The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Surf A Little Torah
Yeshivat Har Etzion


Rav David Silverberg

Parashat Emor introduces the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer, which we observe during this period, between Pesach and Shavuot. The Torah writes, "You shall count for yourselves… seven complete weeks" (23:15). The Gemara (Menachot 65) notes the Torah's emphasis on the personal nature of the mitzva – "u-sfartem lakhem" – "you shall count FOR YOURSELVES," and on this basis the Gemara establishes "she-tehei sefira le-khol echad ve-echad" – literally, "the counting must be performed by each and every individual."

An interesting debate arose among the Acharonim in defining this halakha, as recorded and discussed by the Chafetz Chayim, in his Bei'ur Halakha (489). The debate surrounds the issue of whether or not the Gemara here dismisses the possibility of implementing the familiar halakhic mechanism of shomei'a ke-oneh with regard to the counting of the omer. Generally speaking, mitzvot involving merely the recitation of a given text can be performed by listening to its recitation with the intention to fulfill one's obligation through listening. Shomei'a ke-oneh means that listening can be halakhically equivalent to personal recitation, provided that both parties have this mechanism in mind during the recitation. At first glance, there is no reason to preclude the possibility of performing the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer in this fashion, by listening to the counting of another. Just as one person recites kiddush on behalf of everyone at his table, and a ba'al keri'a reads the Megila on behalf of the congregation, so should we seemingly permit one individual to count the omer on behalf of a large group of listeners.

This Gemara, however, appears to indicate otherwise: "the counting must be performed by each and every individual." Does this mean that one must personally count the omer, and may not make use of the familiar shomei'a ke-oneh system?

The Peri Chadash and others insist that shomei'a ke-oneh applies to sefirat ha-omer just as it does to other recitation-oriented mitzvot. This halakha simply establishes sefirat ha-omer as a personal, rather than national/communal, obligation. As opposed to a similar obligation – the counting of years for the shemita and yovel cycles (Vayikra 25:8), which is charged upon the rabbinic leadership (the Sanhedrin), and is not assigned to every individual, the counting of the omer is a personal mitzva. This does not, in the view of the Peri Chadash, preclude the possibility of fulfilling this personal obligation through shomei'a ke-oneh, just as one fulfills other personal obligations in this fashion. It simply casts sefirat ha-omer as a mitzva charged upon every individual, rather than only the leadership.

By contrast, the Levush and Chok Yaakov deny the possibility of fulfilling the sefirat ha-omer obligation by listening to the counting of another. In their view, the Torah specifically ordained the every individual count personally, rather than employ the standard mechanism of shomei'a ke-oneh.

The Bei'ur Halakha contends that this debate has much earlier roots, in the writings of the Rishonim. Both Rashi and the Rashba, in their respective commentaries to the aforementioned passage in Masekhet Menachot, speak of each individual bearing an obligation to count the omer, suggesting to the Bei'ur Halakha that they require specifically personal counting, and do not allow recourse to shomei'a ke'oneh. By contrast, the Maharitz Gei'at and Orchot Chayim – two less known Rishonim – appear to sanction the chazan's recitation of sefirat ha-omer on behalf of the congregation. These sources address the situation of counting omer on Motza'ei Shabbat, which takes place after the recitation of Vi-hi no'am. According to these Rishonim, although sefirat ha-omer generally must be recited while standing, on Motza'ei Shabbat, since everyone is already sitting during the recitation of Vi-hi no'am, it suffices for the chazan to stand as he recites the omer counting on behalf of the congregation. In order not to trouble the entire congregation to rise from their seats for the omer counting, these Rishonim allow the chazan to count for everyone else, who listen while remaining seated. Seemingly, then, these Rishonim indeed apply the shomei'a ke-oneh principle to the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer.

As for normative practice, the Chafetz Chayim strongly recommends following the stringent view and counting the omer personally; however, if a person for whatever reason cannot count himself, he may – and should – rely on the lenient position, and listen to someone else's counting.


Yesterday, we encountered two views regarding the Gemara's comment in Maskehet Menachot (65b) that sefirat ha-omer must be performed by "each and every individual." According to some (see Tosefot), the Gemara simply clarifies that unlike the mitzva to count the years for determining the cycles of shemita and yovel, which is obligatory only upon the High Court, representing the entire nation, sefirat ha-omer is an individual obligation. Everyone bears a personal obligation to count omer, and it is not cast specifically on the Sanhedrin. Others, however, argue that the Gemara here denies the possibility of fulfilling this obligation by hearing the counting of another; whereas normally one can fulfill a requirement entailing the recitation of a text by hearing someone else's recitation, this mechanism does not apply to sefirat ha-omer.

At first glance, both these views require further explanation. Firstly, why would one have perceived sefirat ha-omer as a national – as opposed to individual – mitzva, and thus charged specifically upon the Sanhedrin? Why doesn't the Gemara consider this possibility for other mitzvot? And regarding the second view, why shouldn't the mechanism of shomei'a ke-oneh, which allows one to be considered to have read a text by listening to someone else's recitation, apply to this obligation, just as it does to all other recitation-oriented mitzvot?

Regarding the first question, we might suggest that the possibility of viewing this mitzva as a national obligation perhaps arises from the context in which the Torah presents it, in Parashat Emor. The Torah requires counting the omer "from the day when you bring the omer of waiving…until the day following the seventh week, you shall count fifty days, and you shall then bring a new offering to the Lord" (23:15-16). Sefirat ha-omer is introduced here as part of the sacrificial system that begins with the korban ha-omer on the second day of Pesach (23:10-14), and culminates with the korban shetei ha-lechem on Shavuot (23:17-20). As such, one may have assumed that just as these sacrifices are national offerings, and are not incumbent upon each individual personally, so should we view sefirat ha-omer as a national obligation, to which only the Sanhedrin, as the nation's rabbinic leadership, bears responsibility.

Rav Asher Zelig Weiss shlit"a, in his Minchat Asher, addresses these and other anomalous features of sefirat ha-omer and points to a basic nuance latent in this obligation to explain these peculiarities. Namely, as opposed to other mitzvot involving a recitation, such as kiddush, tefila, shema, and so on, the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer is defined not by the verbal counting, but rather by the desired result – keeping track of the number of days that have passed since the second day of Pesach. After all, unlike, for example, the recitation of shema, the verbal declaration of the number of days that have passed is not inherently an act of avodat Hashem; it bears significance only insofar as the individual is now aware of the number day in the omer.

This perhaps answers the second question raised – why some views preclude the possibility of fulfilling this mitzva through the process of shomei'a ke-oneh. This mechanism works only to apply one person's recitation to another person; it simply equates listening with reciting. But the sefira obligation involves more than mere recitation; it entails a cognitive awareness of the given number of days that have transpired through verbal recitation. Shomei'a ke-oneh thus does not apply, since it is restricted to mitzvot involving only the act of verbalization.

This might also explain the possibility considered of assigning this obligation only to the Sanhedrin. The definition of this mitzva is keeping track of the number of days that have passed in order to determine when the festival of Shavuot will occur. One might therefore have placed this mitzva under the general system of calendar arrangement, or kiddush ha-chodesh, which is the exclusive responsibility of the Sanhedrin. In fact, Chizkuni (Devarim 16:9) claims that the Sanhedrin bears a special obligation of sefirat ha-omer, in addition to the personal obligation. In any event, this definition of sefirat ha-omer, as an obligation to keep track of the passage of days, helps understand why one may have equated this mitzva with the counting of years for shemita and yovel, which is assigned only to the Sanhedrin.

Rav Weiss adds that this theory also helps explain the question raised by Rabbi Akiva Eiger (teshuvot, 29-30) as to whether one fulfills the obligation of sefirat ha-omer by writing the number of the given day. The Arukh Ha-shulchan (O.C. 489) understandably expresses astonishment over such a question. Since when can one fulfill an obligation to recite a given text by writing it? What more, whereas Rabbi Akiva Eiger merely raised the issue for discussion and left it unresolved, some authorities – cited by the Kaf Ha-chayim (489:28) – actually consider writing the number of the given day sufficient to fulfill this obligation. How do we explain such a position? Undoubtedly, Rav Weiss argues, sefirat ha-omer differs fundamentally from other mitzvot involving recitation. Its basic definition is not the verbalization itself, but rather the overall, cognitive experience of "counting." As such, there is room to at least consider the possibility of fulfilling this obligation through writing, even without verbal articulation.


Today we will continue our discussion of the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer, which the Torah introduces in Parashat Emor (23:15). A famous debate exists among the Rishonim as to whether this obligation applies on the level of Torah law in the post-Temple era. According to most views, after the Temple's destruction the Torah obligation of sefirat ha-omer no longer applies, and we count only in commemoration of the actual mitzva. The Rambam, however, in Hilkhot Temidin U-musafin (7:24), famously expresses his view that the Torah obligation of sefirat ha-omer remains in effect regardless of the existence of a functioning Beit Ha-mikdash.

Many Acharonim understood this debate as reflecting the question we discussed earlier this week, as to the relationship between the counting obligation and the special sacrifices offered at either end of the sefira period. The Torah introduces the mitzva of sefira in the context of its presentation of the korban ha-omer – offered on the second day of Pesach – and the korban shetei ha-lechem of Shavuot. In fact, the Torah demarcates the sefira period as running "from the day when you bring the omer of waving" until the fiftieth day, on which the special korban shetei ha-lechem is brought. At first glance, this contextual association between sefira and these offerings suggests a fundamental, halakhic link between them, which would presumably express itself in practical dependence. Since the counting obligation constitutes part of the sacrificial system of the Pesach-Shavuot period, its application should hinge on the practical application of this system. When the Temple does not stand, and thus these sacrifices cannot be brought, the Torah obligation of sefira does not apply.

The Rambam, apparently, denied this fundamental association between sefirat ha-omer and the sacrifices offered on Pesach and Shavuot. The counting obligation, in his view, stands independent of these sacrifices, and thus applies regardless of the state of the Beit Ha-mikdash. We might add that in his Moreh Nevukhim (3:43), the Rambam explains that this mitzva serves to express our anticipation of Matan Torah, which we commemorate and celebrate on Shavuot. Though there is room to question whether the Rambam's philosophical explanations of mitzvot in Moreh Nevukhim have any effect on his practical rulings in Mishneh Torah, this understanding of the sefira obligation likely renders it independent of the Pesach-Shavuot sacrificial order.

In any event, Rav Chayim of Brisk (as cited and discussed by Rav Soloveitchik – see Rav Herschel Shachtar's Mi-pninei Rabbenu, pp. 266-7) disagreed with this entire analysis of the debate, and argued that another issue must be at stake. If, indeed, the sefira obligation – according to most Rishonim – is practically dependent upon the korban ha-omer, then even when the Temple stood, the mitzva of counting would apply only when the omer offering was brought. If, for whatever reason, the korban ha-omer was not brought, then the sefira obligation should not apply. But nowhere, Rav Chayim noted, do we find any indication in Talmudic literature to this effect. Necessarily, then, this debate must hinge on some other issue, as according to no views does the mitzva of sefira appear to practically hinge on the Pesach-Shavuot sacrificial system.

Rav Chayim therefore suggested that this debate revolves around the issue of the status of the Temple grounds nowadays. The Rambam famously maintains (Hilkhot Beit Ha-bechira 6:14-16) that the site of the Temple retains its halakhic status of sanctity despite the Temple's destruction. Hence, Rav Chayim claimed, the situation today is halakhically equivalent to the aforementioned scenario, where the korban ha-omer was not brought, for whatever reason, despite the existence of a functioning Temple. Nowadays, too, the possibility for sacrificial worship at the site of the Temple fundamentally exists, and only practical obstacles prevent us from offering the korban ha-omer (and other sacrifices). This fundamental possibility, Rav Chayim explained, suffices to keep the sefira obligation intact. According to Rav Chayim's analysis, even the Rambam acknowledges that sefira constitutes part of the omer-shetei ha-lechem sacrificial system; however, the fact that the offering of korbanot is theoretically possible even nowadays renders the system fundamentally applicable, and thus the sefira obligation remains. The other Rishonim, by contrast, maintained that the site of the Temple lost its halakhic sanctity with the Temple's destruction. Therefore, even on the fundamental plane, the omer sacrificial system is not in force; hence, according to these views, the Torah obligation of sefira does not apply, either.


Yesterday, we presented and discussed the somewhat controversial position of the Rambam, in Hilkhot Temidin U-musafin (7:24), that the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer, which the Torah introduces in Parashat Emor (23:15), applies at the level of Torah obligation even in the post-Temple era. As we saw, most other Rishonim consider the Torah obligation dependent upon the offering of the korban ha-omer on the second day of Pesach, and thus it cannot apply after the Temple's destruction. It was Chazal who instituted a commemorative counting so that we remember the mitzva's performance when the Mikdash stood. Today we will look at the Talmudic origins of this debate.

In Masekhet Menachot (66a), the Gemara records divergent practices among the Amoraim with regard to sefirat ha-omer. The majority of the Amoraim, the Gemara tells, would count both the days and weeks, as we are indeed accustomed to doing. One Amora, however – Mar Bar Rav Ashi – counted only the days, without mentioning the weeks, explaining that nowadays sefirat ha-omer constitutes but a commemoration, rather than the original Torah obligation. Apparently, Mar Bar Rav Ashi felt that the commemorative quality of sefirat ha-omer allows for flexibility in its performance. Although the Torah obligation clearly requires counting both days and weeks, the rabbinically-ordained commemoration need not precisely parallel the fulfillment of the Torah obligation, and thus counting merely the days suffices.

The Rambam and other Rishonim seem to have understood this Gemara in two different ways. According to the Rambam, the other Amoraim disagree with Mar Bar Rav Ashi's assumption that sefirat ha-omer nowadays constitutes but a rabbinic obligation. In their view, the Torah obligation of sefirat ha-omer remains in effect even after the Mikdash's destruction, and for this reason we must count the weeks, as well. The Rambam therefore followed the majority position, and concluded that sefirat ha-omer remains as a Torah obligation. The other Rishonim, by contrast, held that all views considered sefira a rabbinic obligation nowadays. However, the majority of Amroaim felt, quite simply, that this rabbinic obligation should follow the model of the Torah obligation; if, indeed, post-Temple counting is meant to commemorate the counting that was conducted when the Mikdash stood, it should be performed in the precisely same manner.

Some Acharonim wondered why the Rambam did not interpret this debate like the other Rishonim did. Why did he assume that the majority view rejects the underlying assumption of Mar Bar Rav Ashi's position, rather than simply taking issue with its practical results?

The Divrei Malkiel (1:94) suggested that the Rambam could not accept such a view, that sefirat ha-omer nowadays is simply commemorative but must nevertheless correspond precisely to the original Torah obligation. According to the Divrei Malkiel, the position that hinges the Torah obligation of sefira on the existence of a Mikdash perceives sefirat ha-omer as part of the sacrificial structure of Pesach and Shavuot, beginning with the korban ha-omer on Pesach and culminating with the korban shetei ha-lechem on Shavuot. (For further elaboration on this point, see yesterday's S.A.L.T.) Thus, in the absence of the Temple, even a commemorative sefirat ha-omer cannot possibly resemble the original, authentic mitzva, which revolved around the korban ha-omer on the second day of Pesach. The Divrei Malkiel contends that whenever Chazal enact a commemoration that in any event cannot truly reflect the original mitzva, its demands are more flexible, since an exact replica anyway can never be achieved. In this instance, since the counting cannot be performed in conjunction with the sacrificial offering, it necessarily deviates from the actual ritual demanded by the Torah. It is inconceivable, then, that Chazal would insist upon a precise replica, by requiring the counting of both days and weeks. For this reason, the Rambam had no choice but to understand the majority position as denying Mar Bar Rav Ashi's basic assumption, that sefira nowadays is but a rabbinic obligation.


As we have discussed this week, the Torah in Parashat Emor introduces the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer (23:15), which requires counting forty-nine days from the second day of Pesach. The Torah presents this mitzva as part of the unique sacrificial system of Pesach and Shavuot. It commands counting seven weeks "from the day when you bring the omer of waving" – the special korban ha-omer offered on the second day of Pesach – and then, on the fiftieth day, "you shall bring a new offering of grain" – the korban shetei ha-lechem of Shavuot.

During the time of the Second Temple, these verses became the subject of a bitter debate between followers of authentic Judaism and the heretical Sadducees, who denied the authority of the rabbinic oral tradition. The Sadducees turned these verses into a focal point of their argument, by refusing to accept the rabbis' interpretation of this verse. The Torah requires beginning the count "mi-macharat ha-Shabbat" – literally, "from the day following the sabbath." Chazal insisted that shabbat in this context actually refers to the first day of Pesach, and thus the korban ha-omer was to be brought on the second day of Pesach, and the sefira also begins on that day. The Sadducees, however, argued for the literal interpretation of the word "shabbat"; thus, they held that the korban ha-omer must be offered on the first Sunday after the first day of Pesach, at which point the sefirat ha-omer count should begin. Hence, the Sadducees would observe Shavuot on a different day than would traditional Jews.

Why did this dispute concerning the interpretation of these verses turn into such a bitter conflict?

In truth, we need not necessarily attribute any particular significance to the specific context of this debate. Quite possibly, the Sadducees simply saw in this verse their best opportunity to undermine the authority of the rabbis. The Rambam, in his commentary to Pirkei Avot (1:2), writes that this sect's followers essentially sought to rid themselves of the burden imposed by rabbinic legislation during this time. They therefore devised a clever tactic to free themselves of the rabbis' rules – by denying their authority altogether. It is likely that Chazal's novel interpretation of the word shabbat in this context provided an easy basis for their false charge that the rabbis fabricated their interpretations of the Torah.

Nevertheless, some later writers have suggested that the debate concerning mi-machorat ha-shabbat itself reflects a deeper religious conflict. Rav Yehuda Nachshoni, in his Hagot Be-parshiyot Ha-Torah, points to the practical results of the differing interpretations as symbolizing the broader, theological underpinnings of this conflict. As mentioned, according to the Sadducees, the korban shetei ha-lechem offering and observance of Shavuot would not necessarily occur on the date when the Torah was given. Since we received the Torah fifty days after the Exodus, Shavuot – the fiftieth day after the offering of the korban ha-omer – coincides with the anniversary of Matan Torah only if the korban ha-omer is brought on the second day of Pesach. According to the Sadducees, however, the day on which this offering was brought depended on the day of the week, rather than the calendar date.

In effect, then, the Sadducees separated the agricultural celebration of Shavuot – featuring the korban shetei ha-lechem, which was prepared from the newly harvested wheat – and the festival's historical motif – the commemoration of Matan Torah. Herein, Rav Nachshoni suggests, lies the crux of the debate between the Sadducees and the rabbis. According to Chazal's interpretation, the Torah specifically sought to merge the agricultural celebration with the commemoration of Matan Torah, in order to underscore the need for infusing the mundane with the sacred, the relevance of Torah to even our otherwise earthly pursuits. Torah law and values must infuse every aspect of our lives, rather than be confined to only very limited contexts. The Sadducees, by contrast, argued for the separation between the two worlds of the sacred and the mundane; in their worldview, the agricultural cycle must stand independent of religious thought and ideals. Religion, they held, belongs only in the synagogue or study halls, but not in the fields and threshing floors, which is the exclusive domain of the farmer, his tools and his skills. They therefore adamantly championed scheduling Shavuot – the harvest festival – for a day other than the day of Matan Torah, so as to emphasize their desire for the isolation of Torah from everyday life.


This week we have been discussing the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer, which the Torah introduces in Parashat Emor (23:15) and is observed during this period – between Pesach and Shavuot – throughout the Jewish world. This obligation requires counting each day starting from the second day of Pesach through Erev Shavuot.

The Ba'al Ha-maor (at the end of Masekhet Pesachim) raises the famous question regarding the procedure for sefirat ha-omer in the Diaspora. As we know, Diaspora communities always observe an extra day of Yom Tov in commemoration of the time when, centuries ago, communities outside Eretz Yisrael were not informed as to which day was declared Rosh Chodesh (first of the month) by the High Court in Israel. Before the establishment of the fixed calendar system used today, the new month was declared based upon the sighting of the new moon, and the information had to be disseminated throughout the Jewish world. Outside Eretz Yisrael, Jewish communities often did not receive this information before Yom Tov, and therefore observed two days. In commemoration, Diaspora communities today likewise observe two days of Yom Tov. Why, then, should they similarly conduct two "countings" each day during sefirat ha-omer? If, indeed, Jews in the Diaspora are bidden to continue the practice of their ancestors who were unsure which day was declared Rosh Chodesh, this custom should, seemingly, affect sefirat ha-omer, as well, and require them to count two days each day of the omer. Namely, since these communities observe Yom Tov on the second day of Pesach due to the possibility that existed that this day was in fact the first day of Pesach, the night after that second day does not necessarily mark the beginning of the sefira period. Hence, the so-called second night of the omer may, in fact, be the first night, and Diaspora Jews should therefore count twice on this night – counting it as both the first day, and as the second day.

The Ba'al Ha'maor suggested that applying this "commemoration of uncertainty" to sefirat ha-omer would infringe upon the stature of the first day of Shavuot. Recall that nowadays, when we follow the fixed calendar, we are certain of the date, and Diaspora Jews observe the second day only as a commemoration. It is critical, the Ba'al Ha-maor suggests, that the commemorative observance of the second day not undermine our awareness of the first day of Yom Tov as the authentic Yom Tov. But if we would commemorate this ancient uncertainty in sefirat ha-omer, as well, then we would be counting the final, forty-ninth day of the omer on the first day of Shavuot, which would constitute a grave infringement of its stature as the day following the sefira period. Thus, the Ba'al Ha-maor explains, although in principle the concept of sefeika de-yoma (the uncertainty regarding the date) should apply to sefira, practically, it is impossible to do so.

A much different explanation is famously cited in the name of the Devar Avraham (the "Kovna Rav"). He argued, quite simply, that counting two days negates the entire concept of "counting." One cannot be said to have counted a day if he does not do so definitively, by ascribing one specific number to that day. It would therefore be meaningless to count each day twice, with two different numbers.

Rav Soloveitchik, however, as cited by Rav Herschel Shachtar (Mi-pninei Rabbenu, p. 232), challenged this explanation. If, indeed, there is no meaning to this "double counting" to account for the existing uncertainty, then we must conclude that in ancient times, when Diaspora communities indeed were in doubt as to when the omer period began, they did not observe this mitzva at all. Since they could not definitively ascribe a number to a given day, they simply had no possibility of performing sefira. Nowhere, Rav Soloveitchik noted, do we find any record or indication to this effect, that sefirat ha-omer was not performed in Diaspora communities before the establishment of the fixed calendar.

Rav Soloveitchik therefore suggested a much different answer, claiming that the entire institution of sefieka de-yoma, which requires Diaspora Jews to commemorate the doubt that existed centuries ago, was from the outset applied only to Yom Tov observance. Chazal never ordained that communities outside Eretz Yisrael approach all halakhic issues as if the uncertainty surrounding the date still existed. The enactment was far more limited in scope, applying only to the observance of Yom Tov, which sufficed to perpetuate the memory of the ancient practice. Therefore, we have no reason at all to apply the concept of sefeika de-yoma to the mitzva of sefirat ha-omer.


Today we will conclude our series of posts about sefirat ha-omer, by looking at some of the explanations offered as to the reason underlying this mitzva.

The most famous approach, perhaps, is that of the Rambam, in his Moreh Nevukhim (3:43), which the Sefer Ha-chinukh likewise adopts and develops at greater length. The Rambam claims that the counting serves to enhance our appreciation of the importance of Shavuot and the event it commemorates – Matan Torah. The Torah has us "count down" to the moment of the Revelation at Sinai in order to impress upon us the supreme significance of this event, which marks the culmination of the process of the Exodus from Egypt. In effect, sefirat ha-omer reminds us that the Exodus, which we commemorate on Pesach, did not end with the drowning of the Egyptians at sea on the 21st of Nissan. By counting the days until Matan Torah, we emphasize that our departure from Egypt was for the sole purpose of standing before God at Sinai to receive and willfully devote ourselves to His law.

In a slightly different vein, the Ran (end of Masekhet Pesachim) explains that our counting commemorates Benei Yisrael's eager countdown to Matan Torah. The Ran cites a Midrash that Benei Yisrael knew the moment they left Egypt that they were on their way to receive God's law and excitedly counted the days until that long-awaited event.

The Sefer Ha-chinukh raises the obvious question as to why the Torah has us count the days the have transpired, rather than the days yet to come. If, indeed, as the Rambam explains, the counting is to reflect our eager anticipation and excitement as we prepare for Matan Torah, then we should naturally count the number of days remaining until Shavuot, just as a betrothed couple, for example, count the number of days remaining until their wedding, rather than the days that have passed since their engagement. The Chinukh suggests that counting large numbers at the beginning of the omer period might cause frustration and distress, as it reminds us of how long a period remains before the long-awaited event. In theory, the Torah could have therefore ordained that we change the format somewhere in the middle of the sefira period and begin counting the number of days remaining. However, the Torah preferred to keep the system consistent, rather than suddenly switching gears in the middle of the process.

Others, including the Or Ha-chayim, view the sefira period as signifying Benei Yisrael's purification process before receiving the Torah. Just as a menstrual woman requires a seven-day process of purification after the cessation of her flow before reuniting with her husband, so did Benei Yisrael undergo a seven-week process of purification after their extrication from the impurity of Egyptian culture. Thus, the sefira represents not the nation's anticipation of Matan Torah, but rather their preparation for Matan Torah.

In a somewhat similar vein, Rav Soloveitchik, in a lecture delivered in 1945 (subsequently published as an article entitled, "Sacred and Profane"), understood sefirat ha-omer as bringing Benei Yisrael, a nation of former slaves, to what he termed "qualitative time consciousness." The basic difference, he claimed, between slave and free man is "the kind of relationship each has with time and its experience." Rav Soloveitchik explained, "Freedom is identical with a rich, colorful, creative time consciousness. Bondage is identical with passive intuition and reception of an empty, formal time-stream." It was therefore necessary for Benei Yisrael to undergo the process of sefira, which emphasizes the importance of each day and the immense potential for achievement latent within even the smallest units of time. This awareness was indispensable for accepting the Torah. In Rav Solovetichik's words:

A slave who is capable of appreciating each day, of grasping its meaning and worth, of weaving every thread of time into a glorious fabric, quantitatively stretching over the period of seven weeks but qualitatively forming the warp and woof of centuries of change is eligible for the Torah. He has achieved freedom.

Others approach sefirat ha-omer in terms of the agricultural season in which it is conducted – the harvest season. Avudraham explains that the people's preoccupation with the harvest necessitated a daily reminder of the upcoming festival of Shavuot, which obligated them in the mitzva of aliya le-regel – making a pilgrimage to the Temple. Sefirat ha-omer, according to Avudraham, was established to fulfill this role. Seforno, in his commentary to Parashat Emor, suggests that the daily sefira serves as the farmer's daily prayer for success in his work. Thus, according to these writers, sefirat ha-omer has nothing to do with the historical theme of Pesach and Shavuot, as commemorating the process of Yetzi'at Mitzrayim and Matan Torah, but relates strictly to their agricultural significance, as the celebration of the two stages of the harvest season.

Copyright (c) 1997-2014 by Yeshivat Har Etzion. Please send comments or questions to: