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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Vayigash

It’s About Time - The Bracha of Shehechiyanu

The laws of Birkat Shehechiyanu, which comes first Shehechiyanu or the blessing on the food? reciting the Shehechiyanu on house renovations and on similar fruits, reciting the Shehechiyanu on a Mitzva, the first time lighting candles.
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When Yaakov Avinu saw his son Yosef after many years, he presumably recited the bracha Mechayeh Hameisim, rather than the Bracha Sheheyichanu (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 225:1). Nevertheless, today we usually do not recite Mechayeh HaMeisim on these occasions, but we often recite the Bracha Sheheyichanu. This provides us with the opportunity to discuss the laws of the Bracha Sheheyichanu.

Question #1: We are making renovations to our house. Do we recite a bracha of shehechiyanu? And if so, when do we recite the bracha?

Question #2: I am visiting Eretz Yisroel, and someone served me a melon that looks very similar to a cantaloupe, but it is a different color and it is somewhat smaller. Do I recite a shehechiyanu on this melon although I have certainly eaten from this year’s cantaloupe crop in America? Assuming that I recite shehechiyanu on the melon, do I recite it before or after the bracha of borei pri ha’adamah?

Question #3: While visiting Eretz Yisroel, I was able to attend a family bris, and noticed that the baby’s father recited shehechiyanu. I have never seen this in chutz la’aretz. Does this bracha have anything to do with kedushas Eretz Yisroel?

Question #4: I am a kallah, b"h, and I am very excited about the coming exciting events in my life. Do I recite shehechiyanu when my choson gives me the engagement ring and when my future mother-in-law presents me with my candlesticks? Also, do I recite a shehechiyanu the first time I light Shabbos candles?

We will explore the answers to these and other questions as we study the halachos of this bracha, shehechiyanu vikiyimanu vihigayanu lazman hazeh, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time. Chazal usually refer to this bracha simply as zman, time. (Later I will also explain why the bracha contains three different expressions of blessing: (1) shehechiyanu (2) vikiyimanu (3) vihigayanu.)

NEW ACQUISITIONS

The Mishnah teaches: "Upon hearing good tidings, one recites Baruch hatov vihameitiv. One who builds a new house or purchases new items recites Baruch shehechiyanu vikiyimanu lazman hazeh" (Berachos 54a). One recites this bracha only when acquiring items that are important to the individual acquiring them and make him feel good (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:6; Mishnah Berurah 223:13). If the person acquiring the new item feels good about the acquisition, he recites shehechiyanu even if the item was previously owned by someone else, providing that he has never owned this item (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:3). Thus, someone who purchases a used car recites shehechiyanu on it. However one does not recite shehechiyanu on items that are unimportant, such as undergarments, socks, and shoes (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:6). A person should only recite shehechiyanu on an item that he feels good about acquiring - thus, one person might recite shehechiyanu on the purchase of a new coat because they feel good about it, whereas another does not because to him it is not such a momentous event.

When one hears good tidings that are beneficial only for him, he recites shehechiyanu; if others also benefit he recites hatov vihameitiv (Gemara Berachos 59b; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 222:1). Similarly, when acquiring new appliances one recites hatov vihameitiv if other people benefit; if only one person benefits, as is usually the case when purchasing new clothes, then he or she recites shehechiyanu (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 223:3, 5).

WHEN DOES ONE RECITE THE BRACHA?

Many poskim contend that if the person feels the joy at the time of purchase, he should recite the bracha then even though the item cannot yet be used (Taz, Orach Chayim 223:3; Chayei Odom 62:2). However, the prevalent practice is to follow the poskim that rule that one does not recite shehechiyanu until the item is usable, but if it requires repair or alteration one should not recite shehechiyanu until the item is ready for use (Mishnah Berurah 223:17, 19).

NEW HOUSE

Someone who purchases a new house recites shehechiyanu even if he is paying for it with a huge mortgage (Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 12:19; cf. Shu’t Lev Chayim 3:52). If he purchases the house exclusively for investment purposes, but he does not intend to reside in it, he should not recite shehechiyanu (Mor UKetziyah, Orach Chayim 223). One does not recite shehechiyanu upon renting a house or apartment or any other item. However, if he later purchases it, he recites a bracha on it at that time (Halichos Shelomoh 23:14).

Some people have the practice that one recites shehechiyanu only upon clothes but not other items (see Magen Avraham 223:5; Ben Ish Chai, Year 1, Parshas Re’eih #6; Kaf Hachayim 223:17, 20). Thus, some have a custom not to recite a shehechiyanu upon acquiring a new house, but instead purchasing a new garment and recite shehechiyanu upon the garment with the intention of including the house in the bracha. However, the reason this custom developed is obscure and the prevalent practice is to recite shehechiyanu on any new acquisition (see Mishnah Berachos 54a; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 223:5). (The above-mentioned custom appears to be based upon the opinion of Rav Sherira Gaon, quoted by Tosafos to Sukkah 46a s.v. ha’oseh, that one does not recite shehechiyanu on anything that is not seasonal. Kaf Hachayim (223:20) records that on this basis the custom was not to recite shehechiyanu on jewelry or household appurtenances, but only on new clothing. However, none of the major poskim cite Rav Sherira’s opinion. Even more problemetic is that, according to Rav Sherira, one does recite shehechiyanu on new clothing either.)

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach ruled that someone who purchases a house with the intention of renovating it, should recite the shehechiyanu after renovating (Halichos Shlomo 23:14). This would be similar to reciting shehechiyanu on a new garment where one does not recite the bracha until it is ready to wear.

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach also ruled that one does not recite a shehechiyanu when remodeling a house that one lives in already. However, if he expanded the living area, he does recite shehechiyanu (Halichos Shlomo 23:14, based on Mishnah Berurah 223:12). Some poskim contend that one who enclosed his porch should not recite a bracha unless he feels tremendously happy as a result (Halichos Shlomoh ad loc.).

The Chayei Odom (62:2) rules that one recites shehechiyanu, but not hatov vihameitiv, when acquiring a new house. Even though the entire family benefits from the new house, he rules that since the husband/father has the responsibility to support his wife and children, it is considered his benefit more than theirs.

WHEN SHOULD ONE RECITE A BRACHA ON A NEW HOUSE?

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (to Orach Chayim 223:3) suggests that one should not recite shehechiyanu on a house until there is a mezuzah on the door; similarly one should not recite it on new dishes until he has immersed them in a mikveh. In both instances, one should not recite shehechiyanu until the house or the dishes are ready for use.

Based on this ruling, some poskim contend that he should recite shehechiyanu on the purchase of a new house when he puts up the mezuzos (Halichos Shelomoh 23:13). If mezuzos are already up, then one should recite shehechiyanu when the purchase goes through, unless the house is not ready to be lived in. In the latter case, one should recite shehechiyanu when the renovations are completed.

MUST ONE RECITE A SHEHECHIYANU?

This may seem like a strange question. Of course, one must recite a shehechiyanu! In actuality, though the answer to this question is not obvious. In general, someone who fails to recite a bracha that he is required to, whether it is a bracha before performing a mitzvah, a bracha of praise, or a bracha of benefit, violates a mitzvah d’rabbanan for failing to recite that particular bracha. The poskim dispute whether shehechiyanu is similar to all other brachos and that therefore one who fails to recite it when required violates a mitzvah or whether it has an unusual halachic status. Many prominent poskim contend that reciting shehechiyanu is technically not required. In their opinion, someone who refrained from reciting shehechiyanu when he was required to do so has not violated any mitzvah (Rama 223:1 and Mishnah Berurah 223:7, based on Gemara Eruvin 40b). However, others disagree and contend that this bracha is required (Keneses Hagedolah, Smaq and others quoted by Eliyah Rabbah 225:6).

SHEHECHIYANU ON NEW PRODUCE

One who sees a new seasonal fruit - even if one sees someone else with or it is still on the tree, can already recite shehechiyanu. However, the custom is to wait to recite the bracha until one eats it (Shulchan Aruch 225:3).

One does not recite shehechiyanu on the fruit until it is ripe because only then do people enjoy the new fruit (Shulchan Aruch 225:7; Mishnah Berurah 225:19). For a similar reason, one should not recite shehechiyanu on a fruit or vegetable that is not eaten raw, until it is cooked (Halichos Shlomo 23:14).

DOES ONE RECITE A SHEHECHIYANU ON A VEGETABLE?

I have often heard people say that one does not recite shehechiyanu on an item whose bracha is ha’adamah. This statement is not accurate -- one recites the bracha on a new fruit whether it grows on a tree or on the ground, such as a melon or gourd (Biyur Halacha 225:1). As a matter of fact, the Gemara’s case of reciting shehechiyanu on a new fruit is for a new gourd (Eruvin 40b). However, there are some poskim who mention a practice not to recite shehechiyanu on the vegetable part of a plant, such as the stem, root, or leaf, because people do not consider this part of the plant so important (see Chayei Odom 62:9). Similarly, one should not recite shehechiyanu on a fruit that people do not usually eat or if he does not like it and therefore is not particularly happy over seeing or eating it (Eliyah Rabbah 225:7).

One does not recite a bracha on a fruit that does not have seasons or does not have a clear growing season (Shulchan Aruch 225:6). Therefore, one does not recite a bracha on fruit produced in a hothouse, since they grow all year round. Similarly, one should not recite this bracha on a fruit that is available all year round because it is imported or because it is frozen or canned (see Rama 225:6; Magen Avraham 225:14; Mishnah Berurah 225:18).

A fruit that grows biennially, that is, it produces two crops a year, warrants shehechiyanu on each crop (Rama 225:6).

The poskim dispute whether one recites a shehechiyanu upon smelling a new seasonal fragrance. Although many contend that there is no halachic difference between smelling a new fragrance and a new fruit, the accepted practice is not to recite shehechiyanu on a new fragrance since there is not as much benefit from fragrance as there is from food (see Magen Avraham 225:12; Shaarei Teshuvah 216:1).

WHICH BRACHA IS RECITED FIRST?

When reciting shehechiyanu on a new fruit, do you recite the shehechiyanu first, or the ha’eitz or ha’adamah first? Is the shehechiyanu an interruption between the bracha on the fruit and eating the fruit?

There are three options:

1. Preferred option: Recite shehechiyanu, then the bracha on the fruit, and then eat the fruit (Pri Megadim 225:7 in AA; Chayei Odom 62:8; Mishnah Berurah 225:11).

2. Second best option: Recite the bracha on the fruit, take a bite from the fruit, and then recite shehechiyanu.

3. Third choice: Recite the bracha on the fruit, recite the shehechiyanu on the fruit and then eat the fruit. Although the shehechiyanu is not considered an interruption between the bracha and eating the fruit, it is still better not to interrupt between the bracha on the fruit and eating it (Pri Megadim 225:7 in AA; Shaar HaTziyun 225:12).

VARIETIES THAT ARE NOT SPECIES

Our second question was: Someone served me a melon that looks very similar to a cantaloupe, but it is a different color and it is somewhat smaller. Do I recite a shehechiyanu on this melon although I have certainly eaten from this year’s cantaloupe crop?

The poskim dispute whether one recites a shehechiyanu on one variety of pear, fig or apple when one previously has eaten from a different variety of the same species. Some poskim contend that one does not recite shehechiyanu on the new variety since one has already benefited from this species this season (Mor UKetziyah and Gra to Orach Chayim 225:4). However, most poskim contend that if the varieties have different tastes, one recites separate brachos since one feels a sense of happiness over seeing and eating each new variety (Sefer Chassidim 848; Terumas HaDeshen #33; Shulchan Aruch 225:4; Mishnah Berurah 225:14). Thus, whether one would recite a new shehechiyanu on the new variety of melon would depend on whether it tastes noticeably different from the original variety. If one is uncertain, one should taste it first, and then decide whether it is noticeably different enough to warrant a new shehechiyanu.

SHEHECHIYANU ON NEW SEFORIM

Does one recite shehechiyanu upon acquiring new seforim? Indeed, someone might feel tremendous happiness for acquiring a new sefer, and for this reason some poskim contend that one recites shehechiyanu (Mor UKetziyah). On the other hand, many poskim contend that we recite shehechiyanu for acquiring new items only if it is an item from which one gains physical benefit, but not from an item for which there is only spiritual benefit, such as a sefer (Magen Avraham 223:5). Others contend that if one was searching for a particular sefer, finally purchased it, and is now very happy about the acquisition, he should recite shehechiyanu (Chayei Odom 62:5). Mishnah Berurah implies that it is preferred not to recite shehechiyanu when purchasing seforim although one should not correct the practice of someone who recites it upon acquiring a sefer that he has been trying hard to obtain.

SHEHECHIYANU ON A NEW JOB

Some poskim contend that someone who is appointed to a new position that will allow him to spread Torah and mitzvos should recite shehechiyanu (Mor UKetziyah).The later poskim do not seem to accept this approach.

SHEHECHIYANU ON A MITZVAH

As I mentioned above, according to many poskim, the above applications of the bracha of shehechiyanu are situations where the bracha is technically voluntary. However, there are instances when one is required to recite shehechiyanu. Chazal instituted the bracha of shehechiyanu primarily for mitzvos that occur periodically, such as the shehechiyanu that one recites at a pidyon haben (Gemara Pesachim 121b), in Kiddush of Yom Tov, before blowing shofar, or before taking lulav (see Mishnah Berurah 223:7). There is much discussion among poskim why we recite shehechiyanu before observing some mitzvos, but not before others. The primary approach is that we recite shehechiyanu before fulfilling a mitzvah that we observe on special occasions, such as Yom Tov, shofar, and lulav that are seasonal; or pidyon haben, which is occasional; but not before mitzvos that one usually observes more frequently. However, there are many mitzvos that we observe that are occasional and yet we do not recite shehechiyanu before fulfilling them.

WHY DO SOME COMMUNITIES RECITE SHEHECHIYANU AT A BRIS, AND OTHERS DO NOT?

One mitzvah that involves considerable discussion whether one should recite shehechiyanu before observing it is the mitzvah of bris milah. The Sefardic practice is to recite shehechiyanu at a bris, and in Eretz Yisroel, Ashkenazim also follow this practice. In Chutz La’Aretz, most Ashkenazim do not recite shehechiyanu at a bris (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 265:7).

The dispute behind this difference in practice is hundreds of years old. Based on the rule mentioned above, that we recite a shehechiyanu on a mitzvah that we observe occasionally, it would seem that one should recite shehechiyanu at a bris milah (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 11:9; Shu’t Rashba #245). Nonetheless, the old minhag among Ashkenazim was to omit shehechiyanu at a bris milah (Tosafos Sukkah 46a; Rama 265:7). What was the reason for this minhag?

The commentaries suggest several reasons why there is no shehechiyanu at a bris. Some explain that we recite shehechiyanu only on a mitzvah that is dependent on a date, such as a Yom Tov, or a very specific time, such as pidyon haben, which is always performed on the thirtieth day after birth (Ran, Sukkah Chapter 4). Although bris milah can only be performed beginning the eighth day, since there are occasions when one cannot perform the bris on the eighth day (such as when the baby is ill or when it is uncertain which day the baby was born), there was no establishment of shehechiyanu.

An alternative approach is that Chazal did not institute reciting shehechiyanu at a bris because it is not a completely joyous time, since the baby suffers pain. However, other poskim disagree with this reason, pointing out that one recites shehechiyanu when hearing news that includes both good and bad tidings (see Gemara Berachos 46b, 59b). Thus, suffering does not preclude reciting the bracha of shehechiyanu (Hagahos Maimoniyos, Hilchos Milah 3:4, who also cites two other reasons for the Ashkenazic custom).

The Gra, himself an Ashkenazi, disagreed with the accepted Ashkenazi practice and ruled that one should recite shehechiyanu at a bris (Yoreh Deah 265:36). Since disciples of the Gra established the contemporary Ashkenazic community in Eretz Yisroel, they followed his practice to recite shehechiyanu at a bris. As a result, the custom in Eretz Yisroel developed that everyone recites shehechiyanu at a bris. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice in Chutz La’Aretz follows the opinion of Tosafos and the Rama not to recite shehechiyanu, and the difference in practice between Eretz Yisroel and Chutz La’Aretz is not connected to the special sanctity that exists in Eretz Yisroel.

Does one recite a shehechiyanu the first time one performs a mitzvah? The poskim dispute what the ruling is in this question. Some contend that one should recite shehechiyanu when one fulfills a mitzvah that involves an acquisition, such as when one purchases new tefillin or mezuzos (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 11:9). Others contend that one recites a shehechiyanu the first time one fulfills a mitzvah (Rama, Yoreh Deah 28:2; Pri Toar ad loc.=; Taz, Orach Chayim 22:1). The enjoyment and excitement surrounding the performance of this mitzvah is valid reason to recite a shehechiyanu. Thus according to this opinion, someone fulfilling the mitzvah of kindling Shabbos candles should recite shehechiyanu the first time she does so. Others contend that Chazal never implemented reciting shehechiyanu on such occasions, and that therefore one should not recite shehechiyanu (Birkei Yosef, YD 200:=; Shu"t Chasam Sofer, OC #55=). The prevalent practice follows the second approach, not to say shehechiyanu. However, Mishnah Berurah states that on these occasions one should preferably wear a new garment and recite a shehechiyanu on the new garment and include the mitzvah in the bracha (Biyur Halacha 22).

ENGAGEMENT RINGS AND CANDLESTICKS

Above, I quoted the shaylah asked by a kallah: Do I recite shehechiyanu when my choson gives me the engagement ring and when my future mother-in-law presents me with my candlesticks?

I mentioned above that some have the custom that one does not recite shehechiyanu on new items other than clothes. Although most poskim disagree with this conclusion, others cite other reasons why one should not recite shehechiyanu on gifts presented as part of the engagements and wedding plans (see Halichos Shelomoh 23:15). Since the matter is disputed, whether a kallah should recite shehechiyanu on her diamond ring or her candlesticks is something that she should ask her Rav.

CONCLUSION

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Kiddushin 4:12) teaches that it is a mitzvah to taste every new fruit that grows every year so that we can show how much we value Hashem’s creation (quoted by Tashbeitz #320; Taz 227:2; Eliyah Rabbah 225:6; Mishnah Berurah 225:19; Aruch Hashulchan 225:1). Based on this statement of the Yerushalmi, we can explain the wording of the bracha, shehechiyanu vikiyimanu vihigayanu lazman hazeh, who has kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this time. This bracha contains three different expressions of blessing (1) shehechiyanu (2) vikiyimanu (3) vihigayanu that appear to say the same thing. Rokeach (quoted by Eliyah Rabbah 225:6) explains that the bracha corresponds to the triple praise that forms the first two pesukim of Tehillim 146: "My soul praises Hashem; I will praise Hashem as long as I live; I will sing to Him as long as I exist." This chapter of Tehillim vocalizes how the individual Jew proclaims how Hashem cares for him throughout his life. Rav Hirsch explains that the Hebrew terms used in the second pasuk, bichayay, and bi’odi- allude to two distinct stages of a person’s life- bichayay when he is in full strength and bi’odi when he is in weakened state. Thus, we praise Hashem for His help under all of life’s circumstances. Similarly, the bracha of shehechiyanu praises Hashem for allowing us to again celebrate His taking care of us by providing us with new items.

This Shiur is published also at Rabbi Kaganof's site
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