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Thought for the Day: S'firas HaOmer, Kavana for Mitzvos, Safeik, Etc

In a few weeks, if anyone asks me how old I am, I may very likely respond, "Last year I was 55."  Or, "Hey... what day is it?"  "Yesterday was Wednesday."  We all get a bit nuts this/that time of year because of our zeal to be able to "tzel s'fira"/count the omer with a bracha.  There is a lot going into why the best answer to "What's day of the s'fira today?", is "Yesterday was kach."  ("kach" is the object form of "ploni").

Zeroth is, of course, that you need to know the day of the s'fira before you can count.  While the Shulchan Aruch does permit one who is not sure of the count to make the bracha with the congregation and then wait till he hears the number from his neighbor's counting, it's certainly not l'chatchila.  (Here's a horrible scene: the whole shul looking like an EF Hutton commercial as it slowly dawns on everyone that no one actually knew the count.)  So there is going to be a lot of asking going on.

First there is the question of d'oraisa vs. d'rabanan.  There is a machlokes rishonim about whether the counting we do in the absence of the Beis HaMikdash -- May it be rebuilt soon and in our lifetime -- is d'oraisa or a d'rabanan made zecher l'mikdash.  The Rambam holds it is d'oraisa; and he is not a da'as yachid on this.  (So notes the Biur Halacha.  Frankly, once I heard "Rambam", I was pretty satisfied with being nervous about it, whether or not he stood alone on the issue.)  The bracha, however, is certainly d'rabanan.  That being the case, any case of uncertainty is going to push us to count (safeik d'oraisa l'chumra) without a bracha (safeik d'rabanan l'kula).  We really, really want to make the bracha, so it is important to stay out of doubtful situations as much as possible.

Another important issue is whether "mitzvah tzricha kavana".  If yes, then you could answer "today is kach", because unless you have specific kavana to be fulfilling the mitzvah of counting, you haven't.  If no, though, then you need specific kavana to not want to fulfill the mitzvah or you will have ex post facto fulfilled the mitzvah of counting.  Again, we hold that indeed, "mitzvah tzricha kavana" and the G"ra further holds that it doesn't make a difference whether the mitzvah is d'oraisa or d'rabanan.

Then there is the fact that the omer needs to be counted at night.  Bein ha'shmashos is again a period of doubt, so whether you can fulfill counting s'fira during that time depends on whether the mitzvah during this epoch of churban is d'oraisa or d'rabanan.  Heck, some poskim even play with whether you can fulfill the mitzvah from plahg ha'mincha or not.  After all, they reason, you can daven ma'ariv then.

Given all that, there is a lot of wiggle room.  For example, one who announces "today is lahg b'omer" (on the 33rd day of the omer) pretty clearly has no intent to count the day of the omer; he is just naming the holiday.  Or someone who always, always, always counts after tzeis ha'kochavim and answers someone question that "Well... for you... who are hopelessly meikel.. the day is kach" also pretty obviously does not have intent to count.  (But he should work on his midos... that other Jew has plenty to rely on!)

As many issues as this question raises, though, the actual sh'eila may be a dinosaur.  Now a days I suppose there is instead a lot of texting going on; with a lot of replies that end with, "There's an app for that."


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