Sefirat Ha’omer - Halachot & Insights - Part 2

Shehecheyanu & Sefirat Ha'omer

Although as a general rule one recites the "shehecheyanu" blessing before performing mitzvot which are infrequent, it is not recited before counting the Sefirat Ha'omer for the first time each year. Among the explanations for this is that the shehecheyanu blessing is only recited prior to performing a mitzva which consists of an action. Additionally, it is generally only recited upon mitzvot which are pleasurable in nature. The counting of the Omer is not considered to be a pleasurable mitzva. In fact, it is a mitzva which should actually be the source of some distress as one is reminded that there is no Beit Hamikdash and that the mitzva of the Omer offering cannot be properly observed. So too, speaking (i.e. counting) is not considered to be an "activity" from the perspective of halacha.[1] Some authorities suggest that the shehecheyanu recited at the start of Pesach serves to cover the mitzva of Sefirat Ha'omer, as well.[2]

Sefirat Ha'omer & The International Dateline

One who travels from West to East during the Sefira period and crosses the international dateline will "gain" a day in the Sefirat Ha'omer count, while one who travels in the opposite direction will "lose" a day. There are a number of opinions on how one should conduct oneself in such a situation. When one gains a day, the Sefira that one counted the night before is re-counted that night without reciting the blessing. One then resumes counting as normal on the following nights. When one loses a day, one continues to count along with the local community, though one does not recite a blessing prior to counting on remaining nights.[3] According to others, however, one does not recite the blessing when counting the lost day but one resumes reciting the blessing when counting on remaining nights.[4]

One who crosses the international dateline during the Sefirat Ha'omer period is also faced with a serious dilemma on when to observe Shavuot. This is because, as mentioned, the Torah does not assign a specific date to Shavuot. Rather, we are simply instructed by the Torah to count forty-nine days from Pesach and to observe Shavuot on the fiftieth day. According to some authorities one observes Shavuot on the fiftieth night of one's personal Sefirat Ha'omer count even if it is a day behind or ahead of the local community. According to other authorities, one is always to observe Shavuot along with the local community even if one crossed the international dateline.[5] Passing through time zones, no matter how many or how often, does not affect one's Sefira count in any way.[6]

Other Customs & Conclusion

Women are not obligated in the mitzva of Sefirat Ha'omer though they are certainly permitted to do so should they so desire.[7] It is interesting to note, however, that a number of authorities discourage women from counting the Sefirat Ha'omer for Kabbalistic reasons.[8] After one has counted the Sefira, one should recite a prayer that God rebuild the Beit Hamikdash.[9] Some individuals recite "L'shem Yichud" before counting Sefira and some have the custom to recite a number of additional Scriptural passages, as well.[10] One who is unsure whether to count 'x' or 'y' knowing that one of them is right and one is wrong, should  count them both without reciting the blessing and continue in this manner until one is sure of the day's true count. One can then resume reciting the blessing on remaining nights, as no count has truly been missed.[11]

In Syrian and Lebanese communities there is a custom to open the Aron Kodesh when counting the Sefira in order that it serve as a reminder that we are counting down (up, actually) to "Kabbalat Hatorah". There is also a Sefardic custom to ensure that one is holding a grain of salt when counting the Sefira each night. This salt should then be kept in one's pocket or wallet all year long as a segula for success.[12] Kabbalists believe that salt has the ability to drive away evil spirits because the Hebrew the word for "salt" is the gematria of God’s name "Adonai" three times.[13]

[1] Be'er Haiti, OC 489:5.

[2] Kaf Hachaim, OC 489:2. For an additional eleven reasons on why shehecheyanu is not recited, see Rivevot Ephraim 1:328.

[3] B'tzel Hachachma 5:96-98.

[4] Mishne Halachot 10:121.

[5] See Shaarei Halacha U'minhag 2:219-220 for an interesting discussion of the issue.

[6] B'tzel Hachachma 5:96-98.

[7] Mishna Berura 489:3; Rivevot Ephraim 1:327

[8] Magen Avraham 489; Rav Pe'alim 1:12. See also Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 489:2

[9] Mishna Berura 489:10.

[10] Kaf Hachaim, OC 489:7. See there for many other kabbalistic prayers which can be recited before and after counting.

[11] Yabia Omer 8:45.Piskei Teshuvot 489:17.

[12] Nitei Gavriel, Hilchot Sefirat Ha'omer 29:9.

[13] Note: Gematrias are still considered valid even if they are off by one digit, a form of gematria known as "Gematria Kolel."