Beit Midrash

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Counting Seven Weeks - the Omer

When Rabbi Mohilever entered the crowded lecture hall, he looked about at the numerous bareheaded pupils seated before him and began to speak: “I understand that you are proficient in math. Can anybody tell me what the count (“sefirah”) is today?”


Rabbi Shmuel Holshtein

Nissan 5768
We are commanded to count seven full weeks from the day that they would bring the Omer in the Holy Temple, as it is written, "You shall count for yourselves from the day after the festival, seven complete weeks" (Leviticus 23:15).

Begin with the Omer
Rabbi Shmuel Mohilever was renowned throughout Ashkenaz as one of the leading Torah scholars of his generation and a foremost adherent of the Lovers of Zion and those who acted on behalf of the settlement of the Land of Israel. His righteousness, his Torah greatness, his wisdom, and his general knowledge earned him the admiration of all Jews in his generation - from the most pious to the most enlightened.

On one of his many journeys, shortly after the Passover festival, Rabbi Mohilever passed through Vilna. Members of the city’s enlightened population, who admired the rabbi for his broad knowledge of the sciences, hastened to the rabbis lodgings and asked him to deliver a lecture before their school’s student body. Apprehensive at first, the rabbi finally accepted their invitation and requested to speak before the department of math.

When the rabbi arrived, he was impressed by the superlative institution, which claimed to cultivate students both religious and well versed in the sciences. When the rabbi entered the crowded lecture hall, he looked about at the numerous bareheaded pupils seated before him and began to speak: "I understand that you are proficient in math. Can anybody tell me what the count ("sefirah") is today?"

There was silence in the hall. When the rabbi understood that nobody in the room knew which day of the Omer count it was, he continued:

"The counting of the Omer constitutes a fundamental element bonding us with the Torah and the commandments. It teaches us how many days remain before the acceptance of the Torah on the Shavuot festival. I suggest that you begin by focusing on the Omer counting and the acceptance of the Torah. After grasping these concepts you may broaden your knowledge to other disciplines, approaching them with true fear of Heaven." Having said this, the rabbi turned and exited the hall.


It was well known that if one wanted to hear the Omer counted in the spirit of the truly pious, one must go to the Western Wall. There, each evening, one would find Rabbi Zusman, one of the foremost students of Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap.

Rabbi Zusman would count the Omer at length each evening in a very stirring melody. Especially moving was the way he would recite the passage "The Merciful One shall return to us the Temple service in its place, speedily in our day, Amen!" He said these words lamentingly and with great longing for the Holy Temple. (A recording of this can be heard click here.

Some Laws of the Omer Counting
When counting the Omer, a person must mention both the number of days and the number of weeks. For example, on the eighth day, one should say, "Today is eight days, which is one week and one day in the Omer." When it comes to the specific wording of the count there are different customs, and each person should follow the version recited in his family. Nonetheless, a person discharges his obligation with any of the versions, provided he counts the correct number of days.

Early authorities disagree over the question of whether or not the Omer counting has biblical or rabbinical force in our time. Most later authorities conclude that we must act on the assumption that it is biblical.

Therefore, if a person is uncertain whether or not he counted, or counted on time, he must count without a blessing. This is in keeping with the rule that we behave stringently when it comes to uncertainties regarding commandments of Torah origin. We do not bless, however, because there is a rule that we are lenient regarding uncertain blessings.

If a person forgot to count one day, he counts the remaining days without blessing. This is because there is an opinion among early authorities that the days of the Omer constitute a single unit, as it is written, "Seven whole weeks." However, before a person in such a situation counts, he should ask somebody else to have intention to discharge him of his obligation when blessing.

If a person does not remember if he counted the previous day, he can continue counting on the coming days with a blessing. If one forgets to count at night, he can count on the following day without a blessing and continue to count on the coming days with a blessing.

Women are not obligated to count the Omer, for it is a positive time-bound commandment, and women are not bound by such commandments. But if a woman wants to count in order to fulfill the commandment, she may do so without reciting the blessing. Women who follow Ashkenazi custom can recite the blessing on the condition that they count every day.

If a person counts without blessing first, he nevertheless fulfills his obligation, and he may not recite the blessing on that day. Therefore, if somebody asks what day of the count it is, one should answer, "Yesterday was..." so as not to inadvertently fulfill the commandment and lose the opportunity to bless. One must stand while counting the Omer.

The Holy Shelah (Rabbi Yeshayahu Horowitz) writes, "The counting of the Omer is a profound and holy matter. Therefore, before counting, a person must arouse his heart to repentance and make himself pure and holy."
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