Why don't we make the blessing of 'Shehechayanu' over the mitzvah of Sefirat HaOmer (counting the days of the Omer) like we do over most other time-initiated mitzvot we do for the first time like on Holidays, waving the lulav, lighting Chanukah candles and many other mitzvot?
Early halachic authorities provide us with several answers:
- We only say 'Shehechayanu' on a mitzvah which brings us joy and the Omer, an offering brought on the day after Pesach in Temple times, reminds us of the pain that we are presently unable to bring the Temple offerings. (Rashba, cited in Aruch HaShulchan 489:5)
- According to the Ran (according to the Rif, 22b, Sukkah), we don't say Shehechayanu since we don't know if we will finish the mitzvah in it's entirety, for if one should forget to count the Omer one night, he is not allowed to continue making the blessing "on Sefirat HaOmer" when counting on the following nights.
Rabbi Yisroel, the Kozhnitzer Maggid, in his work Avodat Yisroel, brings the Mechilta (14:21 - a Midrash on the book of Exodus) that states when the Sea of Reeds split for the Jewish People, all the waters in the world split as well - seas, lakes, ponds, bathtubs and even glasses of drinking water. Asks the Kozhnitzer Maggid, "For what purpose did G‑d split all the waters of the world? After all, wasn't the main reason for the miracle to show G‑d's might to the Egyptians? Wouldn't it have been enough to just split the Sea of Reeds?"
Every miracle that G‑d performs leaves an indelible impression on the world….
The Kozhnitzer Maggid reveals a fundamental principle for understanding the ways of G‑d: Every miracle that G‑d performs leaves an indelible impression on the world. The miracles during the Exodus from Egypt, at the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, and the bestowing of the manna in the desert all left us with a spiritual treasure that can be accessed even in our lives and especially on the holidays that commemorate these events. The splitting of the Sea of Reeds initiated the potential for all the waters of the world to be able to split when it would be beneficial to the Community of Israel:
- the Jordan River split for Joshua when the Jewish People needed to cross. (Joshua 3:9-17)
- The Mishnaic Sage, Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair, was on a journey to do the mitzvah of ransoming captives when he came to the raging Ginai River. He requested the river to part it's waters so that he could pass, but it wouldn't cooperate. He tried numerous tactics, but only when Rabbi Pinchas invoked the precedent of the Sea of Reeds, did the River Ginai consent to part it waters, and allow the sage to pass over to the opposite bank. (Chullin 7a)
It may be that this inherent potential of water to split also represents the factor responsible for the salvation of Jews from danger in every generation. For example when the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel, was escaping through Europe from the Holocaust with a few of his chassidim, their escape route took them through the mountains of Switzerland which they had to traverse by train as well as by foot. When they arrived at the Austrian-Swiss border, they were filthy, their clothes were ragged and worn out and they were exhausted by the ordeal; the Rebbe's shoes were held together only by a piece of discarded wire. A troop of soldiers was stationed at the crossing. As the Satmar Rebbe and his party came into view, the commander suddenly called his unit to attention. As the Rebbe approached, the commander waved him through. The Rebbe crossed the border unhindered as the soldiers honored him with a full salute. Those who were fortunate to meet the Rebbe along his escape route, later testified that his face shone like an incandescent light.
The Belzer Rebbe, Rabbi Aharon, during the same period, also escaped the European inferno. He and his party had to negotiate a risky Hungarian border crossing. When they came to the border, a Hungarian army officer on horseback accompanied by three underlings unexpectedly appeared and ordered the commander on duty at the border to allow the Rebbe and his party to pass through. Rabbi Aharon later revealed that the soldiers were his ancestors, the Rebbes of the Belz dynasty. This is the power of the Splitting of the Sea, clearing the way for Jews in the service of G‑d.
Through counting the Omer we are able to earn this clarity back….
The Kozhnitzer Maggid continues, in the name of the Arizal, that the first night of first Pesach, we were granted a great expansion of consciousness and knowledge of G‑d. This is one of the times which leaves an indelible impression on the Community of Israel. The Arizal wrote that on the night of the seder, through the matzahs and the wine (3 + 4 cups = 7), G‑d enlightened us with the understanding and clarity that we need to make rectifications on every one of the seven sefirot, throughout the seven weeks of seven days of the Omer counting period - but after the first day of Pesach this light and clarity was removed from us. Through counting the Omer we are able to earn this clarity back, bit by bit as we do the required teshuva and make the appropriate rectifications each day of the Sefira.
This is why the blessing of "Shehechyanu" is not made over Sefirat HaOmer. There is nothing new for the blessings to apply to. All that we are able to achieve during the days of the Sefira has already been given to us on the first day of Pesach. So we rely on the "Shehechayanu" made after the Kiddush on the night of the seder. (Sefer Avodat Yisroel, Yom Sheni L'Pesach)
This also solves an interesting problem. Everyday we count the Omer saying: "Today is the such-and-such day of the Omer....may it be your will.…that in the merit of the counting that I did today, may that which I have tarnished in the realm of such and-such sefira be rectified, and may I be purified and sanctified with supernal holiness." (See the order of the sefira in the daily prayer book.) It is as if, automatically, that which needs to be rectified is effortlessly accomplished. It seems too perfunctory, too easy.
The Kozhnitzer Maggid, provides the solution. On the first day of Pesach, G‑d has already enlightened us the understanding and clarity that we need to rectify all forty-nine days of Sefirat HaOmer. It is up to us to activate the potential that we have already been granted. (Heard from Rabbi Shlomo Ashkenazi of Jerusalem)
This idea is also alluded to in a parable from the Baal Shem Tov. The expansion of consciousness we receive on Pesach, can be compared to one who is lost in a dense forest and climbs to the top of the tallest tree. From his perch, he is able to clearly see the lay of the land all around in every direction and re-orient himself to the village he wants to reach. Once back on the ground, he uses that clarity of vision to guide him.
Pesach is the tall tree, and the Omer is the journey through the forest, the endeavor to take the right path, until we reach our goal: the receiving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.