After the wondrous splitting of the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisroel recited a brocha of thanks to Hashem.
Question #1: Raining brachos
What brocha do we recite when it rains?
Question #2: Grandson?
Do we recite a brocha upon hearing of the birth of a new grandson?
Rashi, in parshas Lech Lecha (Bereishis 12:7), notes that Avraham Avinu built a mizbei’ach to commemorate the two wonderful messages he had just received, that he would have children and that his descendants would receive Eretz Yisroel. This provides another source for the brachos that Chazal instituted when someone hears good news, including, the brachos of shehecheyanu and hatov vehameitiv. The sources in the Mishnah and the Gemara for most of these halachos are in the ninth chapter of Brachos. The Mishnah (Brachos 54a) states, “On the rains and on good news one recites [Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam] hatov vehameitiv… Someone who built a new house or purchased new items recites shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi’anu lazman hazeh.”
Brocha on rain
Chazal instituted a brocha to be recited when it begins to rain heavily (Brachos 59b; Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 10:5; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 221). Those of us who live in North America, where rain is not seasonal, may find the idea of “the beginning of the rains” to be strange, since, in most of North America, it rains at all times of the year. However, much, if not most, of the world has seasonal rainfall. In Eretz Yisroel, for example, it does not rain in the summer. All rain begins in the late fall, hopefully, and it rains, occasionally, during the winter. By mid-spring, it stops raining for the next six to eight months.
When living in such a climate, it is, quite literally, vitally important that it rain during the correct season. Chazal instituted a brocha to be recited when the first significant rain falls (Brachos 59b). The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 221:1) adds a requirement that this brocha be recited only when the populace has been concerned regarding the lack of rainfall, a condition to which the Biur Halacha agrees.
The Rema, who lived in Poland, notes “that the reason we do not recite this brocha is because in our areas, rain is frequent, and it is rare that there is a drought.” However, those who live in Eretz Yisroel or other places where droughts are, unfortunately, not uncommon should recite this brocha (Mishnah Berurah 221:2). In addition, the Mishnah Berurah notes that, even in a land in which rain is usually plentiful, should there be a drought, this brocha is recited when it finally rains.
The Gemara has a discussion as to which brocha a person should recite when it begins to rain. The halachic authorities understand that the Gemara’s conclusion which brocha is recited depends on an individual’s circumstances. However, there is a dispute between the Rif and the Rosh regarding some of the details of these laws. The Rambam’s understanding of the topic appears to be very similar to the Rif’s.
According to the Rif:
(1) Someone who owns agricultural land, and has partners who also benefit from the rain, recites hatov vehameitiv.
(2) Someone who owns agricultural land, but has no partners who also benefit from the rain, recites shehecheyanu.
(3) Someone who does not have any agricultural land recites a special brocha established for the occasion of the rain falling. The Gemara asks what brocha is recited on the rains and quotes a dispute between Rav Yehudah and Rabbi Yochanan. Rav Yehudah cites the following brief text, “[Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam] modim anachnu loch al kol tipah u’tipah shehoradta lanu, we thank You for each and every drop that you brought us.” Rabbi Yochanan adds to this an extensive passage and then adds a closing to the brocha. Among the rishonim, we find at least four different opinions as to how Rabbi Yochanan rules that this brocha should be concluded.
As I mentioned above in (3), this is the text of the brocha recited only when someone does not own a piece of agricultural property. Someone who has a field that benefits directly from the rain recites hatov vehameitiv upon witnessing the rain [(1) above]. If he has no partners in his land, the Rif rules that he recites shehecheyanu (2) whereas the Rosh rules that he recites hatov vehameitiv. I will explain shortly why these two authorities dispute this matter.
Seeing is believing!
Are there any other halachic distinctions between reciting hatov vehameitiv or shehecheyanu for the new rain and reciting the special brocha on rain?
Indeed, there are. By way of introduction: The Sefer Chassidim (#844) instructs that, when we hear good news, we should immediately recite the brocha, either hatov vehameitiv or shehecheyanu, in order to make the brocha as close as possible to hearing the welcome news, and then thank the person who told us the good tidings. The Pri Megadim notes that you should recite the brocha only when you know that the source of your information is reliable. In today’s world, if your source is not necessarily reliable, you can try to verify the information relatively quickly.
All authorities agree that the brachos of hatov vehameitiv and shehecheyanu may be recited, whether you saw the gift that Hashem has now provided, or a reliable source verifies the good news. However, regarding the special brocha recited for rain, the halachic authorities dispute as to whether this brocha is recited only when you actually see it rain, or even if you only heard that it rained. The Magen Avraham contends that you do not recite this brocha if you heard that it rained, but did not see it, whereas the Shitah Mekubetzes rules that you do. The Mishnah Berurah (221:7) concludes that, because of the rule of safek brachos lehakeil, the special brocha is recited only if you actually see it raining.
As we mentioned above, the Mishnah instructs someone who built a new house or purchased new items to recite shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi’anu lazman hazeh.
If someone’s house burnt down, and he is now able to rebuild it, he recites hatov vehameitiv, notwithstanding that he would have preferred to have his original house and avoid all the aggravation and grief that transpired (Pri Chadash; Mishnah Berurah 223:12). If he tore down his house and rebuilt it, he does not make a brocha. However, if he enlarged it in the process, he recites a brocha.
Shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv
The Gemara (Brachos 59b) asks what criterion determines whether we recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv. The Gemara concludes that, when the benefits are shared with someone else, we recite hatov vehameitiv, whereas when only one person receives direct benefit, he recites shehecheyanu. Therefore, if a married couple purchases or receives something from which both will benefit, they recite hatov vehameitiv, whereas upon acquiring an item that only one of them uses, such as a garment, the brocha is shehecheyanu (see Brachos 59b). In the first case, one of them may be motzi the other in the brocha, or they may, each, recite the brocha separately.
Upon this basis, the Rosh explains the dispute between himself and the Rif, germane to which brocha is recited for rain by someone who owns agricultural property. The Rif and Rosh agree that if the field owner has partners in the land he owns, he recites hatov vehameitiv. If he does not have partners, the Rif rules that he recites shehecheyanu, whereas the Rosh rules that he recites hatov vehameitiv. The Rif understands that the appropriate brocha is shehecheyanu, since he has no partners who directly benefit from his field receiving rain. The Rosh contends that the determinant is not whether you have partners in your field, but whether you have partners in the chesed that Hashem did, and you were not the only one for whom it rained. Since the entire local population benefits directly from the rain, he has partners in the chesed, and therefore recites hatov vehameitiv.
Since the Rambam agrees with the Rif, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 221:2) follows his usual approach of ruling according to the majority opinion among these three luminaries, the Rif, the Rambam and the Rosh.
Friends and family
There are many other instances in which you recite shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv. The Gemara (Brachos 58b) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 225:1) rule that seeing a close friend or family member whom you have not seen for thirty days is cause to recite shehecheyanu. The Shulchan Aruch explains that this brocha is recited only upon seeing a friend “who is very dear to him and he is happy to see.” The Mishnah Berurah (225:1) explains that a “close family member” means a sibling, spouse, parent or child. The Gemara teaches that hatov vehameitiv is recited upon the birth of a son, and the Shulchan Aruch rules that both parents are equally obligated. The Mishnah Berurah rules that a brocha is also recited on the birth of a daughter.
At this point, we have enough background to discuss the second of our opening questions: “Do we recite a brocha upon hearing of the birth of a new grandson?”
The Gemara mentions reciting a brocha only on the birth of a son, but does not mention a grandson, although this event certainly generates a huge amount of simcha. For this reason, the Sefer Chassidim (#843) rules that we recite a brocha upon the birth of a grandson.
However, not all rishonim agree. The Rashba rallies proof that reciting shehecheyanu or hatov vehameitiv is not only because of the happiness of the event, but also because there is some physical benefit from the event. In the case of a child being born, he contends that only parents recite the brocha, because of the long-term benefits of having someone who can assist parents in their senior years. This particular benefit is more certain of a child than of a grandchild; therefore, the Rashba contends that, since Chazal never mentioned reciting a brocha upon the birth of a grandchild, there is no brocha on this occasion (Shu’t Harashba 4:77). The Biur Halacha (223:1 s.v. yaldah) concludes that since he found no early authority other than the Sefer Chassidim who requires a brocha upon hearing of the birth of a grandchild, he advises refraining.
What is the halacha if your correspondence with someone has caused you to form a very close friendship, but you have never met him in person? Do you recite a brocha of shehecheyanu when meeting for the first time? Based on a responsum authored by the Rashba (4:76), the Shulchan Aruch rules that you do not recite shehecheyanu when meeting him for the first time in person (Orach Chayim 225:2). In my opinion, the same thing is true if you have met virtually, via Zoom or Skype, but will now meet in person for the first time.
The Mishnah Berurah (222:2) rules that someone who heard several good tidings at the same time makes only one brocha on all the good news. Therefore, the birth of twins generates only one brocha.
Too much of a good thing
The Kaf Hachayim (222:10) points out the following: if the person hearing the good news may become overly excited, and this excitement might endanger his health, tell it to him gradually, just as you would tell him bad news gradually so as not to shock him.
The Mishnah quoted above says, “Someone who built a new house or purchased new items says shehecheyanu vekiyemanu vehigi’anu lazman hazeh.” This halacha is true whether the new item is clothing or anything else that makes this particular individual happy (Mishnah Berurah 223:13). Obviously, this will depend on the personality of the individual and on how wealthy he is.
The halacha states that shehecheyanu is recited, even if the item is not brand new, as long as this person has never owned it before. If he is happy to now own this item, there is enough reason to recite shehecheyanu (Shulchan Aruch). This may be true, even if it is a garment and someone else wore it already.
The rishonim dispute whether we recite shehecheyanu when acquiring new items that most people consider of less significance. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 223:6) rules not to recite a brocha on an item that people consider less significant, such as a robe, shoes or socks. However, he adds that a poor person, who is happy about the acquisition of the item, does recite shehecheyanu. The Rema disagrees, quoting several sources that even a poor person does not recite shehecheyanu on the acquisition of simple garments, and notes that this is the accepted practice.
When a new shul is built or purchased, the chazzan should recite hatov vehameitiv for everyone in the congregation (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah 223:11).
What about a new sefer?
Some acharonim mention that you may recite a brocha of shehecheyanu when acquiring a new sefer (Mor Uketziyah 223; Chayei Adam). Others contend that shehecheyanu on new items is restricted to those from which one gets personal benefit or pleasure, whereas the “benefit” of seforim is categorized as mitzvos lav lehenos nitnu, “mitzvos are not intended for physical benefit.” The Mishnah Berurah (223:13) concludes that someone who has been hunting for a specific sefer and has finally succeeded to acquire it should not be rebuked for reciting shehecheyanu for his achievement, but it is clear that the Mishnah Berurah feels it is better not to recite shehecheyanu, even in this instance.
According to the Gemara (Bava Kama 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his behavior should make certain to fulfill the laws of brachos correctly. By investing energy in understanding the details of how we praise Hashem, we realize the importance of each aspect of that praise and how we must recognize that everything we have is a gift from Hashem.