Accidentally Mentioning the Day of the Omer Translation and introduction by Rabbi Avi Schwartz, edited by Rabbi Dov Linzer by Rabbi Avram Schwartz

Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839), generally known as Hatam Sofer, was perhaps the most important European rabbi of the first half of the nineteenth century. He was widely recognized during his lifetime, and trained the next generation of Hungarian leadership at his yeshiva in Pressburg. His works, all published posthumously, include writings on Chumash, Shas, and over a thousand responsa. Through his writings, his students, and his many learned descendants, he continues to have a massive influence on Torah and Orthodoxy.

In the following teshuva, Hatam Sofer addresses a not-so-uncommon situation: What happens if one accidentally mentioned that day of the Omer – is it considered as if she has counted? This is relevant to a case where a person mentioned the day before she has counted that night, and wants to know if she already did the mitzvah or if she has not and can still count that night with a brakha. Hatam Sofer was dealing with a case that was the mirror image of this – what if someone forgot to count at night, and the following day, but during that same day mentioned the day of the Omer in passing (in the case at hand, when dating a letter). Has he fulfilled his obligation, so that he will be able to resume counting the following night with a brakha.

Hatam Sofer answers that whether inadvertent counting fulfills the mitzvah depends on whether one needs specific mitzvah-intent in order to fulfill a mitzvah obligation, which in turn depends on whether the mitzvah obligation is of a Biblical nature (intent is required) or a Rabbinic nature (intent is not required). Since there is a debate whether the obligation to count the Omer is Biblical or Rabbinic nowadays, then it would be equally debated whether such an inadvertent counting would be valid. Thus, in his case, it is possible that the letter-writer did not do the counting for that day, and can no longer count with a brakha. In the first, and more common case, that we discussed, that of a person accidentally counting before having made the brakha, the person should count that night with intent to do the mitzvah, but not make a brakha (since he might have already done the mitzvah), and then continue counting on the other nights with a brakha.

The remainder of the teshuva is an important discussion about whether one can fulfill his obligation through listening to someone else count, based on the halakhic principle that “listening is like speaking.” Hatam Sofer also discusses whether this principle, and a related one – “thinking is like speaking” – can be employed when it is possible for someone to do the mitzvah in a better form, i.e., by actually verbalizing the words him- or herself.

שו”ת חתם סופר חלק ו – ליקוטים סימן יט

שלום וכ”ט לתלמידי הוותיק הרבני החרוץ המופלג כבוד מו”ה יוסף נ”י אוהעל בפאטאק.

אני פה עוסק ברפואות ואין מזגי שוה בעו”ה והגיעני נעימות ימינו ובעא מינאי מלתא דבעי טעמא ואין אתי שום ספר לעיין בו ומ”מ לא אשיב פניו ריקם

ע”ד מי ששכח לספור ספירת עומר בלילה וביום כתב אגרת וכ’ ביום פלוני למב”י אי יי”ח =יוצא ידי חובתו= בזה באופן שיכול לספור מכאן ואילך בברכה

אומר אני אפי’ הי’ אומר בפיו כך וכך למב”י בזה האופן הי’ ספיקא ותלי’ אי ספירת עומר בזה”ז דאוריית’ מצות צריכת כוונה לצאת ולא יי”ח ואי דרבנן מצות דרבנן לא בעי כוונה ויי”ח

ואם כן הספירה מכאן ואילך ספיקא ואין מברכי’ ובהכי מתפרש דברי מג”א סי’ תפ”ט סק”ח דקאי למ”ד ספירה בזה”ז דאורייתא.

מ”ש ספירה לכל א’ כך כתוב בגליון מג”א שלי סי’ תפ”ט סק”ב אמ”ש ואפשר כיון דשומע כעונה כאלו ספר הוא בעצמו עכ”ל כתבתי על הגליון ולא דמי ללקיחת לולב דהתם מצוה שנעשית על ידי גופו של אדם כגון הנחת תפילין ונטילת לולב אין אדם יכול להוציא חברו מה שא”כ מצוה שע”י אמירה ודבור בזה הוא השמיעה כעונה בעצמו עמ”ש כפות תמרים סוכה מ”א ע”ב והא דאמרי’ שתהא ספירה לכל א’ לאו לאפוקי שומע כעונה אלא לאפוקי ספירת ב”ד בעד כל ישראל כמו שהדין בספירת היובל בירושלים וכמ”ש תוספ’ מנחות ס”ה ע”ב ד”ה וספרתם וכו’ עכ”ל על הגליון.

וענין הרהור כדבור ושומע כעונה שרשו בסוכה ל”ו ע”ב ובתוס’ ד”ה שמע וכו’ קיצורן של דברים כל דבר של תפלה ושבח והודי’ וברכת המזון וכדומה למ”ד הרהור כד”ד =כדבור דמי= סגי מן התורה כשמהרהר כך בלבו יהי שם ה’ מבורך שנתן התורה וכדומה דרחמנא לבא בעי מ”מ מצוה מן המובחר כשיש כאן דבור פה והשמעה לאזנו ע”כ יותר טוב כשחברו מדבר בפיו והוא שומע באוזן עצמו דהוה כעונה ומצוה מן המובחר עוד יותר שידבר הוא בפיו וישמע באזנו ולבבו יבין

ואחר הנחה זו כל שאפשר לו לדבר בפיו אינו יוצא יי”ח בשומע דבור בפה חבירו אא”כ עומד בתפלה שא”א להוציא קדושה בשפתיו אז שומע כעונה כמ”ש תו’ הנ”ל והה”נ מי שיכול לשמוע מחברו אינו יוצא בהרהור לבד ולא יצא לכתחילה בהרהור אלא בעל קרי ובשאין אחר יכול לשמוע ממנו…

ואחתום בברכה הכ”ד א”נ דש”ת. מרחץ פישאן יום א’ ט”ו תמוז תקצ”א לפ”ק. משה”ק סופר מפפד”מ.

Responsa Hatam Sofer -6:19

Greetings to my student…Rabbi Yosef Ohel in Petuk.

I am here for medical purposes, as I do not feel entirely well, due to our many sins. Your letter has reached me asking for my reasoned opinion, and though I have no religious books here with me to check, I could not leave your request unanswered.

You asked regarding someone who forgot to count the Omer at night, but during the day wrote a letter which opened with: “On day X, according to the counting of the Children of Israel,” whether he has thereby fulfilled his obligation and can continue counting with a blessing.

It is my opinion, that even if he had said orally, “such and such according to the counting of the children of Israel,” it would still be doubtful whether he fulfilled his obligation and it depends on the following question. If counting the Omer nowadays is a Torah obligation, the it would require intent to do the mitzvah in order to fulfill one’s obligation, and this incidental mentioning of the day of the Omer would not discharge his obligation. If, however, the obligation is Rabbinic in nature, then we rule that Rabbinic mitzvoth do not require specific intent, and he would discharge his obligation.

So even if he had said this orally, since there was no specific mitzvah-intent, any further counting is only a doubtful mitzvah (since it is possible that he missed a day), and he would not make a brakhah for it. This explains the comment of Magen Avraham (OH 489 no. 8), that one needs specific intent for counting the Omer, because he is speaking according to the position that counting the Omer is a Biblical mitzvah even nowadays.

The following is written in my glosses on Magen Avraham (OH 489 no. 2), where Magen Avraham writes regarding the need for each person to count for himself, that “Since, halakhically, one who hears something is considered as if he said it, it is possible that if one just heard the counting of the Omer, it is considered as if he said it, and would thereby fulfil his obligation.” I have written the following on the margin: “This is not like taking a lulav, for there the mitzvah is done with the body, like laying tefillin. So when it comes to taking the lulav, a person cannot have his obligation discharged by someone else. This is not the case for a mitzvah that is done through speech, where listening is treated like the person himself did the speaking. See Kappot Temarim, Sukkah 41b. So, when we say that each person must count for himself, this does not mean that one cannot avail himself of the principle that “listening is like speaking.” Rather, it means that it is a count that is done by each person, and not done by the Beit Din for the sake of all of Israel (that is, it is an individual obligation and not a communal one discharged by the Beit Din), as is the case in the counting of the years towards the Jubilee, which is done by the Beit Din in Jerusalem, as Tosafot Menahot 65 b s.v. Usfartem write.”

As to whether thinking can count as speaking, and listening being like speaking, the origin of the discussion is in Sukkah (38b) and in Tosafot, s.v. Shema. In brief, for any prayer or praise or Grace after Meals or the like, according to the position that thinking is like speaking, it is sufficient on a Torah level merely to think internally, “may God’s name be blessed for giving us the Torah” and the like, for “the Merciful One desires what is in one’s heart.” Nevertheless, the mitzvah is performed best when done through audible speech. It is thus better for one’s fellow to speak to them, and for that person to listen, and thus it will be considered as if he spoke the words himself. Even better than that would be for a person to speak the words with his own mouth and to hear it with his own ears and this will thus be internalized in his thoughts (cf. Isa. 6:10)

On the basis of this, when it is possible for someone to have spoken something orally, then they do not fulfill their obligation when they hear it said by someone else, unless they are in the middle of their Amidah and cannot actually say Kedushah themselves. Then they would apply the rule of “listening is like speaking,” as Tosafot there writes. Similarly, one who could have heard the words spoken by someone else does not fulfill his obligation with thought alone. Only someone who is in a situation where they are not permitted to speak and also cannot find someone else from whom to hear the words being spoken, can fulfill his obligation lekhathila by thought alone…

I will end with a blessing. Behold these are my words, your true friend, who constantly seeks after your welfare.

The baths of Pishan (?), Sunday, 15 Tammuz, 5591 (1831).

Moshe Ha’katan Sofer, of Frankfurt-on-the-Main.