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Friday, 18 Nissan 5774 – April 18, 2014
The Ba’al Ha-maor (end of Masekhet Pesachim) famously raises the question of why Diaspora communities do not count twice each night of the omer just as they observe two days of Yom Tov. The extra day of Yom Tov is observed in commemoration of the sefeika de-yoma – the doubt that remote communities had regarding the date. As the new months were declared based upon the testimony to the sighting of the new moon before the Sanhedrin, messengers were dispatched to inform the Jewish communities of the date. Remote communities would not receive this information before Yom Tov, and therefore observed two days, a practice which is commemorated in the Diaspora to this day though the observance of two days. Seemingly, this should apply to sefirat ha-omer, as well, and Diaspora communities should be required to count twice each day of the omer, one for the current day and a second time for the previous day, in commemoration of the doubt that existed in ancient times.
The Ba’al Ha-ma’or answers that sefirat ha-omer nowadays in any event serves only as a commemoration of the counting that was made during the times of Beit Ha-mikdash, when the korban ha-omer offering was brought. Therefore, the additional stringency of commemorating the sefeika de-yoma was not instituted. Moreover, the Ba’al Ha-ma’or adds, commemorating the sefeika de-yoma would result in a requirement to count the forty-ninth and final day on Shavuot. This would be an affront to Shavuot, which celebrates the completion of the omer period, and thus the sefeika de-yoma was not instituted with regard to sefirat ha-omer. The Ba’al Ha-ma’or’s discussion is cited by the Ran.
Rav Avraham Dov Kahana Shapiro of Kovno, in his Devar Avraham (1:34), notes that Ba’al Ha-ma’or – and, by extension, the Ran, who cited the Ba’al Ha-ma’or’s comments without disagreement – work off the assumption that in principle, a “double counting” is acceptable. One might have argued that Diaspora communities do not count twice because counting must, by definition, be definitive. Even if in theory Diaspora Jews should count also the previous day’s counting, they cannot, because they would then not be considered to have “counted” at all. The fact that the aforementioned Rishonim did not give this answer, the Devar Avraham notes, strongly suggests that they did not subscribe to this rationale, and that it is possible to perform a formal sefira even by counting two days.
The practical application of this observation is the case of one who is unsure what number to count, and does not have access to this information. The Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 489:5) addresses the case of one who recites the berakha over the counting without knowing the number, anticipating that he would then listen to his fellow’s counting to find out the correct number. The Shulchan Arukh rules that such a counting is acceptable (though the Mishna Berura adds that preferably one should know the number before he begins the berakha), perhaps suggesting that in a different situation, where one is alone and does not know the number, he should not count. The Devar Avraham notes, however, that in light of the comments of the Ba’al Ha-ma’or, one who knows that the number is one of two possibilities (such as the fourth or the fifth) should perhaps be required to count both numbers in order to ensure to fulfill the mitzva. Since even counting two different numbers is a valid counting, this would seem to be an acceptable solution when one is unsure as to that day’s number.
Others draw further proof from the fact that in ancient times, when remote communities truly were in doubt regarding the date, they presumably counted twice, one for each day.
By contrast, the Avnei Neizer (Y.D. 248:3) ruled that such a “double counting” does not qualify as a legitimate “sefira,” and therefore one should not count unless he knows that day’s number. Additionally, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, in his Mikra’ei Kodesh (Pesach 2:67), notes that if a person in this situation counts the incorrect number first, that erroneous counting would constitute a hefsek (interruption) between the berakha and the correct counting. For this reason, too, according to Rav Frank, one who is uncertain should not count two different numbers.
(Based on Piskei Teshuvot, 489:17)
Rav David Silverberg
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