Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer

The Mitzvah:

It is a positive command of the Torah for every single Jew[1] to count seven weeks worth of days starting from the offering of the Omer. [In the times of the Temple the Omer was offered on the 16th of Nissan, the second day of Pesach. The Omer offering consisted of the new harvest of barley and was brought as a Mincha offering.[2]] One cannot appoint a messenger to count the days on his behalf. This applies whether one asks an individual to count on his behalf, or one asks a congregation, or Chazan to count on one’s behalf.[3]

In the Diaspora:[4] This Mitzvah Biblically applies in both Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora.

During exile is the Mitzvah of Biblical or Rabbinical status?[5] It is disputed as to whether the obligation of counting the Omer during the times of exile, when we no longer have a Temple or bring the Omer offering, is of Biblical requirement or a Rabbinical injunction.[6] Practically the main Halachic opinion follows like those that hold that the Mitzvah today is of Rabbinical status.[7] Nevertheless, despite its Rabbinical nature, the institution of the Sages always follow the same laws as the Biblical command and there is thus no practical Halachic differences between them, other than the exceptions to be mentioned.[8]


When did the Jewish people first begin counting the Omer?[9]

The Rishonim[10] state a tradition that when we were told in Egypt that we would receive the Torah, we became exceedingly excited to the point that we began counting down the days until Matan Torah. This eventually became known as the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer.[11]


The meaning behind Sefiras Haomer

  • The Omer is counted in order to commemorate the Temple offering of the Omer.[12]
  • The Omer is counted in anticipation for the receiving of the Torah on Shavuos.[13]
  • The Omer is counted in preparation for receiving the Torah out of purity of soul. The counting of the Omer purifies the soul of all impurities so it be able to receive the Torah. This counting applied especially after the Jews left the impurity of Egypt, in preparation for Matan Torah, and also applies today, after receiving the Torah, as on a spiritual level the past occurrences [of the exodus and Matan Torah] reoccur each year.[14]
  • The counting of seven weeks is similar to the counting of the seven days of a Nidah, which is done as purification from her impure state, and allows her to enter into the Chuppah. Similarly Hashem commanded us to count seven weeks so we leave the impurity of Egypt and enter the Chuppah with Hashem.[15]
  • The seven weeks which is then followed by Shavuos on the 50th day corresponds to the seven cycles of Shemitah that is then followed by Yovel in the 50th year.[16]


[1] Admur ibid; Menachos 65b; Michaber 489/1; This is coming to exclude the idea that only the Beis Din is obligated in the counting. It however is not coming to include women within the obligation,  as women are explicitly exempt from this Mitzvah as explained in 489/2]

[2] Rambam Temidim Umusafim 7/11

[3] The source: This is learned from the verse Emor 23:16-17 “And you shall count for yourselves from the day after the Shabbos [which refers to the first day of Pesach], the day that you bring the Omer offering. The [counting] should be seven complete weeks” and the next verse says “[You are to count] until the day after the seventh week you are to count 50 days…” Now, the Sages expounded from this double wording of “Count for yourself” and “You are to count” that it is not valid for simply the Beis Din to perform the counting, as is done by other Mitzvos such as Yovel in which Beis Din counts 7 Shemitah cycles and then sanctify the 50th year as Yovel, and rather each and every Jew must count. [Admur ibid]

[4] 489/2; Rambam Temidim Umusafim 7/24; Ravayah 526

[5] 489/2

[6] [According to some opinions] this [Biblical] Mitzvah of counting the Omer [Biblically] applies even [during exile] when we do not have a Temple. [Rambam Temidim Umusafim 7/24; Ravayah 526; Chinuch 306] However other opinions rule [Tosafus Menachos 66a; Rosh Pesachim 10/40; Ran Pesachim 28a] that today in exile, when we no longer have a Temple or bring the Omer offering, the Mitzvah of Sefirah is no longer at all a Biblical command and is rather a Rabbinical obligation that was instituted in memory of the Temple. [Admur ibid; See Beis Halevi 1/39] The Ran ibid explains that another reason for why the Sages today in exile established the Mitzvah of Sefira is because even originally the Mitzvah of Sefirah was not relevant to the Omer or Temple, as the Jewish people first began counting the Omer in anticipation for receiving the Torah, and hence we too today count the Omer in anticipation or Shavuos. Nevertheless this is merely a Midrash as the main reason for the institution was for commemoration of the Temple. [Ran ibid]

[7] Admur ibid; Beis Yosef 489; implication of Michaber 489/6; Kaf Hachaim 489/4; M”B 489/14

[8] These differences include a) If one counted the days and not the weeks. [489/6] b) Counting by Bein Hashmashos. [489/12-13]

[9] Ran Pesachim 28a; Chinuch Emor Mitzvah 273 “We were commanded to count starting from the day after we left Mitzrayim until the day we receive the Torah to show our anticipation and excitement for receiving the Torah.”

[10] Ran Pesachim 28a

[11] Ran ibid; To note that the Ran states that the Jewish people were told that the Torah would be given on the 50th day of their count, while in truth the Torah given on the 52nd day after they left Mitzrayim which was the 51st day of the Omer and not the 50th. [See Admur 494/1]

[12] Admur 489/2; Tosafus Menachos 66a; Rosh Pesachim 10/40; Ran Pesachim 28a

[13] Ran Pesachim 28a; Chinuch Emor Mitzvah 273 “We were commanded to count starting from the day after we left Mitzrayim until the day we receive the Torah to show our anticipation and excitement for receiving the Torah.”

[14] Or Hachaim Hakadosh Emor 23/16

[15] Or Hachaim Hakadosh Emor

[16] Ramban Emor 23/16

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