By: Yehuda Shurpin
Starting from the second night of Passover (the 16th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan), we count 49 days, culminating with the 50th day, the holiday of Shavuot.
One is supposed to stand while making the blessing and then counting the Omer, based on the verse that tells us to begin the count when the “sickle is first put to the standing [crop].”1 The sages explain that bekamah, which means “standing [crop],” can also be read bekomah, “an upright posture.”2
Nevertheless, if one counted while sitting (or it is difficult to stand), he or she still fulfilled the obligation, since this interpretation is merely an asmachta, a scriptural hint for rabbinic enactment.3
Although this teaching is not actually found in the Talmud, it is quoted by later sages as having originated in the Mishnaic era.4
Standing for Other Mitzvahs
According to many, this teaching is the source for the practice of standing when performing other mitzvahs as well.5
Thus, for example, the Midrash tells us the blessing for tzitzit is said while standing up, enwrapped in the tallit.6 This is extrapolated from the Omer count,7 since the word lachem (“for you”) is used in Scripture regarding both mitzvahs.8
While Scripture hints at the fact that we stand while counting the Omer, it does not tell us why we are to do so. However, the commentaries suggest several reasons for this practice.
When we count the Omer, it is as if we are testifying what day of the Omer it is. Since the halachah is that when witnesses testify they need to do so standing up, we count the Omer standing.9
Like the Omer Offering
In Temple times, the actual Omer offering was brought while standing. When we count, it is as if we are bringing this special sacrifice, and it is thus appropriate that we stand as well.10
Like the Amidah Prayer
The Zohar tells us that the counting of the Omer is spiritually similar to the Amidah, the silent prayer said (at least) three times each day while standing upright. It is therefore appropriate that we stand while counting the Omer.11
Don’t Delay a Mitzvah
According to some commentators, the reason is practical. As a rule, we try to do mitzvahs at the first possible opportunity.12 The Omer is generally counted in the synagogue immediately after the evening Amidah has been said. Since we do not want to waste even a moment before performing this mitzvah, we do it while still standing up.13
Strength to Stand
When G d took us out of Egypt at the time of the Exodus, G d did so through great divine revelations and miracles. Since this was such a great influx of light from above, we were overwhelmed by the holiness, and these newfound spiritual attainments could not endure (“stand” in Hebrew). Through refining ourselves each day of the 49-day Omer period, the changes that took place during Exodus were internalized and could be maintained in the long term.
When we stand up and count the Omer, we demonstrate that through steady hard work, we can take fleeting flashes of inspiration and have them stand in place forever.14 (Chabad.org)
A noted scholar and researcher, Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin serves as content editor at Chabad.org, and writes the popular weekly Ask Rabbi Y column. Rabbi Shurpin is the rabbi of the Chabad Shul in St. Louis Park, Minn., where he resides with his wife, Ester, and their children.
See Midrash Lekech Tov, Parshat Emor; Midrash Hagadol (and Midrash Tanaaim), Devarim 16:9; Kesef Mishneh on Hilchot Temidin Umusafin 7:23, quoting Rabbi Yitzchak Ghiyyat.
Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 489:4.
See Rosh, end of Pesachim; see also Hagahot Hagrib ad loc.
Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 8:4.
See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orach Chaim 8:4.
Regarding tzitzit we read in Numbers 15:39, “And they shall be for you,” and with regard to the counting of the Omer it is written in Leviticus 23:15, “And you shall count for you[rselves].”
Imrei Noam (by Rabbi Yaakov Dilishkes), Emor 23:15.
Machzor Vitri, p. 301; Imrei Noam, ibid.
Zohar 2:183a; see also Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 489:4.
In Hebrew this is known as ain maavirin al hamitzvot, “we do not pass over mitzvahs.”
Imrei Noam, ibid.; as some note, according to this reason one would not have to count standing on Saturday night, since we recite other prayers between the Amidah and the Omer count. However, most authorities do not cite this distinction, and it appears that the halachah is that we stand all nights of the week.
Haggadah Shel Pesach, Minchat Yitzchak, p. 169, based on the Bnei Yissaschar