A Discussion of the Maharam Matz’s Answer
Adapted for Matzav.com from a shiur by Rav Avrohom Dovid Waxman, R”M B’Yeshivas Mishkan HaTorah, Lakewood
Each night, before performing the mitzvah of sefiras haomer, a bracha is recited: Boruch Ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech Haolam Asher Kidshanu Bimitzvosav Vitzivanu Al Sefiras Haomer. Although this birchas hamitzvah is recited, it is peculiar that we do not recite the bracha of shehechayanu, which is typically recited upon the fulfillment of a mitzvah performed once a year. Why is the mitzvah of sefiras haomer different than other mitzvos, such as Daled Minim, Achilas Matzah, and Ner Chanukah (which is mi’drabanan), which all require a shehecheyanu upon the mitzvah’s fulfillment for the first time?
Many answers are given to this question in the Rishonim; the following is a discussion of the lesser known answers given. The Hagahos Minhagim (ois 18) and Mateh Moshe (siman 669) quote the Maharam Matz (a Rishon, the Gaon Rav Menachem Meil Tzedek from Mirzburk, who is also quoted in Biurei Maharshal Al HaTur and by others) who answers that the shehecheyanu bracha is not recited before counting the Omer on the first night because we are choshesh that the person may forget to count the Omer on one occasion over the proceeding forty-eight nights, thereby rendering the shehecheyanu a bracha li’vatalah, retroactively. This answer can be explained based on shitas HaBihag (see Tosfos to Megillah 20b D”H Kol and to Menachos 66a D”H Zecher) that a person who forgets to count one night of sefiras haomer should not continue counting, as the mitzvah requires sheva shavuos temimos– seven complete weeks. Once one night is missed, the requirement of temimus cannot be fulfilled, and therefore the mitzvah is no longer relevant. According to the Behag, sefiras haomer is not forty- nine, individual mitzvos; rather it is one mitzvah comprised of forty- nine parts. Only when all the nights of sefirah are counted is the mitzvah fulfilled. Therefore, if one night is missed, the mitzvah is incomplete.
The Maharam Matz applies this concept to why we refrain from reciting the shehechayanu bracha, as well. Since we may forget to count one night and not fulfill the mitzvah, as the mitzvah consists of all forty- nine nights, the shehechayanu may subsequently be a bracha li’vatalah. Therefore, the shehechayanu is omitted.
However, this answer requires further clarification. If the Maharam Matz is choshesh that the shehecheyanu will be a bracha li’vatalah, why do we in fact recite the birchas hamitzvah each night? Why is there no worry that the birchas hamitzvah, too, will be a bracha li’vatalah if one night is forgotten and the mitzvah will not be complete, thereby retroactively invalidating the previous night’s brachos? This question is posed by the Sdei Chemed (mareches Yom Hakippurim siman 1, ois 3).
The Maharam Matz’s answer, which apparently differentiates between the shehecheyanu and the birchas hamitzvah, can be better understood in light of the following. The Ran (Sukkah 22b), in response to the question of why no shehecheyanu is recited on sefiras haomer, explains that sefiras haomer is unique from other mitzvos “di’im lo safar balayla, lo yisfor bayom”- because sefiras haomer can only be counted at night and not on the following day. The Ran’s words require explanation: the fact that the mitzvah is performed specifically at night cannot be the determining factor, as Ner Chanukah is to be lit specifically at night, and nevertheless, shehecheyanu is recited?
The Shu”t Maharlbach (siman 62) explains the intention of the Ran. In the case of other mitzvos, such as Daled Minim, where shehecheyanu is recited before performing the mitzvah for the first time, the mitzvah is fulfilled in its entirety on the very first day. The Daled Minim are picked up, and the mitzvah of that day is fulfilled. Although the mitzvah is performed on subsequent days, each day is another, additional kiyum mitzvah. Sefiras haomer, however, is unique- only part of the mitzvah is performed the first night, while the subsequent days add to the necessary components for the mitzvah’s fulfillment and the completion is only achieved at the end of the forty- nine days. The bracha of shehecheyanu, explains the Maharalbach, is recited upon a zman that a unique, special milestone is achieved: the simcha of the opportunity and privilege of fulfilling a mitzvah. We can only praise Hashem “shehecheyanu, vi’kiymanu, vi’higiyanu la’zman hazeh” when the zman of kiyum mitzvah is at hand. This bracha would then be appropriate for other mitzvos, such as Daled Minim, where in fact a mitzvah is fulfilled at that time. But sefiras haomer is different: since at the time of the first night’s counting no mitzvah is fulfilled, as it is only the first part of the mitzvah, the Ran suggests that shehechayanu is not to be recited.
The Maharalbach continues to explain the intention of the Ran’s statement that sefiras haomer is different, as “it can only be performed at night, and not on the following day.” At first glance these words seem bothersome- why is it necessary for the Ran to mention this point? The main concept relevant for this explanation seems to be that the mitzvah fulfillment occurs only after all forty- nine days, and not on the first night? The Maharalbach further explains that if sefiras haomer would be a continuous, forty-nine day long mitzvah, with the sefiros performed consecutively day after day, the first night would actually be the beginning of this continuous, forty-nine day zman. As such, shehecheyanu would indeed be appropriate- although the kiyum of the mitzvah in its entirety will not be on the first day, the bracha should be recited at the start of this singular unit of forty-nine days that comprises the kiyum mitzvah, as it is indeed the zman of the kiyum mitzvah. In other words, the bracha of shehecheyanu should be recited before the zman of the kiyum mitzvah, irrelevant if this zman is one day or forty-nine days.
However, the Ran explains that sefiras haomer is different than other mitzvos– beacuse the sefirah cannot be performed during the day. Accordingly, the mitzvah is not a singular zman unit of forty- nine days, but rather a mitzvah with forty-nine separate parts, with separate zmanim, that are to be performed each night, with a hefsek of the daytime in between each part. Therefore, says the Ran, shehecheyanu is not recited, as the first night is not the beginning of the zman of a mitzvah fulfillment, but the mandated time when one of the forty- nine maaseh mitzvah is performed, with no kiyum mitzvah. In other words, the fact that the day separates each sefirah is proof that sefiras haomer is not one continuous, forty-nine day zman of the kiyum mitzvah, but rather forty-nine separate night zmanim that lead to the mitzvah’s fulfillment.
The Maharalbach’s pshat in the Ran begs for further explanation. Although it is clear from the Maharalbach’s pshat why shehecheyanu is not recited, as the first night is not the start of the zman of thekiyum mitzvah, this leads to another question. If so, why is the bracha of “Al Sefiras Haomer-” the birchas hamitzvah– in fact recited each night? If each sefirah is only a maaseh mitzvah which is merely a part of the overall mitzvah of sefiras haomer, and not independently a kiyum mitzvah, why is the birchas hamitzvah repeatedly recited on each counting?
The answer lies in understanding a fundamental difference between the function of a birchas hamitzvah and the birchas shehecheyanu, (also referred to as a birchas hazman). The obligation and situation when a birchas hamitzvah is recited is when a maaseh mitzvah– an action of performing a mitzvah– is to be performed. The birchas hamitzvah is recited on a maaseh mitzvah, regardless of if there is a kiyum mitzvah. This is apparent from the example of a homeowner who appoints a shliach to perform the mitzvah of bedikas chametz on his behalf. Although the shliach is not fulfilling any mitzvah, as it is not his own home that he is searching, the Magen Avrohom (Orach Chayim, siman 432, s”k 6) maintains that the shliach recite the birchas hamitzvah before performing the bedikah on the meshaleach’s behalf. This can be explained with the above yesod: a birchas hamitzvah is recited when a maaseh mitzvah is performed, and the shliach is certainly performing a maaseh mitzvah. The birchas hamitzvah is recited even though the shliach is not actually being mekayem a mitzvah.
It is now easily understood why the bracha of Al Sefiras Haomer is recited each night, despite the fact that the kiyum mitzvah comprises of all forty-nine nights. The bracha is a birchas hamitzvah, and is to be recited on the maaseh mitzvah of counting the Omer, and each counting is certainly a maaseh mitzvah– regardless of the existence of the kiyum mitzvah on that night.
Shehecheyanu (birchas hazman), on the other hand, has a different function: shvach is to be given to Hakadosh Boruch H, shehecheyanu vi’kiymanu vi’higiyanu la’zman hazeh, for giving us life,and sustaining us to reach “this time.” La’zman hazeh refers to the zman of fulfilling the mitzvah for the first time. The bracha is only recited if there is a kiyum mitzvah, regardless of if there is a maaseh mitzvah. For example, if a father redeems his firstborn son through a shliach, the shliach recites a birchas hamitzvah upon performing the maaseh mitzvah of mitzvas pidyon haben. However, the Tzlach (Pesachim 121b) instructs that the shliach only recite the birchas hamitzvah, but not shehecheyanu. This can be explained in light of this yesod: the birchas hazman is recited when a person is zoche to a kiyum mitzvah. This shliach, however, is not fulfilling the mitzvah. Although he is performing the mitzvah for the father and can therefore recite the birchas hamitzvah upon his action, a shehecheyanu is only recited upon a kiyum mitzvah– which belongs to the meshaleach, and not the shliach.
We can now understand the Ran, as explained by the Maharalbach. Since the fulfillment of mitzvas sefiras haomer is accomplished through all forty-nine nights of counting, the first night’s sefirah is not a zman of kiyum mitzvah. Although we certainly recite the birchas hamitzvah, as the first night’s sefirah is most definitely a maaseh mitzvah, it is not “la’zman hazeh-” the joyous, auspicious time of the mitzvah’s fulfillment upon which the shvach to Hashem is to be given.
With this yesod, which differentiates between the nature of birchas hamitzvah and birchas shehecheyanu, we can now resolve the difficulty originally posed with the Maharam Matz’s explanation. The Maharam Matz explains that shehecheyanu is not recited on sefiras haomer, in case one night’s sefirah gets forgotten, rendering the shehecheyanu a bracha li’vatalah. Since the shehecheyanu is to be recited on the kiyum mitzvah, the shehecheyanu is indeed dependent and contingent on the completion of the entire sefirah. The bracha would be valid only if the person actually fulfills the mitzvah through the counting of all forty- nine nights. Therefore, the Maharam Matz suggests that no bracha is to be recited for fear that a night may be forgotten and the bracha will be invalid- since retroactively, it was not a zman of kiyum mitzvah. The birchas hamitzvah, however, is recited on each maaseh mitzvah, independent of the eventual kiyum mitzvah. Therefore, the Maharam Matz’s cheshash about a person who forgets one night of sefirah is not relevant and applicable to the birchas hamitzvah. The bracha of Al Sefiras Haomer was enacted to be recited on the maaseh mitzvah, which certainly is being performed at each night’s sefirah. Since it is a bracha on the maaseh mitzvah, the bracha is independent of the actual kiyum mitzvah and is valid even if the person would eventually forget to count one night.
As an aside, it should be noted that the entire discussion of the recitation of shehecheyanu on sefiras haomer is specifically regarding reciting the bracha before the first night’s counting. As a bracha on the kiyum mitzvah, it would be inappropriate to recite the bracha after the completion of the sefirah, or even immediately prior to the mitzvah’s completion, as the kiyum mitzvah has already been achieved, and there is no longer the cause to make the bracha.