Bnei Yisroel are commanded to count seven complete weeks, starting on the second night of Pesach and culminating with Shavuos. The Gemara Menachos 65b expounds on the verse “usfartem lachem” to teach that each individual member of Klal Yisrael has the mitzvah to count.
Sefiras Ha’omer can be understood in two waysa mitzvah of amirah or of ma’aseh sefira. Is the mitzvah defined as a formal requirement to articulate syllables which connote that this day has a specific number (amirah), or is the mitzvah defined as an informal requirement to somehow express one’s awareness that this day has a certain number (ma’aseh sefirah).
Four nafka minas which result are as follows:
1) Am I yotzei sefiras ha’omer by listening to my friend’s count, through the mechanism of shomea ki’one?
The Mishna Berura [s.489 sk.5] writes that by other mitzvos teluyos bi’amira my friend can be motzi me. Through hearing my friend’s kiddush I have fulfilled my obligation to recite kiddush. Through hearing my friend’s birkat hamazon I have fulfilled my obligation to recite birkat hamazon. Regarding the brocha of sefirah, I am yotzei by hearing my friend recite the brocha; however, with regards to the actual count of sefira, I must count on my own. Based upon the din derived from lachem in Menachos, I cannot rely on listening to friend’s sefira.
There are a number of acharonim who disagree. They assume the din in the Gemara of lachem is to get rid of the notion that Klal Yisrael should rely on the Beis Din to count. Therefore, they paskun that shomea ki’one would be a valid means for one to fulfill his sefiras ha’omer.
2) The Magen Avrohom [s. 489], while addressing the law of shomeah ki’one regarding sefiras ha’omer alludes to a second nafka mina as to the identity of the mitzvah. He paskuns one is not yotzei his count via shomeah ki’one. The Magen Avrohom learns this halacha based on another din unique to sefiras ha’omer. Generally, when one performs mitzvos of amirah he must have a very basic kavonohto understand the words he says. There is one exception; once one utilizes the special koach of lashon hakodesh he is yotzei regardless of whether or not he understands what he says.
An example of this idea is mikra megillah. If the megillah is read in a language other than Hebrew, one listening must have an understanding of that language in order to be yotzei. However, when hearing the megillah read in Hebrew, he will automatically fulfill his chiyuv of mikra megillah.
The special koach of lashon hakodesh, however, will not help by sefiras ha’omer. If one counts in a language that he does not understand, he is not yotzei. He must know what day he is counting and understand the meaning of his words. Based on this unique principle, says the Magen Avrohom, we can infer that one will not be yotzei his count of sefiras ha’omer via shomeah ki’one. According to this, the identity of the mitzvah of sefiras ha’omer is precisely to count, a ma’aseh sefirah, and not merely a mitzvah of amirah. This mitzvah is upon each individual; therefore, one must enunciate his own personal count, and cannot rely upon that of others.
3) Does counting sefirah with roshei taivos i.e. “hayom lag b’omer” represent a valid count? This too, is a dispute amongst acharonim, which we can explain with the chakirah mentioned above. If we assume the nature of sefirah is one of amirah, then counting in this manner will not constitute a valid count for he did not enunciate the formula in its proper manner. But, should we assume that the mitzvah is one of a ma’aseh sefirah, then such a count would be valid. He counted the day, albeit in an unusual fashion, but for all intents and purposes, the day has been counted.
The Shaarei Teshuvah [s. 489] brings the following machlokes: the sefer Get Pashut paskuns that one is yotzei through this shorthanded version of counting, while the Pri Chadash and the Yaavetz paskun one is not yotzei. The Birkei Yosef has a more neutral approach and recommends, to be safe, one should count again. Perhaps the Birkei Yosef understands the mitzvah of sefiras ha’omer as containing both tzdadimamirah as well as sefirah.
4) If one writes a letter (or email) to his friend and records the day of the omer for the sake of dating the letter, is this considered a proper count for fulfilling sefiras ha’omer?
This question was posed to Rabbi Akiva Eiger by his uncle, Rav Binyamin Wolfe. This correspondence is written up in Shut Rabi Akiva Eiger [volume 1, sections
29-32]. Rabbi Akiva Eiger is willing to consider such a method as a potentially valid means for counting sefiras ha’omer, while Rabbi Wolfe does not entertain such a possibility. The Sha’arei Teshuvah quotes from the Birkei Yosef that one cannot fulfill his chiyuv in such a manner. The Sha’arei Teshuvah writes this with regards to an arbitrary count, but he extends the law to include a scenario where the person wrote the number of the day in the proper formula, with every single kavana to be yotzei. Even in this case, the Sha’arei Teshuva paskuns he is not yotzei and must count again properly.
The dispute here can once again be explained with the chakirah presented above. Namely, if sefiras ha’omer is identified as a mitzvah of amirah, a formal requirement to articulate syllables which connote that this day has a specific number, then certainly one will not be yotzei by writing it out on paper; his vocal chords must be involved. If however the mitzvah of sefiras ha’omer is identified as a ma’aseh sefirah, an informal requirement to somehow express one’s awareness that this day has a certain number, writing the day will suffice for fulfilling his obligation.
Adapted from Sefer Harerei Kedem by Rabbi Michel Zalman Shurkin on the shiurim of Rav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik ztz”l siman 110.