting of weeks.  Days are important only as sub-units accumulating to larger units of weeks.  Once a week is reached, the sub-elements, which were incorporated into its achievement, are no longer relevant.  When Abbayyei mentions the mitzva to count both days and weeks, he means that we count days in order to more accurately and gradually arrive at the only important counting factor: the weeks. 


A more moderate formulation of Rabbeinu Efrayim's position would be that there exist two components to the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer (a more literal rendition of Abbayyei's view), but they are integrated.  Once milestones (weeks) are passed, the previous days are not mentioned.  This does not assume that the day-counting is irrelevant.  Rather, they are implied within the mention of units of weeks.  However, had the day- and week-counts been viewed as completely separate experiences, Rabbeinu Efrayim's position would be extremely difficult to defend.  Evidently, he agrees in spirit with the Rambam's stance. 


This question influences two very interesting technical issues regarding sefirat ha-omer.  First, what happens if a person counts only days or only weeks?  Conceivably, adopting Rabbeinu Yerucham's position would demand greater stringency — namely, only one mitzva has been fulfilled, while the other has been entirely ignored.  According to the Rambam, however, only one mitzva exists: to mark the passing of time.  Ideally, the time should be marked through two different schemes, but be-di'eved (ex post facto) one scheme might suffice.  On the other hand, even if we adopt the Rambam's position, we might demand the more elaborate form of counting, even be-di'eved.  The Magen Avraham (OC 489:4) rules that either compromised counting suffices be-di'eved, but many authorities disagree with his position (see Mishna Berura 489:7, citing the Peri Chadash, among others).


The Beit Ha-levi (1:39) raises an additional issue which would stem from this debate.  According to the Behag, if a person forgets to count one day of sefirat ha-omer, he cannot continue counting. As the quality of temimut (perfection; see Vayikra 23:15) has been forfeited, any further counting would be pointless.  The Beit Ha-levi questions a situation in which the temimut of the days has been compromised, but not the temimut of the week-counting.  What would happen if a day was omitted, but the person did not omit an entire week; or if he did not omit a day in which a week was completed (7, 14, 21, etc.)?  According to Rabbeinu Yerucham, each scheme constitutes a separate counting; as such, the temimut of one should not affect the integrity of the other.  According to the Rambam, however, the two comprise one incorporated counting, and, conceivably, the integrity of the weeks might flavor the entire process with the aspect of temimut.  In fact, toward the conclusion of his comments the Beit Ha-levi cites those posekim who validate (be-di'eved) a counting of weeks without days or days without weeks.  If days can be completely omitted, then presumably the temimut can be retained so long as the week scheme is complete. 

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