I. 49 OR 50?

The mitzva of Sefirat HaOmer (counting the Omer) presents us with an intriguing problem. Vayikra 23:15 states that we are commanded to begin counting the Omer from the day after the "Shabbat" (defined as the day after the first day of Pesach), and that we must count seven complete (Temimot) weeks. However, the very next verse commands us to count fifty days! Assuming that the Torah aims for accuracy (a point that is debated by some, who allow that fifty days may just be forty-nine rounded off), how do we resolve this apparent contradiction in the numbers?!

There is a second issue contained in these verses. What are we actually commanded to count? Following the first verse, it seems that we are only obligated to enumerate the weeks, while the second verse seems to mandate a daily counting for fifty days. The gemara in Menachot 66a discusses this issue. Abaye claims that we must count both the days and the weeks, while Ameimar held that since the commandment to count the Omer is no longer a d'oraita (Torah-ordained) law, but rather is inherently connected to the Temple and thus is now done merely as a reminder of what once was, thus it is sufficient to count merely the days.

Our topic this week will focus on an issue derived from this second point. How many commandments are involved in the counting of the Omer? Is each day its own unit, or do the forty-nine days make up one integrated whole, defined as a "seven-week period"? We will turn now to a brief look at this point before proceeding to apply it to our main issue.


The question of how many commandments are involved becomes relevant when we deal with a case of a person who forgot to count one of the nights of the Omer. In general, if a person is commanded to do something every day, and fails to do so on one day, that negligence does not in any way affect his ability to continue performing the mitzva on the following day. Does the counting of the Omer fit into this general model?

This issue is debated among some of the earliest commentators. Behag claims that one who completely forgets a day (i.e. he fails to count both at night and during the day) may continue to count on the following nights, yet may no longer make the blessing when he does so. As the Bach explains, he believes that the entire time period is one unit, and thus by missing a day the individual's mitzva is flawed until the end of Sefira. Thus, any blessing that would be said would be in vain.


Rav Hai Gaon offers the opposite approach. He rules that even if a person forgets to count on one day, since each day is its own autonomous unit, that person may continue to count with the blessing on the subsequent nights. The mitzva to count the eighteenth night of the Omer is not affected by the fact that a person failed to perform the mitzva of counting the seventeenth night.

Rav Sa'adiah Gaon offers an interesting compromise. His ruling seems to more or less follow Rav Hai Gaon, allowing one to continue counting with a blessing after having missed an entire day. However, if a person missed the first night, they may no longer count with a blessing. What is his reasoning behind this ruling? While none is given explicitly, it seems that he is trying to straddle both views. Thus, if the entire period is one unit, the key blessing is on the first night, as it is the beginning of a seven-week long mitzva, and thus it is crucial that it be said. However, once that has been done, we can look at the rest of the Omer as being made up of daily individual mitzvot, and missing one does not affect the next night's counting. Alternatively, he may really be more like Behag, although more lenient. The explanation for this would be that the blessing on the first night, due to its prominence, can "patch up" any subsequent holes in the counting and allow one to continue with a blessing if they have missed a day. The Bach suggests that Sa'adiah reasons that if one misses the first night then they would have to begin the mitzva on the second night, which cannot be done. However, as long as they began properly, missing a day in the middle is not such an issue.


Our main question for this week is the case of a child who reached the age of Bar Mitzva during the period of Sefirat HaOmer (as Sefirat HaOmer is a time-bound positive commandment and women are thus exempt, discussion on this topic classically focuses only on male children). Before his birthday, whether or not he was counting, he had no obligation to actually do so. Thus, when he reached majority, we have to ask if he may continue to count, or begin to count, with a blessing. Can he start counting midway? Does any counting that he did before his birthday count for him, even though he was not obligated? What was the nature of his counting before he turned thirteen?

One of the key points in this debate is a much larger issue (which will hopefully be a future Chabura), and thus we will only outline the main approaches here. From the age of roughly seven (various opinions set this number anywhere between six and nine), a child is considered to be at the age of "chinuch" (lit. education), and his father is commandment from that point until the child turns thirteen to educate him in the performance of the mitzvot. Contrary to popular belief, the child must perform these mitzvot properly, and thus innovations such as a "chinuch set" of the four species on Succot have no basis in halacha.

The question becomes who fulfills a mitzva within the context of chinuch? One approach is to say that the commandment is to the father, and thus the performance of the mitzva by the child is merely the child providing the substance of the father's fulfillment of the commandment of chinuch. The alternative approach would be to say that the child, while not fully commanded in a given mitzva, nevertheless can relate to it on some level. Thus, the father's obligation of chinuch is able to "upgrade" the child's obligation in the mitzva to a level where he is actually fulfilling a positive commandment. The question that remains is whether the child is then fulfilling the mitzva of chinuch (unlikely, since only the father has that commandment) or if he is fulfilling the particular commandment that he is performing.

With this information as background, we can look at some relatively recent gedolim who have debated this issue. Chida, in his Birchei Yoseif, cites the Pri HaAretz, who rules that a child who turns thirteen during the Omer may continue to count, but may no longer make a blessing. On the surface, it seems that they are following the view of Behag, the Sefira is one long mitzva, and thus any failure to count is a blemish in the entire process. On top of that, they are claiming that a child who counts before he turns thirteen is not accomplishing any halachically significant fulfillment of the commandment to count, and thus he can not be said to have been counting since day one. The unique aspect of this view is that before the child turned thirteen, he could count with a blessing due to chinuch. However, once he actually becomes obligated to count, he may no longer make the blessing, since he now has to worry about saying Hashem's name in vain.

The Minchat Chinuch takes up this issue (#306), but is left unsure of what to do. The Maharam Schick (O.C. 269) makes the connection to the debate over the issue of chinuch, and ultimately rules that such a child may make a blessing. His reasoning is that since once who is not commanded to perform a mitzva may nevertheless make a blessing on it (such as women who sit in a Succah), thus his counting while still a minor is significant enough to be combined with his counting after his thirteenth birthday, and he can be considered to have attained "Temimut" - wholeness in his counting.

The twentieth century debate over this issue deals with the statement of Chida and the Pri HaAretz. The Har Tzvi (Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank - O.C. 2:76) rules that this earlier counting may be combined with the later counting and that a blessing may be said all the way through. With regard to the view of Chida, he claims that Chida was speaking of children who were not as educated and thus did not begin to count until they had reached Bar Mitzvah age. As such, if their reached that age during Sefira, they actually only counted the number of days from their birthday until Shavuot, and not all forty-nine days. However, if a child counted all of the days, even if his obligation differed along the way, he could count the entire time with a blessing.

The Tzitz Eliezer begins his responsa (14:55) by agreeing with Rav Frank's analysis of the Pri HaAretz. He then cites an extreme view of the Chessed L'Avraham, who states that even if a child did not count at all before their thirteenth birthday, they may count the rest of the Omer with a blessing. The Tzitz Eliezer explains this view by stating that for a person who is obligated to count from the beginning, the entire time period is considered to be one unit and thus missing a day will preclude their ability to say the blessing again. However, for one whose obligation does not come about until after the Omer has already begun it is sufficient that they begin counting on their birthday with a blessing and continue to do so the rest of the time.

The Tzitz Eliezer goes on to invoke the issue of chinuch. He claims that the commandment on the father to educate his child gives the child the status of one who is obligated in the commandments, and thus his counting can be considered complete on a level of actual fulfillment if he counted from the beginning when he was still a minor (the Aruch HaShulchan O.C. 489:15 rules in accordance with this view).

Finally, we come to the view of Rav Ovadiah Yoseif (Yechaveh Da'at 3:29), who takes issue with several points. First, he argues that since the mitzva of chinuch applies only to the father, it does not effect any qualitative change in the status of the son. Thus, the counting that the child may have done while still a minor does not fulfill the commandment of Sefirat HaOmer in any way. Further, he disagrees with the analysis of the Pri HaAretz offered by the Har Tzvi and the Tzitz Eliezer. Rather, he claims that the Pri HaAretz would hold fast to his view even if the child had already been counting. As such, Rav Yoseif rules that a child who reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah during Sefira may continue to count, but may no longer say a blessing when doing so.

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