This issue is dedicated to the memory of our beloved grandmother, Sarah
Bas Yitzchak -- Mrs. Selma Bernstein -- who passed away last month at
the age of 97.
Most of the sources for this paper can be found in M'vakshei Torah,
Krach 4, Koveitz 19.
On the second day of Pesach, the Omer -- an offering of barley, was
brought in the Beis Hamikdash. The second evening, the Sefiras Haomer
-- the Counting of the Omer -- begins. Every night, for seven weeks,
the counting is recited, concluding with 49. The fiftieth evening is
What are we counting, and how is it associated with the Omer offering?
There are many different views. The Chinuch, for example, held that
there was no intrinsic connection between the counting and the Omer per
se. The people were counting from the exodus until their complete
freedom. The real freedom would only begin at Shavuos, when the Torah
would be given. They should have counted from Pesach itself -- that
is, the first day. However, it didn't seem right to mix in another,
separate mitzva with Seder night, so they delayed counting until the
second night. The second night corresponded with the date on which the
Omer offering was to be brought.
Tosfos Rid, however, viewed the counting of the Omer as the connection
between the Omer offering and the Shtei Halechem (the two loaves)
offered at Shavuos. Shavuos is the Chag Habikurim (Festival of First
Fruits) and is defined by the unique offering of loaves of leavened
bread. This is one holiday that is not determined by a date of the
calendar month. Shavuous is fixed in order to see to it that the Shtei
Halechem are brought exactly 50 days after the Omer offering of barley.
Since the date of Shavuous is not calculated by the luach -- the
calendar -- the court's announcement of Rosh Chodesh (new moon) is not
relevant. Instead, the court would count the Omer publicly, and each
individual would also count, in order to remember the Yom Tov of
Most authorities do see a connection between the counting and the Omer
offering itself. Since there are no longer any offerings today, the
counting of the Omer is in itself only a Rabbinic mitzva -- a zecher
l'mikdash -- a remembrance of the Beis Hamikdash.
The commentaries struggle at length to explain why the brocha of
"Shechechiyanu" is not said over the counting of the Omer. Based on
our present discussion, it would seem that, since "Shechechiyanu" is a
sign of joy, it was not appropriate to say it when we are recalling the
tragedy of the destruction of the Beis Hamikdash and the present exile.
Indeed, the Poskim mention that "Shechechiyanu" is only recited when
there is physical benefit or joy -- but not when remembering the
The Brisker Rav explained that the purpose of the Rabbinic mitzva was
not the counting, but to remember the Mikdash. The counting was merely
the way they chose to remember. For this reason, Ameimar held that
only the days need be counted, rather than the days and the weeks.
Since the counting was a Rabbinic ruling in order to remember, it
didn't have to be exactly similar to the mitzva from the Torah in the
days of the Mikdash.
Why was the remembrance of the destruction at this time of year?
Actually, the students of Rabbi Akiva died during the interval between
Pesach and Shavuos, and there are various customs of mourning in honor
of these great talmidim. The question is often asked: Why is this
period a time of mourning? Ramban, in his exposition of the Torah,
declared the seven weeks from Pesach to Shavuos as being akin to Chol
Hamoed -- the intermediate days of the holiday. It sounds as if the
entire period would be a festive one!
However, we have seen that the Counting of the Omer was specifically a
memorial for the destruction of the Mikdash, and that the
"Shechechiyanu" is not recited because of the sadness. That the seven
weeks were supposed to be festive is not the only question. Pesach
itself is certainly festive, yet the Counting of the Omer -- the
memorial for the destruction, is read daily, beginning the second
Notice that the last days of Pesach do not entail the "Shechechiyanu"
brocha. There is nothing new about these last days. Full Hallel is
not recited. Traditionally, eggs -- food of the mourner -- are eaten
at the seder -- because Tisha B'av occurs on the same day of the week
as Pesach night. What is the connection between the great Yom Tov of
Pesach and the great tragedy of Tisha B'av?
Ramban said: The greater the Kedusha (sanctity), the greater the
Churban (destruction). When he arrived in Eretz Yisrael in the last
years of his life, few Jews were living there. The worst sight was the
area of the Kosel (the Wall). Ramban was devastated at the plight of
Yerushalayim and the holy areas. Then and there, he instituted the
first minyan in Yerushalayim in modern times.
During this period, recalling the korbonos (offerings) of the Pesach
lamb, the Omer of barley, the Shtei Halechem (two loaves), we cannot be
fully joyous, knowing that Judaism is in turmoil without its central,
unifying base. This is a special time for personal growth, Torah
learning and character development, in preparation for the Yom Tov of
the receiving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai. However, we must remember
that the students of Rabbi Akiva died during this time, because they
didn't honor each other sufficiently.
During a "growth spurt," everything grows -- the good and the bad. A
garden needs to be weeded, in order to maintain its beauty. The vine
needs to be pruned -- farmers know that cutting away fresh growth
increases the crop tremendously. So, too, as we grow, we must do some
Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156