Chapter 1: The Mitzvah of Counting the Omer
1. The Mitzvah:
- It is a positive command of the Torah for every single Jew to count seven weeks worth of days beginning from when the Omer was offered. [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.]
- In the Diaspora: The Mitzvah of counting the Omer Biblically applies in both Eretz Yisrael and the Diaspora.
- During exile is the Mitzvah of Biblical or Rabbinical status? It is disputed as to whether the obligation of counting the Omer during the times of exile, when we no longer have a Temple and no longer bring the Omer offering, is of Biblical requirement or is a Rabbinical injunction. Practically, the main Halachic opinion follows like those who hold that the Mitzvah today is of Rabbinical status.
- Does one fulfill 49 Mitzvos upon counting for 49 days or is it considered one single Mitzvah? According to all opinions, each day of the count is a separate Mitzvah. This is similar to the Mitzvah of Tefillin, of which each day that one wears Tefillin he fulfills the Mitzvah of Tefillin and so too each day that one counts the Omer he fulfills the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer.
2. Who is obligated in the Mitzvah?
- Men: All men are obligated in the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer.
- Women: Although women are technically exempt from the Mitzvah of Sefiras Haomer, nevertheless, women are to count Sefiras Haomer each night, in the beginning of the night, and are to be reminded by their husbands to do so.
- This applies even if they already missed a day.
- If they have not missed a day, they may count at night with a blessing.
- Children: Children who have reached the age of Chinuch are to be educated in the Mitzvah of Sefiras HaOmer.
- They are to recite it at night with a blessing [if they have not missed a previous night], following the same laws as adult men.
- The age of Chinuch is from the age that the child understands the meaning of Sefiras Haomer.
3. When is one to count?
- The starting date: One begins to count Sefiras Haomoer on the second night of Pesach, which is the 16th of Nissan. [This applies in all areas, even the Diaspora.]
- This is because the Omer offering was brought on the 16th of Nissan, and one begins to count from the day that the Omer offering is harvested.
- At night versus day: The Omer must be counted specifically during the night of the 16th, and so too during every subsequent night of Sefira. It is invalid to count the Omer by day. However, some Poskim rule that if one forgot, or purposely did not count, at night then he is obligated to count by day. [See Halacha 17 for the full details of this matter and the final ruling!]
- When at night? The entire night, up until Alos/daybreak, is valid for counting the Omer. However, initially, it is a Mitzvah Min Hamuvchar to Daven Maariv immediately after nightfall and then count the Sefira immediately afterwards.
- This applies towards all the nights of Sefirah. One is to always try to count the Sefira within the first half hour of the night.
- If one forgot and did not count the Sefira at the beginning of the night then if he remembered to do so prior to Alos Hashachar, he is obligated to count [with a blessing].
- Initially one is to count the Omer prior to midnight, if he was unable to do so at the beginning of the night. Furthermore, the earlier one counts, the better, as delaying the count causes the side of evil to increase its nurture from Holiness.
- May one count before Maariv? It is permitted to count the Sefira before Maariv [after nightfall]. This applies even on Motzei Shabbos, when one extends the Shabbos into the night [and does not Daven Maariv until later]. Nevertheless, it is proper to precede the Davening of Maariv to the counting of the Omer.
- Is it proper to count the Omer together with a Minyan? It is proper to count the Sefira together with the Minyan. [Thus, one should not leave the Minyan for Maariv until after Sefira.]
- May one recount with a blessing if he heard someone else count by Bein Hashmashos or Plag Hamincha? See Halacha 15!
- When to count in the Diaspora on the second night of Pesach: On the second night of Pesach one begins to count Sefiras Haomer immediately after Maariv. However, some Poskim say that those who follow mysticism should count after finishing the entire Seder on the second night in the Diaspora. [Other Poskim however negate this and rule one must count after Maariv, before the Seder, both according to Nigleh and Nistar.] Practically, one who proceeds to say the blessing and count immediately after Davening, is preceded with Divine blessing.
4. Eating before counting:
- One must abstain from eating even a small meal starting from a half hour prior to the time of Sefira, which is a half hour before Bein Hashmashos [i.e. sunset].
- This applies even if one has already Davened Maariv but has not yet recited Sefiras HaOmer.
- If one has someone to remind him: If one lives in an area where the Shamash is accustomed to remind others to recite the Sefira upon the time of Sefira arriving, then one may begin to eat [within the half hour prior to sunset]. The same allowance applies if one appoints a Shomer/guard to remind him to count Sefira when the time arrives.
- Likewise, if one has a set Minyan in which he Davens Maariv upon nightfall, then he may eat within the half hour prior to sunset.
- However, once the time [of sunset] has arrived it is implied from the Poskim that this allowance no longer applies, and hence even if one has a Shomer he must abstain from eating until he counts. Some Poskim however rule that if one has a Shomer or a set Minyan then he may eat prior to counting even after nightfall.
- If one already began his meal: If one did not appoint someone to remind him to count and forgot or transgressed and already began his meal within the half hour before sunset, he is not required to stop his meal and count the Sefira [even after the time arrives]. If, however, one began his meal after the time of Sefira [i.e. after sunset] then he must stop and count the Sefira in middle of his meal.
- May one snack prior to counting Sefira?
- Definition of snack: The definition of a snack is up to 57.6 grams of bread [or Mezonos] and 57.6 grams worth of an [alcoholic] beverage. One may drink an unlimited amount of other liquids, such as water, tea, and coffee, and eat an unlimited amount of fruits.
- If one Davens Maariv with a set Minyan every night may he eat a meal prior to counting Sefirah? If one Davens with a set Minyan at a specific time every night then one may eat a meal up until sunset. Regarding eating a meal past sunset in such a case: See above that although from the Shulchan Aruch it is implied that one may not eat a meal past sunset even though he has a reminder set up, nevertheless some Poskim rule that if one has a set Minyan then he may eat prior to counting even after nightfall, and so is the widespread custom regarding Maariv throughout the year.
5. Melacha prior to counting:
- It is accustomed for both men and women to avoid doing work/Melacha during the entire period of Sefiras HaOmer, from the time of sunset until after counting the Omer. (Possibly, those women who are not accustomed to count the Omer must refrain from work throughout the entire night.) [For this reason, all women should count the Omer and should continue to count the Omer nightly even if they can no longer say a blessing due to missing a day, as otherwise they cannot do Melacha until morning.] [Despite the above ruling, many are not accustomed to abstaining from Melacha during this period of time and there are Poskim who have defended their actions.]
- What form of work is to be avoided? All activities which require effort and take time to accomplish, such as sewing and weaving, are to be avoided. However, simple house chores such as cooking, sweeping, and cleaning are allowed. Likewise, all Melachos that are permitted on Chol Haomed even according to only one opinion may be performed.
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