A Special Bar Mitzvah Brocha

We
will shortly see a midrash that describes the childhood of Yaakov and
Eisav, and how they went their separate ways after they turned bar mitzvah.
Certainly, the most appropriate week to discuss:

Question
#1: When?

When
does a father recite the brochashe’petorani”?

Question
#2: What?

What
does this brocha mean?

Question
#3: Why?

Why
do we not recite this brocha at a bas mitzvah?

Question
#4: Whether?

Does
an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?

Introduction

After
a bochur habar mitzvah receives his aliyah to the Torah, his
father recites the following passage: Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh.
We will be discussing many questions about this passage, including:

What
does it mean?

Is
it a brocha or a prayer?

Why
does it have such an impersonal text? The brocha does not even say that
the bar mitzvah is his child!

Background:
With Sheim and Malchus

In
the Sefer Maharil, an early and highly respected source for accepted Ashkenazi
halachic practice, we find the following:

“When
the Maharil’s son turned bar mitzvah and read from the Torah, the Maharil
recited a brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani
mei’onsho shel zeh.
Furthermore, we find this brocha in the works of
the Mordechai with Sheim and malchus” (Sefer Maharil, Hilchos
Kerias HaTorah
). Thus, the Maharil rules that there is a regular brocha,
including the words Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam (which is referred to
as sheim umalchus), that is recited by a father when his son reaches the
age of bar mitzvah and demonstrates this by reading from the Torah. It should
be noted that although the Maharil attributes this ruling to an early rishon,
the Mordechai, this ruling is not found in any extant editions of the Mordechai,
although, as we will soon see, we do find it quoted in other authorities of the
same era and school.

Some
mention a custom that the father should place his hand on his son’s head when
he recites the brocha, although I have never seen this in practice
(mentioned in the Meshivas Nefesh [Vayikra 9] of R. Yochanan
Luria, a prominent posek in fifteenth-century western Germany).

The
ruling of the Maharil to recite the brocha of Boruch
she’petorani
with sheim umalchus is quoted by the Rema in his
Darchei Moshe commentary on the Tur (Orach Chayim 225:1),
where he adds the following, “However, I did not find this brocha in the
Gemara, and I find it difficult to recite a brocha that is not
mentioned in the Gemara and in the halachic authorities, although
Bereishis Rabbah mentions it at the beginning of parshas Tolados.

Rosh

Presumably,
what bothered the Rema is the following statement of the Rosh (Kiddushin
1:41), “We do not find that we recite any brocha that is not mentioned
in the Mishnah, Tosefta, or Gemara.” Thus, the Rema
was concerned that the brocha of Boruch she’petorani was never
established by Chazal, and reciting it with sheim umalchus
constitutes a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.

Bereishis
Rabbah

The
Bereishis Rabbah that the Rema quotes says as follows: “‘And the
lads [Yaakov and Eisav] grew up (Bereishis 25:27).’ Rabbi Levi
explained, ‘this can be compared to a hadas and a thorn bush that grew
next to one another. Once they grew and blossomed, the hadas provided
its beautiful fragrance and the thorn bush produced its thorns. Similarly, for
thirteen years, both lads went to yeshivah and came home from yeshivah.
After they turned thirteen, one went to batei midrash and the other went
to houses of idolatry.’ Rabbi Elazar explained, ‘A person is obligated to work
with his son until he turns thirteen years old. After that time, he should
declare, “Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh”’” (Bereishis Rabbah
ad loc.
).

Commentaries
on Shulchan Aruch

In
his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema alludes to what he
wrote in his Darkei Moshe commentary on the Tur and reaches the
same conclusion: “Some say that when one’s son turns bar mitzvah, he should
recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho
shel zeh
, but it is better to recite it without sheim umalchus” (Orach
Chayim
225:2). We should note that I found no reference to this brocha
in any Sefardic authorities, until the very late poskim. All the
discussion about reciting it, and whether it should be a full brocha
with sheim umalchus, I found only among the Ashkenazic
authorities.

The
Rema’s conclusion that Boruch she’petorani should be
recited without sheim umalchus is followed by most, but not all,
subsequent halachic authorities, including the Derisha, Levush,
Tosafos Yom Tov
(in his Divrei Chamudos commentary on the Rosh,
Brochos
9:30), Shelah, Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah, and the Kaf
Hachayim
. The Kaf Hachayim, a very late authority who quotes many Ashkenazic
sources, is the first Sefardic authority that I saw who makes any
reference at all to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.

(In
the standard, older editions of the Derisha, his comments on this topic
were omitted by the publisher, since the Derisha there merely quoted the
comments of the Darchei Moshe written by his rebbe, the Rema.
However, the Shelah had this quotation in his edition of the Derisha,
and it is published in the newer editions of the Tur.)

With
sheim umalchus

Thus
far, I have quoted predominantly the majority who rule that Boruch
she’petorani
should be recited without sheim umalchus – in other
words, not as a real brocha. However, there are several major
authorities who rule that one must recite this brocha with sheim
umalchus
. In their opinion, since a brocha must include sheim
umalchus
, reciting this brocha without sheim umalchus does
not fulfill the requirement. The Gra, in his comments to the Rema
on Shulchan Aruch, simply states that the decision of the Maharil
to recite the brocha with sheim umalchus is correct. This
approach is subsequently quoted as the primary opinion by both the Chayei
Odom
(Klal 65:3) and the Aruch Hashulchan. The Chayei Odom
rules very directly, “One whose son turns bar mitzvah, when he reads the Torah
for the first time, he [the father] should recite the following brocha, Boruch
Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh
.” He
then reviews the discussion of the Rema, adding the following points:

Although
the Bereishis Rabbah does not state explicitly that one should recite
the brocha with sheim umalchus, the Gemara uses the same
abbreviated wording when it means that one should recite a regular brocha
with sheim umalchus.

The
Chayei Odom then refers to a discussion in which the Maharshal
ruled that we are not to introduce brochos that are not mentioned in the
Gemara, and notes that this includes only brochos that are not
mentioned in midrashim, either. However, a brocha that is
mentioned in a midrash is halachically valid. The Chayei Odom
completes his discussion by noting that his own halachic conclusion (in Klal
8:1) was that reciting a brocha in vain is only a rabbinic prohibition.
Therefore, he concludes that once the Maharil and the Gra both
rule that Boruch she’petorani should be considered a regular brocha,
and we have a source for it in a midrash, then hamevoreich lo hifsid
– one who recites it as a regular brocha does not lose. He notes that
this is despite the fact that the prevalent custom follows the Rema.
Even if Chazal never introduced such a brocha, reciting it would
constitute only a rabbinic violation, and one may rely on the many opinions who
rule that this brocha does exist (safek derabbanan lehakeil).

It
is interesting to note that the Aruch Hashulchan, who usually follows
accepted custom even when it appears to run against halachic literature,
also rules to recite Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus. In
other words, he agrees with the position of the Maharil, Gra and Chayei
Odom
, even though the general custom is not to follow that approach.

As
mentioned above, the Maharil notes that he found this practice recorded
in the Mordechai. We do not have this in our editions of the Mordechai,
but obviously it was in the Maharil’s edition. Furthermore, we do have
this practice mentioned in other sources from the same era and area. For
example, the Tashbeitz Koton, who lived in the same place and time as
the Mordechai (13th century Germany), writes the following:
“In Bereishis Rabbah it says that a person should work with his son
until he turns thirteen. Afterward, he is required to recite Boruch Atah
Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh
(Tashbeitz
Koton
#390).”

Early
disputants

On
the other hand, there are other rishonim who believe that Boruch
she’petorani
should not be treated as a regular brocha. For example,
Rabbeinu Yehonoson, a talmid of the Raavad, cites the text
of the brocha as Boruch Hamakom she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh,
which, clearly, avoids reciting Hashem’s Name as one does in a brocha
(notes to Rif, Shabbos 55b). We should note that this is not from an Ashkenazic
source, but from Provence. Although today Provence is often referred to as an
area that followed Sefardic custom, that is not truly accurate.
Provence, the area of southern France that borders on the Mediterranean Sea,
was at the time of the rishonim an area that had its own minhagim,
neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic. It had absorbed from the
traditions and authorities of both areas, yet had developed independently. For
example, they began recital of ve’sein tal umatar on the 7th
of Marcheshvan, which follows neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic
practice in chutz la’aretz.

What
does the brocha mean?

Until
this point, I have carefully avoided translating and explaining the words of Boruch
she’petorani
. An early posek, the Levush, upon recording the halachic
discussion germane to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani, states the
following: “The text of this brocha is not clear, since one who
continues in the evil ways of his ancestors can be punished for their misdeeds
for several generations, as the Torah states, pokeid avon avos al banim al
shileishim ve’al ribei’im –
that Hashem will remember the sins of
someone who performed evil to four generations, if the descendants continue the
nefarious practices of their antecedents.”

Apparently,
the Levush understood the brocha to mean that the son is now
exempt from the sins of his father. This means that until bar mitzvah, what
happens to the son is because of the father’s misdeeds, and that, therefore,
the father will be punished for harm that he caused to the son. This is based
on the Gemara (Shabbos 149b) that a person is responsible for
punishment that he caused to someone else. It is also borne out by a statement
in a midrash, concerning the deaths of Machlon and Kilyon, Naomi’s sons,
“Rav Chiya bar Abba said: ‘Until a child turns thirteen, the son is punished
for the sins of his father; afterward, he is punished for his own sins.’”

Challenges
to the Levush

The
Tosafos Yom Tov, in his commentary to the Rosh (Divrei
Chamudos
9:30), reviews much of the above material and then challenges the Levush’s
approach to explaining the brocha. He writes, “This approach [of the Levush]
is forced and difficult to reconcile with the words of the brocha. The
intention of the brocha is that, until now, the father was responsible
to educate his child in mitzvos and to have him grow in Torah. If the
father did not fulfill his responsibility, he will be punished for this. Now
that the son has become bar mitzvah, the responsibilities fall on the son
himself, and the father will no longer be punished.” This approach is also
recorded by the Magen Avraham.

When
should the brocha be recited?

The
Maharil mentions reciting the brocha when the son receives his
first aliyah. The authorities explain this to mean that he performs a
mitzvah activity that a child cannot perform (Divrei Chamudos; Magen
Avraham
). Thus, they rule that if the son led the services (davened
in front of the amud), the father should already recite the brocha
at that time, since a child cannot fulfill this mitzvah. One may also argue
that a father should not recite it when his son has been called up to maftir
and read only the maftir and the haftarah, since these activities
can be performed by a minor –  a topic that we will need to address a
different time. However, if the son read a different part of the parsha,
and certainly, if he read the entire parsha, the father can recite Boruch
she’petorani
then.

Under
which category of brochos does this fit?

We
know that we have birchos hanehenin – brochos of benefit,
including the brochos we recite before and after eating and the brochos
before we smell certain fragrances. We also have brochos of praise,
which include brochos upon seeing or otherwise experiencing wondrous
creations of Hashem, such as the brochos recited when one sees
the sea, sees something unusual, hears thunder, or witnesses lightning. And we
have brochos of prayer, such as davening, tefilas haderech, and
some of the brochos of sheva brochos. Under which heading does
the brocha of Boruch she’petorani fit?

From
the way the halachic authorities discuss it, it appears that it should
be categorized under the heading of brochos of praise.

Why
no malchus?

When
the Rema ruled that one should not recite the name of Hashem when
reciting Boruch she’petorani because he was concerned that it might be a
brocha levatalah, why didn’t he suggest the following text:
Boruch Atah Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh
? Since one is
not reciting the words Hashem and Elokeinu, there is no question
about reciting a brocha levatalah, yet one is reciting a text
closer to the brocha advocated by the Maharil,and this
text includes the concept of malchus.

Indeed,
this question can be asked on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim
218:9, in a different context. There, the Shulchan Aruch discusses
someone reciting a brocha on a personal miracle that he has experienced,
and it states as follows: “Some say that one should not recite this brocha
unless it was a miracle that was beyond what usually happens in the world; but
on a miracle that is within natural experience, such as, he was endangered by
thieves at night and saved, or something similar, he is not required to recite
a brocha. There are other authorities – who disagree with this [and
require a brocha in this instance also]. Therefore, it is proper to
recite this brocha without sheim umalchus.” The question to be
asked on this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is that there would be no
question of brocha levatalah should one recite the brocha
with the words Melech Ha’olam, so why does he omit them?

Rav
Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld answers that one does not recite Melech Ha’olam in
these situations so that people will not think that someone fulfills a brocha
by reciting Melech Ha’olam without reciting Hashem’s Name and
Elokeinu (Shu”t Salmas Chayim, Orach Chayim #197).

Why
an impersonal brocha?

Why
did Chazal institute such an impersonal wording for this brocha,
which makes no reference to the fact that the child is his son? I found this
question in the sefer Alei Tamar, authored by Rav Yissochor
Tamar, an eastern European rav who moved to Eretz Yisroel in
1933, where he became a rav in Tel Aviv. He suggests the following: The
father is reciting a brocha that he is thankful that he is no longer
responsible for his son’s sins (if we explain the brocha according to
the Tosafos Yom Tov and the Magen Avraham). This implies that he
thinks that his son will sin, certainly not something he wants to advertise in
his role as father.

Daughters?

Why
don’t we recite Boruch she’petorani when a daughter turns bas mitzvah?
This question is raised by some of the later poskim, and I found two
quite variant answers. The Pri Megodim explains that since min
haTorah
a father has the ability to marry off his daughter, in which case he
would no longer be responsible for her education and not be punished for her aveiros,
Chazal did not institute a brocha (Eishel Avraham 225:5).
Explained in other terms, a father recites this brocha when he is no
longer responsible for his son’s sins, because he has no other way of avoiding
this responsibility, whereas he has a technical way to avoid responsibility for
his daughter’s sins.

The
Kaf Hachayim (225:15) provides a different answer to this question,
which looks at the topic from almost the opposite angle. Since a daughter
usually remains living in the home of her birth family until she marries, a
father remains responsible for her, even after she becomes an adult. Therefore,
reciting this brocha at her bas mitzvah would be premature.

One
could perhaps suggest a third answer: Although a son who reads the Torah,
receives an aliyah to the Torah, or leads the services has publicly
demonstrated that he is now an adult, what equivalent action does a daughter
perform at which we would expect her father to recite Boruch she’petorani?

Adoptive
father

And
now, for our last question: Does an adoptive father recite this brocha
at his son’s bar mitzvah?

Rav
Yitzchok Silberstein, in his sefer Chashukei Chemed,rules that
an adoptive father is not responsible for his son’s aveiros, and,
therefore, does not recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.

Conclusion

The
father gets up to announce that he realizes the scope of his responsibility.
Delving into the details of this brocha make us realize that raising a
child to be G-d fearing is a serious task, incumbent on all those who are
blessed with children. There are many factors that interplay in the raising of
a child, especially in our age, but this brocha reminds us of our
responsibility to do our best to imbue our children with a knowledge and love
of Hashem and His Torah and mitzvos.