- Peninei Halakha
The Rishonim debate the nature of the mitzva to count the omer. According to Behag, it is one long mitzva that extends from Pesaĥ to Shavu’ot, as it says, “Seven weeks; they must be complete” (Vayikra 23:15). Therefore, one who forgets to count one day forfeits the mitzva and may not continue counting thereafter. However, most poskim maintain that each night’s count is a separate mitzva. Hence, one who forgets to count one day forfeits only that day’s mitzva, and he must continue counting the next day, with a berakha (Tosafot, Rosh, Ritva, and others).
In practice, the poskim determined that even if one forgets to count an entire day, he must continue counting thereafter, in accordance with the majority opinion that each day’s mitzva stands alone. However, he must count without a berakha, in deference to the opinion that the entire count is one mitzva, and by missing a day he forfeits the whole mitzva. Thus, in order to avoid reciting a possible berakha le-vatala, he counts each subsequent day without a berakha (sa 489:8).
In order to avoid forfeiting the berakha entirely, one who misses a day must have in mind to fulfill his obligation by hearing the ĥazan’s berakha.
This halakha demonstrates the tension that accompanies sefirat ha-omer. After all, one who skips a day breaks, in some respects, the chain connecting Pesaĥ to Shavu’ot and forfeits the berakha. It is very important to connect Pesaĥ, which represents holy Jewish nationalism, with Shavu’ot, when we received the Torah, because Torah cannot exist without the Jewish people, and the Jewish people cannot exist without Torah.
According to Behag, one who forgets to count one day forfeits the mitzva, because his count is not “complete.” R. Saadia Gaon maintains that only one who forgets to count the first day forfeits the mitzva, while one who skips any other day may continue counting with a berakha. Tosafot (Menaĥot 66a) state that Behag’s opinion is puzzling, claiming instead that every day is a separate mitzva. This is also the opinion of Ri, Rosh, Ritva, and others. According to Tur, R. Hai Gaon also agrees. In addition, Ritz Gi’at writes in the name of R. Hai Gaon that one who misses a day should count the appropriate number the next day and then make up for the missed count by adding, “And yesterday was such-and-such.” In practice, we take Behag’s opinion into account, and thus one who forgets to count one day continues counting without a berakha (sa 489:8). However, some Aĥaronim ruled like the majority of Ge’onim and Rishonim that one who forgets can continue counting with a berakha. This opinion is found in She’arim Metzuyanim Ba-halakha 120:7. Still, as mentioned above, most Aĥaronim maintain that one should continue counting without a berakha.
One might ask: According to Behag, why do we recite a berakha every day? We are forced to answer that even Behag would admit that each day constitutes a separate mitzva. It is merely that skipping a day mars the “completeness” of what he counts, making it impossible to continue counting. Ĥida writes (Avodat Ha-kodesh 7:217) that if one knows in advance that he will miss a day – due to some uncontrollable circumstance – he should omit the berakha from the start, because, according to Behag, all of his berakhot will be in vain. Most poskim, however, rule that even in such a situation, one should count with a berakha until that day, because even Behag (with whom the vast majority of Rishonim disagree) maintains that the berakhot made prior to the omission were not recited in vain (Kin’at Sofrim, Rav Pe’alim oĥ 3:32). This cannot be compared to the seven-day count of a zava (a woman who is ritually impure due to bodily emissions) who, as Tosafot explain, does not recite a berakha because if she sees new blood then her count is nullified, thus invalidating the entire count. The difference is that even if one forgets to count one day, the count continues and Shavu’ot still arrives on the fiftieth day. Therefore, all the days that he counted without interruption were counted properly, and the berakhot that he recited were warranted. Only after missing a day, when the person himself will no longer be able to count successively, does Behag maintain that the berakha should be omitted because the count is no longer “complete.”
One who forgot to count a day and needs to serve as ĥazan (because he is observing a yahrtzeit, for example) should ask someone else to recite the berakha and count out loud, even though this will cause him discomfort, as everyone will realize that he missed a day. Others claim that in order to avoid embarrassment, one may rely on the majority of poskim who maintain that even one who forgets a day must count and may even recite the berakha on behalf of others.