Shabbat Parshat Emor
As part of the Torah’s discussion of the
Festivals, the Omer period, which joins Pesach to Shavuot, is described:
From this is derived the familiar mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer, the counting of the Omer period.
How is this mitzvah performed? Beginning with the second day of Pesach, we count aloud every day, until we reach 7 days, when we mention both the 7 days and the fact that it is one week. This continues until we reach 49 days, or seven weeks; the fiftieth day is the festival of Shavuot (“weeks”), so called because it is determined by a count of seven weeks. Since these seven weeks are called complete (TEMIMOT), the counting itself should be done at night:
“When do you find seven weeks complete? Only when you begin to count from the evening” (Menachot 66a).
The nature of this obligation gives rise to a fundamental question. In many instances of mitzvot performed via speech – such as Kiddush, the Grace after Meals, or the Reading of the Megillah on Purim – the Halacha determines that “The one who listens is equal to the one who responds” (Sukkah 38b).
For example, hearing another say the Kiddush is a fulfillment of the individual’s duty, just as well as reciting it, provided that both parties intend for the listener to be included in the responder’s Kiddush. This then is the principle of shomeiah k’oneh.
Does shomeiah k’oneh apply to the Counting of the Omer?
The Talmud (Menachot 65b) says: “Our Rabbis taught: And you shall count for yourselves (U’SFARTEM LACHEM). That is, that there should be a counting for each and every one.”
Rashi explains, “that every one is obligated to count.” This simply means that Sefirat HaOmer is an individual obligation. But, might the Sages mean to say more ― that one cannot fulfill his obligation by listening to another count, but rather must count by himself?
To answer this question, which is discussed in the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 489:1), we must first carefully analyze the mitzvah of counting, here and elsewhere.
Tosafot point out that there are other mitzvot involving the act of counting. The 49 years that determine the fiftieth Jubilee Year, must be counted: And you shall count for yourself (V’SAFARTA LECHA) seven Sabbaths (Sabbaticals) of years (Vayikra 25:8). The counting toward the Jubilee Year was a collective, rather than an individual, obligation: it was performed by the Sanhedrin. Tosafot theorize that at the beginning of each year the members of the Sanhedrin would count aloud the number of years to the Jubilee. [It is interesting that V’SAFARTA LECHA is in the singular; this is because all Israel is united as one when their representatives, the Sanhedrin, count.]
Also, a woman who has had an unexpected flow (zavah) must then count seven “clean” days: And she shall count for herself (V’SAFRA LAH) seven days, and afterwards she shall be pure (15:28). However, she cannot be expected to count aloud: after all, circumstances might require her to start counting again from the beginning. Instead, she is merely required to know the count.
As for Sefirat HaOmer, Pri Chadash (R. Chizkiya di Silva) says that, as everywhere else, the principle of shomeiah k’oneh is operable. However, most other authorities (beginning with the Levush, R. Mordechai ben Avraham Yaffe, c. 1535-1612) disagree: one must count for oneself. Evidence for this position can be found in the commentaries on our verse. Ramban draws a comparison between counting the Omer and the taking of the Four Species on Sukkot, which must be done by each and every person. From this we might derive that, just as no one can “take” the Four Species on behalf of another, so can no one “count” the Omer for another. Also Haamek Davar (R. Naftali Tzvi Yehudah Berlin, 1817-1893), on our verse, says that the basic meaning of “counting” is, as in the case of the zavah, simply to know the count. Now, even though the verse requires saying the count as well, the element of “knowing” remains Rav Joseph B. Soloveichik (1903-1993) further supports this based on the ruling of the Magen Avraham (R. Avraham Abele) that if one counts in Hebrew and does not understand it, he has not fulfilled his obligation because “he does not know what he says, and this is not counting.” Clearly, Sefirat HaOmer requires awareness, for which each individual is responsible.
The period of the Omer is a journey, from the Exodus of Pesach to the Revelation of the Torah at Sinai of Shavuot. Each step of that journey brings us closer to a fully-realized freedom: not merely liberation from servitude, but liberation for commitment to Hashem. In order for the nation to accomplish this journey, each individual must make it, step by step. And each step is taken with the full awareness of what becoming a servant of Hashem entails.