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Friday, May 2

The Weekly Shtikle - Emor

    Parshas Emor always comes out in the middle of sefiras ha'omer and it is also the parsha which contains the commandment for sefiras ha'omer (23:15). This unique mitzvah seems to give rise the most interesting halachic discussions ranging from the theoretical, such as counting the Omer in alternative number bases, to the more practical, such as the effect of crossing the International Date Line on the fulfillment of the mitzvah. There is an interesting discussion as to whether or not writing may qualify as a valid means of fulfilling the mitzvah of sefiras ha'omer. That is, if one was to write, "Hayom Yom x La'Omer," would that be sufficient to fulfill one's obligation and would this action disallow one from repeating the count with a berachah?

    The discussion of this halachic quandary follows an interesting family tree. This issue is first dealt with in the responsa of R' Akiva Eiger, siman 29. The teshuvah is actually written by R' Akiva Eiger's uncle, R' Wolf Eiger. Unable to attend his nephew's wedding, he made a simultaneous banquet of his own to celebrate the occasion. He wrote to his nephew about this halachic issue, which was discussed at the banquet. He cites a number of related issues which he builds together to try to reach a conclusion. The gemara (Yevamos 31b, Gittin 71a) teaches that witnesses may only testify by means of their mouths and not by writing. The gemara (Shabbos 153b) states that mutes should not separate terumah because they cannot say the berachah. It is assumed that writing the berachah would not have been sufficient. Also, there is a discussion among the commentaries with regards to the validity of a vow that is written and not recited. R' Wolf Eiger concludes that writing is not a sufficient means of fulfilling the mitzvah of sefiras ha'omer. However, this sparks a debate between him and his nephew which stretches out to siman 32.

    This issue is eventually discussed in the responsa of Kesav Sofer (Yoreh Dei'ah siman 106) by R' Avraham Shmuel Binyomin Sofer, R' Akiva Eiger's grandson who was, in fact, named after R' Wolf Eiger. He covers a host of related topics and eventually discusses the exchange recorded in his grandfather's sefer. The debate, although it encompasses various pertinent issues, never produces any concrete proof directly concerning the act of counting. However, Kesav Sofer quotes his father, Chasam Sofer, in his footnotes to R' Akiva Eiger (his father- in-law) where he provides a more concrete proof. The gemara (Yoma 22b) teaches that one who counts the number of B'nei Yisrael transgresses a prohibition as it is written (Hoshea 2:1) "And the number of B'nei Yisrael shall be like the sand of the sea that shall not be measured nor counted." The gemara cites two examples (Shmuel I 11:8, 15:4) where Shaul HaMelech went out of his way to avoid this prohibition by using pieces of clay or rams in order to perform a census. Chasam Sofer suggests that Shaul could simply have counted the men by writing down the numbers and not saying them. Since Shaul went to far greater lengths, we are compelled to say that writing the number of men would still have qualified as counting them and he would hot have sufficiently dodged the prohibition. Thus, concludes Chasam Sofer, if one has explicit intention to fulfill the mitzvah, writing is a valid means of counting Sefiras HaOmer. However, Kesav Sofer suggests that perhaps the berachah should not be recited in this case.

    It's hard to imagine what the practical implications might have been in those days. Why would someone write down the day of the omer if not for the fact that they were completely unable to talk. However, perhaps this issue has more practical implications in our modern age. Suppose someone sends his friend a text message asking what night of sefirah it is and he responds, "tonight is 17." Could there be a problem counting with a berachah after that?

Have a good Shabbos.

Eliezer Bulka

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