Use of Informal Sefira Counting to Solve Problems

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: If one answers an inquiry about what day of the omer it is and does not count again that day, may he count the next day with a beracha? If yes, an onen (before funeral of close relative, who does not perform mitzvot) for a full day of sefira should be able to simulate such a statement and be allowed to continue with a beracha the next day.  

Answer: The Behag (cited in Tosafot, Menachot 66a) is the source of the idea that one may not continue with a beracha if he missed a day of counting. He argues that missing a day makes it impossible to fulfill the command of temimot (seven full weeks). Most Rishonim disagree. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 489:8) basically accepts the Behag, but only due to doubt – since he might be correct, we do not make a beracha. However, if one is unsure if he counted, he makes a beracha on subsequent days because of a positive double doubt, i.e., if either he did not miss a day or the Behag is incorrect, a beracha is warranted (Mishna Berura 489:38). The Terumat Hadeshen (I:37) says that although it is unclear if one can fulfill the mitzva with a daytime count, if one did so, he recites with a beracha on subsequent days. Most understand that this too is based on a positive double doubt (Sha’ar Hatziyun 489:45). The Mishna Berura (489:38) presents a broad rule – after a questionable count, which requires redoing but without a beracha, if one did not repeat, he maintains the ability to count with a beracha in the future, due to double doubt. 

Does your case of answering a question, i.e., a proper statement in a non-mitzva context, create a double doubt? The Shulchan Aruch (ibid. 4) rules to avoid answering completely because such a statement compromises the beracha on that day’s count. Thus it seems to meet the Mishna Berura’s criterion for allowing a beracha on subsequent days. On the other hand, the Taz (489:7) contends that because the answerer clearly does not intend to fulfill the mitzva, it is inconsequential, and it is just a stringency to avoid an exact answer; even if he answered, he would make the beracha that night. The main response to the Taz is that many hold that sefira is Rabbinic nowadays, and Rabbinic mitzvot may not need intention for the mitzva (see Pri Megadim, 489, EA 10). According to the Taz’s view of your case, it will not help to save the beracha in the future.

However, even those who reject the Taz are unlikely to accept your idea. An onen avoids doing sefira because according to most Rishonim, he is not only exempt but forbidden to do mitzvot – so rules the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 341:1. Therefore, if your statement fulfills the mitzva, it is ostensibly forbidden for an onen! If it is not a mitzva, then it will not help going forward (see Noda B’Yehuda II, OC 27)! Also, in this case, most poskim should agree with the Taz – if an onen knows he is forbidden to do the mitzva, then his intention specifically not to fulfill the mitzva disqualifies it (see Mishna Berura 60:9). 

The Noda B’Yehuda (ibid.) actually says that if one will be an onen for a whole day, he is probably obligated in sefira, so that aninut should not prevent fulfillment of the mitzva even after aninut is over. Since even if he is not obligated, some allow an onen to do a mitzva when it does not affect funeral preparations, he can count without a beracha. Many (see Pitchei Teshuva, YD 341:6; R. Akiva Eiger, OC 489:7) accept the Noda B’Yehuda; a minority (Birchei Yosef, OC 489:20) do not.

The poskim do not suggest your idea, which is like the Noda B’Yehuda in action but different in intention, because most assume that negative intention ruins its efficacy. It might work (the calculation is beyond our scope) according to the approach of some Acharonim (including Rav Soloveitchik, see Mesora III, p. 35) that there is no need to fulfill the mitzva to allow continuing with a beracha, just to do an act of counting to keep an uninterrupted count. However, since your plan contradicts the Noda B’Yehuda’s quite accepted idea of counting with positive intent, we do not recommend it. 


About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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