A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

Question #1: Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?

Question #2: Late Asher Yatzar

How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

Question #3: Davening Outdoors

Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?

Question #4: A Rishon Letzion Named Rapaport

What do any of these questions have to do with parshas Shemos?

Foreword:

Rishon Letziyon is an old traditional title for the Sefardi rav of Yerushalayim. How did someone named Rapaport, which is a classic Ashkenazi family name, become Rishon Letziyon?

Introduction:

Parshas Shemos teaches that, for disobeying Pharaoh’s murderous commands, the Jewish midwives merited the “building of houses.” This is explained by the Midrash, quoted by Rashi, to mean that they were granted batei kehunah and batei malchus. Miriam was rewarded with batei malchus, that the royal house of Dovid Hamelech descended from her, and Yocheved merited batei kehunah — all kohanim are descended from her. The words batei kehunah mean “houses of kehunah,” which is a bit strange: why don’t Chazal simply call it beis kehunah, “the house of kehunah?” Although we will not answer this question, it became the source of the title of an important halachic work.

Batei Kehunah

A gadol beYisroel who lived three hundred years ago was descended from kohanim on both his father’s and his mother’s sides. Based on his lineage, he named his Torah works Batei Kehunah. This gadol, who is hardly known in the Ashkenazi world, carried the name Rav Yitzchak HaKohen Rapaport. He was the chacham bashi — a title for chief rabbi of a large city — in the Ottoman Empire, first of Izmir, Turkey, and subsequently became both the chacham bashi and the Rishon Letziyon of Yerushalayim. In numerous places, the Chida refers to the Batei Kehunah as the mofeis hador, or as mofeis doroseinu, “the wonder of our generation.” Considering that this was the same era in which lived such luminaries as the Gra, the Pnei Yehoshua, the Sha’agas Aryeh, the Noda Biyehudah, the Maharit Algazi and the Chida himself, this is a rather impressive accolade.

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport

Rav Yitzchak Hakohen Rapaport was born in Jerusalem in 5445 (1685) to Rabbi Yehudah Rapaport. Rav Yitzchak’s father was born in Lublin, Poland, made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael, and there married the daughter of a family of major Torah scholars, who were kohanim and Sefardim. Thus, although Rav Yitzchak’s father had been born in Poland, hence the family name Rapaport, he was raised in a completely Sefardi environment. There was no Ashkenazi community in Eretz Yisrael at the time, and therefore Rav Yitzchak treated himself completely as a Sefardi. This explains how a Rishon Letzion could have such an Ashkenazi last name.

In his youth, Rav Yitzchak studied in the yeshiva of the Pri Chodosh, Rav Chizkiyah Di Silva. In his introduction to Batei Kehunah, Rav Yitzchak explains that he never left the beis medrash for fear that he would miss some of his rebbe’s Torah or that of the other great men who studied there. After the Pri Chodosh’s premature passing (according to various versions, he was somewhere between the ages of 39 and 46 when he passed away), Rav Yitzchak studied under the new rosh yeshiva, Rav Avraham Yitzchak, the author of the work Zera Avraham, another work well known in Sefardi circles, but that receives reactions of “what is that” among Ashkenazim.

Although Rav Yitzchak Rapaport always viewed himself as a resident of Yerushalayim, he served as the rav of Izmer for forty years, after which he returned to Yerushalayim, and was then appointed chacham bashi of the Holy City and Rishon Letzion. Among the Batei Kehunah’s many brilliant students, both from his period in Turkey and in Yerushalayim, we find an entire generation of gedolei Yisroel: the Maharit Algazi, the Chida, the Shaar Hamelech, the Ma’aseh Rokeach and Rav Mordechai Rebbiyo, the rav and rosh yeshivah of Hevron, author of the teshuvos Shemen Hamor.

Since this is a halachic column, I will discuss some of the interesting halachic positions of the Batei Kehunah, most of which we know because they are quoted by the Chida, who perused the private library of the Batei Kehunah after the latter’s passing in 5515 (1755). The library included notes written in the margins of his seforim, unpublished teshuvos and other private writings and manuscripts that the Chida quoted, predominantly in his Birkei Yosef commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, most of which would otherwise have become lost to future generations.

Fragrances on Motza’ei Yom Tov

Our opening question was: “May I include fragrances as part of havdalah when Yom Tov ends?” Let me explain the background to this question. The Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 29:28) writes that when Yom Tov falls out midweek, at its end we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances and on a lamp, unlike what we do every motza’ei Shabbos. The Rambam explains that we recite the beracha on fragrances on motza’ei Shabbos because our souls ache when Shabbos ends, and we provide them with some consolation with the pleasant fragrance. The Magid Mishnah raises the following questions about the Rambam’s statement:

(1) Indeed, why is the custom that we not smell fragrances when Yom Tov ends, just as we do when Shabbos ends?

(2) Why does the Rambam write that “we are not required to recite the beracha on fragrances?” Shouldn’t he write that we do not recite the  beracha on fragrances?

The Magid Mishnah answers that the soul aches only when Shabbos ends, because the sanctity of Shabbos is greater, as evidenced by the fact that we are not permitted to perform any melacha. Since cooking food and similar melachos are permitted on Yom Tov, the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends.

If this is so, the Magid Mishnah asks, why do we not recite the beracha on fragrances as part of the kiddush/havdalah combination when Yom Tov is on motza’ei Shabbos, since the soul aches that Shabbos has ended? The Magid Mishnah answers that the festive celebration of Yom Tov consoles the aching soul the same way that fragrances would, thus rendering the use of besamim unnecessary. The Magid Mishnah then notes that the Rambam writes, “we are not required to recite the berachos on fragrances” when Yom Tov ends, because one can always take fragrances and recite a beracha before smelling them.

The Yad Aharon questions the wording of the Magid Mishnah that the custom is to not recite the beracha over fragrances as part of havdalah on Yom Tov. Would this not be an interruption in the havdalah, since it is not required?

The Chida (Birkei Yosef 491:3) quotes his rebbe, the Batei Kehunah, who wrote in the margin of his own personal copy of the Rambam that the Magid Mishneh wrote his comments very precisely. There would be no problem were someone to include besamim in his havdalah after Yom Tov. And the reason why the minhag is to forgo the besamim is because the soul does not ache when Yom Tov ends to the same extent that it does when Shabbos ends.

Late Asher Yatzar

At this point, let us analyze the second of our opening questions: How long do I have to recite Asher Yatzar?

The Levush discusses whether someone who does not have a need to relieve himself upon awaking recites Asher Yatzar anyway. He rules that he recites Asher Yatzar, because he undoubtedly relieved himself during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – thus, he has an outstanding requirement to recite Asher Yatzar. The Adei Zahav, an early commentary on the Levush by Rav Menachem de Lunzanu, disagrees with the Levush, contending that, even if the Levush’s technical assumptions are correct – that we should assume that most people relieved themselves during the night without reciting Asher Yatzar – a person should still not recite Asher Yatzar upon awaking, because the time within which Asher Yatzar must be recited has expired by morning. The Adei Zahav rules that Asher Yatzar must be recited no more than six hours after relieving himself, and during the long winter nights, someone presumably has slept longer than that since he last relieved himself.

What is the source for the Adei Zahav’s ruling that Asher Yatzar must be recited within six hours? The Mishnah (Berachos 51b) states that you can recite an after blessing until the food that was eaten has been digested. The Gemara (Berachos 53b) discusses how long a time this is, Rabbi Yochanan ruling that it is until you are hungry again, whereas Reish Lakish seems to hold that it is the time it takes to walk four mil, which most authorities understand to be 72 minutes. (Some hold that it is a bit longer.) The Adei Zahav assumes that, according to Rabbi Yochanan, it takes six hours for someone to be hungry again after eating a full meal. The Adei Zahav explains that the time for Asher Yatzar, which is a rabbinic requirement, cannot be longer than it is for bensching, which is required min haTorah. Therefore, he concludes that the longest time within which someone can recite Asher Yatzar is six hours after relieving himself.

Never too late

The Yad Aharon disagrees with the Adei Zahav, contending that although an after beracha is associated with the food or beverage that was consumed and, therefore, can be recited only as long as one is still satiated from what he ate, Asher Yatzar is a general beracha of thanks to Hashem and never becomes too late to recite. This approach would explain the position of the Levush that someone can recite Asher Yatzar in the morning, notwithstanding that it might be far more than six hours since he relieved himself.

The Chida, after quoting the above literature, states, “The mofeis of our generation, our master and rebbe, wrote in the margin of his personal copy that the Yad Aharon’s understanding is inaccurate. The rishonim explain that berachos after eating are appreciation… Asher Yatzar is a beracha for the salvation and also for the relief of the discomfort” (Birkei Yosef, Orach Chayim 6:3). Later in his comments, the Chida explains that the Batei Kehunah held that Asher Yatzar has an expiration time, although he never shared with us how long he holds that would be.

There are other reasons to support the Levush’s position that someone should recite Asher Yatzar upon waking in the morning, even if he has no need to relieve himself. The Bach explains that Asher Yatzar should be treated like any other of the morning daily berachos, birkos hashachar, which most authorities assume are recited even if someone did not have a specific reason to recite them – such as, he is not wearing shoes or he is unable to rise from bed. Thus, even if someone had no need to use the facilities upon arising, he still should recite Asher Yatzar in the morning. This position is held by many other poskim, particularly the Rema (Orach Chayim 4:1), although he does not explain why he holds this way (see Magen Avraham 4:2; Elyah Rabbah 4:1; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 6:1; Mishnah Berurah 4:3). However, the Levush appears to disagree with this opinion of his rebbe, the Rema, and the Bach, implying that only someone who relieves himself recites the beracha Asher Yatzar, a position held by many other authorities (Arizal; Adei Zahav; Birkei Yosef).

The Levush himself (Orach Chayim 7:3) notes that the laws of Asher Yatzar should not be compared to the laws of berachos on food, since reciting Asher Yatzar is part of nature (we refer in English to a “call of nature”), whereas when and what we eat is an individual’s choice. The Levush and the Elyah Zuta (4: 1) both contend that this last distinction means that there is no time limit for reciting Asher Yatzar; however, the Chida questions whether this distinction makes any difference. In yet a third place (Orach Chayim 47:6 in his sidenote), the Levush again alludes to this topic, contending that, like the berachos prior to studying Torah, Asher Yatzar is not dependent on the time it takes to digest food.

Other acharonim add another idea. The beracha of Asher Yatzar includes an acknowledgement that there are apertures in the body that must remain open. Since this is something that we must acknowledge always, it is always appropriate to recite this beracha. Furthermore, the beracha of Asher Yatzar includes acknowledgement of the removal of ruach ra, which happens when we wash our hands upon awakening and when washing our hands after using the facilities. As such, Asher Yatzar is always appropriate upon awaking in the morning (Bach; Elyah Rabbah).

Among the many opinions explaining the Levush, many differences in halacha result. If the time for reciting Asher Yatzar never expires, someone who forgot to recite Asher Yatzar after relieving himself, when he remembers he should recite Asher Yatzar, regardless of how much time has transpired. According to the Adei Zahav, he should recite Asher Yatzar only within six hours of relieving himself.

Davening Outdoors

At this point, let us discuss the third of our opening questions: “Is it permitted to daven in the courtyard outside a shul?”

Based on a verse in Daniel (6:11), the Gemara (Berachos 34b) rules that a person should daven in a building that has windows. Rashi explains that looking at the sky humbles a person, causing him to daven with greater kavanah. The Gemara then quotes Rav Kahana that davening in an open field is considered an act of chutzpah. Rashi explains that davening in a place that is relatively notexposed, rather than an open field, creates greater fear of the King, and the individual’s stubborn heart is broken.

The poskim explain that this refers to a situation where the person has an alternative. However, someone traveling, and the best place to daven is an open field, may daven there, and it is not a chutzpah (Magen Avraham; Mishnah Berurah).

Tosafos asks: According to the Gemara, when Yitzchak went lasuach basadeh (Bereishis 24:63), he went to pray (Berachos 26b), so how could Rav Kahana call this an act of chutzpah?

Tosafos provides two answers to his question.

(1) Yitzchak went to Har Hamoriyah to daven, which is where the Beis Hamikdash would be built, implying that this is certainly a place that will create greater fear of Heaven and more humility.

(2) Rav Kahana is discouraging davening in an open place, where his prayer may be disturbed by passersby, whereas Yitzchak was in an area where there was no one to disturb him.

According to the second answer of Tosafos, there is nothing wrong with davening in a place that is completely exposed, as long as he is comfortable that no one will disturb his prayers. According to his first answer, this is not true. We should note that Rashi’s reason disagrees with Tosafos’s second answer, and Rashi may accept Tosafos’s first reason (see next paragraph).

The Beis Yosef questions Tosafos’s second answer: why did Rav Kahana say that davening outdoors is a chutzpah? The concern is not of chutzpah, but because he will get distracted. For this reason, he follows the first reason of Tosafos in his Shulchan Aruch, and quotes Rashi’s reasoning: “A person should not pray in an open area, such as a field, because someone in a non-exposed place has greater fear of the King and his heart is broken” (Orach Chayim 90:5). We should note that several prominent poskim provide various explanations why Tosafos was not bothered by the Beis Yosef’s question (see Perisha, Bach, Taz, Magein Giborim, all in Orach Chayim 90).

The Magen Avraham (90:6) adds to this discussion by quoting the Zohar that implies that a person should daven inside a building. The Chida reports to us that the Batei Kehunah wrote a great deal about this topic. He concluded that it is sufficient if the area is enclosed, but it is not necessary for it to be roofed. The Birkei Yosef (Orach Chayim 90:2) notes that great rabbis often pray in the unroofed courtyards of shullen.

The Mishnah Berurah concludes this topic with the following ruling: Notwithstanding that the Shulchan Aruch rejected Tosafos’s approach, many acharonim justify this answer that it is acceptable to daven outdoors in a place where someone will not be disturbed. A traveler may daven outdoors, but should preferably daven under trees, if practical. However, someone who is home should not rely on this, and should daven indoors (Mishnah Berurah 90:11). Thus, it would seem that, according to the Mishnah Berurah, it is incorrect to daven outdoors in the courtyard of a shul when he has the option of davening in the shul itself. On the other hand, Sefardim, who tend to follow the conclusions of the Chida, probably have a strong halachic basis to daven inside gates, even if there is no roof above them, relying on the Chida who followed the ruling of his rebbe, Rav Yitzchak Rapaport, the author of the Batei Kehunah.

Conclusion:

The power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos and He listens to them! Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of all Klal Yisrael!

When Do We Not Make a Beracha on a Fragrance?

The Torah mentions that the caravan on which Yosef was “shipped” to Mitzrayim was laden with pleasant-smelling fragrances…

Question #1: My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a beracha whenever I visit her and walk through the garden, and, if so, which beracha?

Question #2: On my way to work I pass a spice factory that has a wonderful aroma. Do I recite a beracha every day as I drive by?

Question #3: Someone told me not to recite a beracha on perfume today because the fragrances are synthetic. Is this true?

Question #4: I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a beracha when I smell it?

Answer:

In general one should not benefit from a pleasant aroma without first reciting a beracha. Nevertheless, not all fragrances require a beracha before we smell them. Furthermore, when a beracha is not required, it is forbidden to recite one.

Fragrances upon which one may not recite a beracha fall under three general categories:

I. Forbidden fragrances

II. Fragrances whose purpose is not for pleasurable smelling.

III. Fragrances whose source no longer exists. This would include a case where you put the fragrance into a closed bag, but can still smell the residual aroma in the air outside the bag (Biur Halacha 217:3), or when you enjoy the smell of an empty besamim box.

I. FORBIDDEN FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a beracha on a fragrance that it is forbidden to smell, such as a scent used in idol worship, sorcery or the perfume of an ervah (Rambam, Hilchos Berachos 9:7, based on Berachos 53a). Smelling something used for idol worship is prohibited because one may not have any benefit from idols. Since we are not permitted to smell these fragrances, it is understood why Chazal ruled that one should not make a beracha on them.

One does not recite a beracha before smelling these prohibited fragrances even if a small amount is mixed into a potpourri of other fragrances (Biur Halacha 217:8; cf. Gra ad loc. who implies that if most of the fragrance is from a different source, one should recite a beracha before smelling it. However this is very strange, because the Torah forbids smelling the entire fragrance whenever the prohibited source is discernible.)

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I PASS AN IDOL AND SMELL INCENSE?

Although this is unusual in America, there are many places in the world where this is a common shaylah. May I walk down this street if I might smell a forbidden fragrance?

According to halacha, I am permitted to walk down the street provided I try not to appreciate the fragrance. The Gemara discusses a category called Hana’ah haba’ah lo le’adam bal karcho, “benefit that a person receives against his will.” Although a person has control over what he eats, he has more limited control over what he smells or hears. If someone is exposed to a pleasurable fragrance that is forbidden according to halacha, there is no violation involved, provided he does not try to enjoy the aroma (Pesachim 25b).

II. FRAGRANCES WHOSE PURPOSE IS NOT TO PROVIDE THE PLEASURE OF SMELLING

“One does not make a beracha on a fragrance unless it was made for the pleasure of smelling” (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 217:2). One recites a beracha on a fragrance only when it is avida le’reicha, literally, “made for fragrance.”In the words of the Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:1), “Anything that it not specifically meant to smell is not considered a fragrance.” Thus, the definition of the word besamim is something made to provide pleasurable scent and does not include aromas not meant for smelling.

There are several headings of aromatic fragrances that are not for the pleasure of smelling. They include:

A. Deodorizing fragrances

B. Fragrances whose current purpose is not for their aroma.

C. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

D. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

IIA. DEODORIZING FRAGRANCES

One does not recite a beracha before smelling a fragrance whose purpose is to neutralize a bad odor, such as a room deodorizer, deodorant, or oil rubbed on the skin to dispel malodor (Berachos 53a). Even though these items may be highly aromatic, since their purpose is not for enjoyment but to neutralize an unpleasant odor, we do not recite a beracha.

One does not recite a beracha before smelling a room deodorizer, even if he enjoys the aroma and even if he sprayed it in a room without a bad odor or brings it to his nose for a pleasant whiff. Since the deodorizer was made expressly to dispel malodor and not for enjoyment, it is not considered besamim even if the individual enjoys smelling it (Shaar Hatziyun 217:16, based on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 297:2).

USING OILS AS A DEODORIZER

Some people use pleasant-smelling essential oils to combat malodors. Does one make a beracha before smelling these fragrances?

It depends on why one smells them. If they are functioning as deodorants, then one does not recite a beracha, whereas someone who uses the oil with the intent of enjoying its aroma does recite the appropriate beracha before smelling it (Berachos 53a with Rashi). (See my other articles on this subject on the website RabbiKaganoff.com to know which beracha one recites.)

WHAT DETERMINES WHETHER A FRAGRANCE IS BESAMIM OR A DEODORIZER?

Some items are obviously deodorants or deodorizers and are not besamim. However, the essential oils we mentioned and other fragrances may sometimes be used to deodorize and sometimes for pleasure. What determines whether this particular fragrance is besamim over which we recite a beracha?

The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 35:2) explains that the determining factor is why you brought the fragrance to this location. If you brought it for pleasure, it is besamim and you recite a beracha. If you brought the fragrance to neutralize an odor, you do not recite a beracha, even if you are smelling it because you enjoy it.

However, if you removed some of the fragrance permanently to enjoy its aroma, this part becomes besamim and warrants a beracha. The Chazon Ish uses the example of someone who applies fragrant oil to his or her skin. Even if the person originally used the oil to deodorize, if he subsequently sprinkled some onto a handkerchief to enjoy the aroma, he recites a beracha on the sprinkled oil.

IIB. INCIDENTAL TO PURPOSE

We learned above that one does not recite a beracha before smelling a fragrance whose current purpose is not for its aroma. What does this mean?

Imagine yourself outside the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of flavors and fragrances. The aroma outside this plant is indescribable — I can tell you because I have been there. Yet the halacha is that one does not recite a beracha on this fragrance. Why not?

The halacha is that someone who enters a spice merchant’s store recites a beracha because the owner wants potential customers to smell his wares so that they will make a purchase (Berachos 53a). If these items are in his warehouse where he is not soliciting customers, one does not recite a beracha (Magen Avraham 217:1).

Why do you recite a beracha on the spices in his store but not those in his warehouse? Because the fragrances in the store are there to be smelled and enjoyed; the ones in the warehouse are not. Thus, the fragrances in the warehouse are not avida le’reicha and are not besamim.

Thus, smelling the most fantastic aroma in the world, from the production facility of the world’s largest manufacturer of pleasant flavors and fragrances, does not warrant a beracha. These fragrances do not qualify as besamim since they are not there for people to enjoy their aroma.

THE SPICE MERCHANT HIMSELF

Does the spice seller himself recite a beracha upon entering his own shop? He does not enter intending to smell fragrant spices in order to decide what to buy. He enters because it is his livelihood. Can a fragrance be avida le’reicha for one person but not for another?

Poskim dispute this question, many ruling that the merchant should recite a beracha since the fragrance has the status of avida le’reicha. Others contend that, for the merchant, the fragrances are merchandise and not avida le’reicha,and therefore he should not recite a beracha (Mishnah Berurah 217:4; Shaar Hatziyun 217:7).

Other poskim present a different reason why the merchant should not recite a beracha on the fragrance. The Taz (217:1) contends that someone recites a beracha over a fragrance only when they demonstrate a desire to smell it, such as by picking up the fragrance and raising it to their nose. The customer who enters the shop recites a beracha because he walked into the shop intending to smell and purchase fragrances — thus, his entry is itself demonstration that he wants to smell the spices; therefore, he recites a beracha. However, the owner’s entry does not demonstrate intent to smell the product. According to this opinion, someone who makes a delivery to a perfumery does not recite a beracha.

On the other hand, most poskim contend that a fragrance that qualifies as avida le’reicha requires a beracha even when not trying to smell it (Pri Megadim MZ 217:1; Shaar Hatziyun 217:4). Later in the article, I will suggest an approach whereby a safek beracha can be avoided.

The same dispute also applies to the neighbors of the perfumery, its workers, and those making deliveries to the shop. According to the Taz’s opinion, only the customers recite a beracha on the magnificent fragrance of the shop, since they come to smell and purchase. Also, if you entered the store specifically to enjoy the fragrance, you recite a beracha according to all opinions.

PUTTING INTO YOUR HAND

Let’s assume you are back in the spice merchant’s warehouse or in the flavor factory and you know that you do not make a beracha on the incredible fragrance that is wafting through the air. What happens if you approach some of the spices to take a pleasant whiff or you lift some of the fragrance in order to smell it? Do you recite a beracha?

The poskim dispute what to do in this case. The Mishnah Berurah (217:1) contends that whenever you do something to smell the fragrance, such as you move towards the fragrance, you lift it up or you place some into your hand, you should recite a beracha. Any act makes the fragrance avida le’reicha.

However the Chazon Ish disagrees, maintaining that, if you will return the fragrance, it is not avida le’reicha and you do not make a beracha (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 35:1). The Chazon Ish agrees that if the manufacturer has samples available because he wants people to smell and buy, one does recite a beracha on these samples.

SPICES IN THE KITCHEN

There is a common practical difference in halacha between the approaches of these two gedolim regarding spices in the kitchen. Suppose you want to enjoy the smell of the cinnamon or the oregano on your kitchen shelf. According to the Mishnah Berurah, if you remove a container to smell it, you recite a beracha on the spice, even though you intend to return the spice to the shelf after smelling it. However according to the Chazon Ish, you do not recite a beracha on this fragrance unless you do not intend to cook with it later. (See Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 262). Someone who wants to avoid the dispute would sprinkle a little bit of spice into his hand and make a beracha on that. Since you are not going to use this spice for cooking, it is besamim according to all opinions and one recites a beracha before smelling it.

Some poskim explain that this opinion of the Chazon Ish is the reason for the widespread minhag to set aside special besamim for havdalah on Motza’ei Shabbos (Shemiras ShabbosKehilchasah, Vol. 2 pg. 262). This is because, according to the Chazon Ish, one does not recite a beracha on a kitchen spice if one intends to cook with it. Only if one removed some of the spice from kitchen use and set it aside for besamim does that spice warrant a beracha.

THE GARDEN

At the beginning of the article I asked, “My neighbor has a wonderfully fragrant garden. Do I recite a beracha whenever I visit her, and, if so, which beracha?” We are now prepared to answer this question.

The fragrant garden itself is avida le’reicha since the owner or gardener presumably planted it in order to benefit from the beautiful aroma. Do we therefore recite a beracha upon entering the garden? According to most poskim, since it is avida le’reicha, one would recite the beracha upon entering the garden, even if he is not entering to enjoy the aroma at all. The beracha will depend on what is growing in the garden, but assuming that there are items growing with different brachos, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim.

However according to the Taz, one recites a beracha only if he wants to smell the fragrance. In order to avoid this shaylah, he should have in mind before entering the garden that he is entering the garden to enjoy the fragrance and recite a beracha immediately before entering the garden, just as one recites a beracha immediately before eating a delicious fruit.

Similarly, someone whose house is permeated with aromatic flowers should recite a beracha before entering the house, since the flowers were acquired with the intention of making the house pleasantly fragrant. However, if the flowers are there only for beauty and their owner was not concerned with their fragrance, then one does not recite a beracha before entering the house. According to the Mishnah Berurah we quoted above, one should recite the appropriate beracha (either Borei Atzei Besamim or Borei Isvei Besamim) before smelling an individual flower. According to the Chazon Ish, it would seem that one should not recite a beracha unless he removed a leaf or trimming from the flowers that he wants to smell.

THE FRUIT MARKET AND THE CONFECTIONER

Does one recite a beracha when entering a fragrant fruit market, since smelling the delicious fruit may entice one to make a purchase? The same question applies to a confectionary store: Does one recite a beracha before entering this store since the delicious smell of all the sweets may entice the customer to purchase?

If indeed the owner feels that the fragrance of his wares encourages people to buy them, then one should recite a beracha before entering. This case is similar to an interesting dispute that we find in earlier poskim.

THE PHARMACY

In earlier days, a pharmacy was a store in which the apothecary sold raw herbs for their medicinal value. The poskim ask whether one recites a beracha before entering the apothecary shop, just as the Gemara says that one recites a beracha before entering the besamim seller’s store.

Some poskim rule that one should recite a beracha before entering a pharmacy because the permeating fragrance encourages people to purchase herbs. Other poskim disagree for an interesting reason — people do not purchase medicinal herbs because of fragrance, but for medical need (see Biur Halacha 217:1). Thus, since healthy people do not make purchases even if the herbs smell pleasant, and sick people will buy even if the herbs are not fragrant, no one is deciding to buy because of the fragrance. Therefore, these herbs are not avida le’reicha.

The Biur Halacha (217:1) compromises between the two positions quoted above. In his opinion, if people use the fragrance to find the location of the store, that is reason enough to make a beracha. However, he points out two other reasons why one should be careful before reciting a beracha.

1. According to the Taz (mentioned above) one does not recite a beracha unless one intends to smell the fragrance.

2. One should recite a beracha only if the fragrances are open. However, if the herbs are all in closed bags, but the air is fragrant from when the bags had been open previously, this is considered a rei’ach she’ein lo ikar, upon which one does not recite a beracha.

Thus upon entering a fragrant fruit store, one should recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Bapeiros and then intend to enjoy the fragrance, since the fruits are always out in the open to encourage people to buy them.

It is uncertain whether the same halacha applies to a florist’s shop. Flowers today are not cultivated for fragrance, and most people purchase flowers because of beauty, not fragrance. However, if there is a florist who feels that customers purchase because of fragrance, one should recite Borei Minei Besamim and enjoy the fragrance.

IIC. Fragrances whose purpose is to provide aroma to something else.

In the time of Chazal, it was common to burn incense in order to give clothing or dishes a pleasant fragrance. The Gemara (Berachos 53a) mentions that one does not recite a beracha when smelling this beautiful aroma because its purpose is not for the fragrance itself.

When showing a house for sale, some people toast cinnamon in the oven or open essential oils and other fragrances around the house to make the house more appealing. Since the purpose of these fragrances is to give the house a pleasant aroma and not to entice people either to smell or to purchase the fragrance, one does not recite a beracha.

IID. Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

There are items that some people enjoy smelling, but most people do not consider fragrant. One should not recite a beracha before smelling such an item.

Examples: The poskim dispute whether one recites a beracha on freshly baked bread. Those who contend that a beracha is ont recited opine that this is not a fragrance significant enough to warrant a beracha (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 216; Rema). Thus, some people enjoy smelling certain plants or herbs whereas other people do not. If most people do not consider a particular smell to be a fragrance, you should not recite a beracha even if you enjoy it.

TURPENTINE

Question #4 above, was: “I just adore the smell of turpentine! Do I make a beracha when I smell it?”

Dear reader, how would you please answer this shaylah?

Perfumeries do not sell turpentine as a fragrance. Hardware stores sell it as a solvent and paint thinner. Many people consider the odor of turpentine pungent and not fragrant. Since most people do not consider turpentine to be a fragrance, one should not recite a beracha before smelling it.

III. Ein lo ikar – A fragrance whose source no longer exists.

In the case mentioned above where one burns incense to impart aroma onto clothing ordishes, one does not recite a beracha on the clothing afterwards, because the fragrance has no ikar (Rambam, Hilchos Brachos 9:8). For this reason, one does not recite a beracha on a bag that has a pleasant smell because it once held fragrance, or when you can still smell the residual aroma that is in the air after a spice has been put into a closed bag

(Biur Halacha 217:3).

SYNTHETIC FRAGRANCES

Some poskim contend that one does not make a beracha on a synthetic fragrance (Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah, Vol. 2, Pg. 263 note 32). Apparently, they hold that one can recite a beracha only on a fragrance whose source was originally besamim. However most poskim dispute this ruling, contending that a fragrance should not be different from a “synthetic food” — a food made from a non-food substance, such as alcohol or vinegar whose source is petrochemical — which is very common today.

This situation is very common today, since most inexpensive fragrances and perfumes are synthetic. Because of the above dispute, if I have a reason to smell a synthetic fragrance I try to recite a beracha on a different fragrance whose beracha is Borei Minei Besamim, such as cloves or cinnamon, and thereby be motzi the synthetic fragrance. (Neither of these options will work for Sefardim, since they usually recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Bapeiros oncloves and Borei Atzei Besamim on cinnamon.)

As a quick review, we do not recite a beracha on the following categories of fragrances:

Those that we are not permitted to smell.

Deodorizers.

If the fragrance is incidental to the item’s main purpose or if it provides aroma to something else.

Items that most people do not consider fragrances.

Where one does not smell the source of the fragrance.

Some poskim hold that we should not recite a beracha on a synthetic fragrance.

EXPRESSIVE FRAGRANCE

In a monumental essay, Rav Hirsch (Breishis 8:21) explains that the expression rei’ach nicho’ach, usually translated as “a pleasant fragrance,” should more accurately be rendered “an expression of compliance.” He demonstrates that the word nicho’ach means “giving satisfaction,” and the concept of rei’ach is used because fragrance implies receiving a very slight impression of something that is distant. Thus, when a korban is offered as a rei’ach nicho’ach, it means that it shows a small expression of our fulfilling Hashem’s will. Similarly, our attempt to observe correctly the halachos of brachos on fragrances demonstrates a small expression on our part to praise Hashem for even His small kindnesses to us.

More about Birkas Hagomeil

Did Yaakov Avinu bensch gomeil after surviving his encounter with Eisav?

Question #1: “Upon reciting birkas hagomeil, an individual erred and recited the following: ‘Hagomeil tovim, shegemalani kol tuv’ (without the word “lechayavim”). Must he now repeat the beracha because he omitted a word?”

Question #2: “Thank G-d, my nine-year-old daughter is now recuperating successfully from surgery. Does she recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #3: “Did the Chashmonayim recite birkas hagomeil upon winning their war?”

Answer:

In a different article, we learned that birkas hagomeil is to be recited by someone who has been saved from a dangerous situation. Specifically, Sefer Tehillim (107) and the Gemara mention four different types of individuals in treacherous predicaments — one who traverses a wilderness, a captive who was freed, an ill person, and a seafarer — whose safe return, release or recovery warrants reciting this beracha. The halacha is that one recites birkas hagomeil after surviving any life-threatening situation. This article will discuss some aspects of this beracha that were not yet covered.

Someone else reciting

May someone else recite some form of birkas hagomeil on behalf of the person who actually was in the difficult circumstance? In this context, we find the following Gemara passage (Berachos 54b):

“Rav Yehudah had been ill and recovered. When Rav Chona of Baghdad and other scholars came to visit him, they said to Rav Yehudah, ‘Blessed is the merciful One (in Aramaic, rachmana), Who returned you to us and not to the earth.’ Rav Yehudah responded, ‘You have exempted me from reciting birkas hagomeil!’”

Thus, we see that Rav Yehudah ruled that the praise recited by his visitors exempted him from reciting birkas hagomeil, notwithstanding the fact that Rav Chona and the others had not been ill and had no requirement to recite birkas hagomeil.

The Gemara proceeds to ask several questions about this conversation: “But do we not require a minyan for birkas hagomeil?” to which the Gemara replies that there indeed were ten people present when Rav Chona visited Rav Yehudah.

The Gemara then questions how Rav Yehudah could have fulfilled birkas hagomeil if he himself had not recited the beracha, to which it replies that he answered “Amen” to the blessing of Rav Chona of Baghdad.

Deriving Halacha

In addition to what we noted above, the above Gemara discussion teaches several additional halachos about birkas hagomeil:

1. Although the authorities quote a standardized wording for birkas hagomeil, we see that one fulfills his requirement even if one recited a version that varies considerably from the usual text, as long as it is a beracha that thanks Hashem for the salvation.

2. The person who was saved can fulfill his obligation by answering amen when he hears someone else thank Hashem, even though the person reciting the beracha has no requirement to bensch gomeil. This is a unique halachah, because usually one may fulfill a beracha or mitzvah by hearing it from someone else only when the person reciting the beracha is equally required to observe the mitzvah. Despite this rule, Rav Yehudah discharged his responsibility through Rav Chona’s beracha,even though Rav Chona personally had no requirement to recite birkas hagomeil.

3. We can also derive from this anecdote that someone may fulfill the requirement of birkas hagomeil through someone else’s beracha, even though the person who recited the beracha did not intend to recite it on behalf of the person who is obligated. This is also an unusual facet of birkas hagomeil, since in all other instances, the person fulfilling the mitzvah does so only if the person doing it intends to be motzi him.

4. Some authorities ask: Since Rav Chona was unaware that Rav Yehudah would fulfill the mitzvah, why was he not concerned that he would be reciting a beracha levatalah, a blessing recited in vain?

The answer is that Rav Chona of Baghdad’s recital was certainly praise to Hashem and thanks for His kindness, and therefore this blessing would certainly not be a beracha levatalah, even if no one fulfilled any requirement through it (Tur, Orach Chayim 219).

Uniqueness of birkas hagomeil

From these last rulings, we see that the concept of birkas hagomeil is unlike other berachos, and therefore, its rules are different. As long as the person obligated to thank Hashem is involved in an acknowledgement that Hashem saved him, he has fulfilled his obligation.

What about mentioning Hashem’s name?

One should not infer from the above story that one can fulfill reciting birkas hagomeil without mentioning Hashem’s name. This is because the word rachmana, which translates literally into English as “the merciful One,” also serves as the Aramaic word for G-d. Thus, Rav Chona of Baghdad did mention Hashem’s name in his blessing.

What about mentioning malchus?

The Rishonim note that from the way the Gemara quotes Rav Chona of Baghdad, “Blessed is the merciful One Who returned you to us and not to the earth,” one might conclude that it is sufficient to recite Baruch Ata Hashem for birkas hagomeil, and that one does not need to say also Elokeinu Melech haolam, the standard text prefacing all berachos. This would be very novel, since all berachos require an introduction that includes not only mention of Hashem, but also requires proclaiming that Hashem is King. However, the Tur and the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) reject this conclusion, contending that one does not fulfill birkas hagomeil unless one does mention sheim and malchus. We must therefore assume that the Gemara abbreviated the beracha recited by Rav Chona of Baghdad and that he had indeed mentioned Hashem’s monarchy in his blessing.

The text

What is the optimal nusach, the exact text, of this beracha?

Although our Gemara (Berachos 54b) quotes a wording for birkas hagomeil, it is apparent that different rishonim had variant readings of the text of the beracha. The most common version recorded is: Baruch Atta Hashem Elokeinu Melech haolam, hagomeil lachayovim tovos, shegemalani kol tov. “Blessed are You, Lord, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” The assembled then respond with “Amen,” and then add, Mi shegemalcha kol tov hu yigmalecha kol tov sela, “May He Who has granted you much good continue to grant you much good forever.” The established Sefardi custom is to recite two pesukim prior to reciting the beracha, which calls people to attention so that they can focus on the beracha and respond appropriately (Kaf Hachayim, Orach Chayim 219:14).

The wording of the beracha sounds unusual, for it implies that the person who recited this beracha is assuming that he was deserving of Divine punishment, yet was saved because of Hashem’s kindness. Why should the saved person make this assumption?

The Maharam Mintz (Shu”t #14), an early Ashkenazi authority, explains that someone who became ill or was imprisoned should be introspective, seeking to learn a lesson by discovering why this happened to him. In so doing, he should realize that he is indeed guilty of things for which he needs to do teshuvah. In this context, the Avnei Nezer (Shu”t Orach Chayim #39) asks the following: while the Maharam Mintz’s reason explains why a person who was captured or imprisoned should consider himself guilty, it is not clear how it applies to someone who survived a journey on the high seas or through the desert, since he himself chose to undertake the trip. To this, the Avnei Nezer answers that there could be one of two reasons why this traveler undertook this trip: one alternative is that he felt a compelling need to travel, for parnasah or some other reason, in which case he should ask himself why Hashem presented him with such a potentially dangerous situation. The traveler should contemplate this issue and realize that he needs to do teshuvah for something — which now explains why the beracha calls him “guilty.”

The other alternative is that the traveler could have avoided the trip, in which case he is considered guilty, because he endangered himself unnecessarily. In either instance, we can now appreciate why the person reciting the beracha refers to himself as being “guilty.”

What about a child?

If a child survived a situation that would require an adult to recite birkas hagomeil, does he do so?

Early halachic authorities rule that a child under the age of bar or bas mitzvah does not recite birkas hagomeil. The Maharam Mintz explains that it is inappropriate for a child to recite the wording hagomeil lachayovim tovos, “Who grants good to those who are guilty.” Harm that befalls a child is not a result of his own evildoing, but of his father’s; thus, a child reciting this text implies that his father is guilty, which is certainly improper for a child. Furthermore, to modify the beracha is unseemly, since one should not change the text of the beracha handed down to us by Chazal (quoted by Elyah Rabbah 291:3).

Some authorities are dissatisfied with this last answer, since we see that Rav Yehudah felt that he had fulfilled his requirement to recite birkas hagomeil when Rav Chona said, “Blessed is Hashem that returned you to us and not to the earth,” which is quite different from the text, “Who grants good to those who are guilty, for He granted me much good.” It would seem that any beracha text that includes a praise acknowledging thanks for Hashem’s rescue fulfills the requirement (see Shaar Hatizyun 219:5). Thus, it should be relatively easy to structure a birkas hagomeil text for children.

The above-quoted Avnei Nezer similarly disapproves of the rationale presented by the Maharam Mintz, although he agrees with the ruling that a child should not recite birkas hagomeil – but for a different reason. The Avnei Nezer explains that although any text thanking Hashem fulfills the mitzvah of reciting birkas hagomeil, the preferred way is for the person to say “I, who am guilty,” something that a child cannot say. Although one could modify the text so that a child would be able to recite birkas hagomeil and omit this concept, having a child recite a different beracha would no longer accomplish the mitzvah of chinuch, which requires a child to fulfill the mitzvah the way he would as an adult.

On the other hand, the Chida (Birkei Yosef 219:1) quotes authorities who disagreed with the Maraham Mintz, and ruled that a child should recite birkas hagomeil, although the Chida does not cite the rationale for this ruling. Presumably, these authorities contend that having a child recite this beracha is no different than any other mitzvah in which we are required to educate our children. Most authorities agree with the rulings of the Maharam Mintz and the Avnei Nezer and, as a result, in most communities, both Ashkenazi and Sefardi, children do not recite birkas hagomeil (Kaf Hachayim 219:2).

How much traveling?

One of the four instances for which the Gemara requires birkas hagomeil is surviving a trip through a desert. However, when the Rambam quotes this Gemara, he states, instead of those who traveled through the desert, “those who traveled on intercity roads recite birkas hagomeil when they arrive at a settled place.” The authorities dispute what the Rambam means, the Tur assuming him to mean that one recites birkas hagomeil after any trip. This position is certainly held by the Ramban, who writes (Toras Ha’adam, page 49) that the Gemara mentioned those who traveled through the desert only because that is the text of the verse in Tehillim, but the halacha is that any traveler recites birkas hagomeil upon arrival at his destination. For this reason, the Ramban and the Avudraham record that many Sefardim recite birkas hagomeil for any out-of-town trip, for, to quote the Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachos 4:4), kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah, all highways should be assumed to be dangerous.

The Rosh (Berachos 9:3), however, disagrees with the Ramban, contending that there is a difference between tefillas haderech, which one recites for any trip, and birkas hagomeil, which one recites only when one would be required to offer a korban todah. The verses in Chapter 107 imply that one is required to offer a korban todah only when one survives a major calamity. Thus, in the Rosh’s opinion, the statement kol haderachim bechezkas sakanah means that one should recite tefillas haderech any time one travels intercity, but not that one should recite birkas hagomeil. Reflecting this approach, the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah mention that in France and Germany the practice was to refrain from reciting birkas hagomeil when traveling from one city to the next.

The Bach also follows this approach and takes issue with the Tur’s interpretation of the Rambam, contending that even the Rambam is referring only to someone traveling through a completely barren area similar to a desert, but that the Rambam agrees that someone traveling through an area where food and water can be readily obtained does not recite birkas hagomeil afterwards. The Bach suggests that the Tur was not quoting the Rambam in support of this position, but the Ramban, and that scribes erred while redacting.

Airplane travel

Does someone who travels by airplane recite birkas hagomeil?

In researching the different teshuvos written on this subject, I found a wide range of halachic opinion. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that anyone traveling by airplane must recite birkas hagomeil, regardless as to whether he was traveling over sea or over land exclusively. He contends that even those authorities who rule that one should recite birkas hagomeil only for the four types of calamities mentioned in Tehillim and the Gemara require birkas hagomeil for flying, since flying by air is identical to traveling by ship, as the entire time that one is above ground, one’s long-term life plans are all completely dependent on one’s safe return to land (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:59). I found another authority who agreed with Rav Moshe’s conclusion, but for a different reason. One should recite birkas hagomeil, not because air travel should be compared to seafaring, but because we rule that one recites birkas hagomeil for any type of danger to which one was exposed (Shu”t Betzel Hachachmah 1:20). Rav Ovadyah Yosef rules that Sefardim should recite birkas hagomeil after any air trip that takes longer than 72 minutes, just as they recite birkas hagomeil after any trip on land that takes this long (Shu”t Yabia Omer 2:Orach Chayim #14).

On the other hand, many contend that since this is a different method of travel from what was included in the original takanas Chazal, and, in addition, air travel today is not highly dangerous, one should not recite birkas hagomeil, at least not with the names of Hashem, which they are concerned might result in a beracha levatalah (Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov 2:9; Rav Zion Levy, in his question to Rav Ovadyah Yosef, published in Shu”t Yabia Omer, Orach Chayim II #14).

According to what we have thus far written, there should be no distinction drawn on the length of the flight or whether it traverses land or sea. According to Rav Moshe Feinstein’s approach, one should always recite birkas hagomeil for air flight, and according to those who dispute, one should not. Notwithstanding the strong logic, there is a prevalent custom that people bensch gomeil when flying overseas, but not when flying domestically. The Be’er Moshe (2:68) notes this practice, which he feels has very weak halachic foundation. Nevertheless, since this is the prevalent custom, he attempts to justify it and says that people should follow the custom.

Conclusion

Returning to our opening question:  Did Yaakov Avinu bensch gomeil after surviving his encounter with Eisav?

We can ask further: Did Yitzchak Avinu recite birkas hagomeil after the akeidah? Did Chananyah, Mesha’el, and Azaryah recite birkas hagomeil upon exiting the furnace, or Daniel after waving good-bye to the lions? Did the kohen gadol recite birkas hagomeil upon exiting the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur? Did Rabbi Akiva recite birkas hagomeil over the fact that he was the only one who had studied the deepest secrets of the Torah (called “pardes”) and remained physically and spiritually intact?

The Chida, in his Machazik Beracha commentary to Shulchan Aruch (219:1-3), presents a lengthy correspondence on this question that transpired between his father and another talmid chacham, Rav Eliezer Nachum. Rav Yitzchak Zerachyah Azulai, the Chida’s father, contended that only someone who was placed in a situation involuntarily, including one who traveled by sea or through the desert because circumstances compelled him to endanger himself, recites birkas hagomeil, but not someone who chose to give up his life to fulfill the mitzvah of Kiddush Hashem. Even when someone in the latter situation is saved by an obvious miracle, he should not recite birkas hagomeil since, had he lost his life, he would immediately have been elevated above all that this world could possibly offer. Similarly, he rules that the kohen gadol does not recite birkas hagomeil upon leaving the kodesh hakodoshim, since his entering was to fulfill a mitzvah of Hashem. Furthermore, he adds, that a kohen gadol worthy of his position was never in any danger to begin with – only an unworthy kohen gadol need be concerned of the dangers of entering the kodesh hakodoshim on Yom Kippur.

Rav Eliezar Nachum disagreed strongly with Rav Azulai’s position. Rav Nachum notes several midrashic and Talmudic passages that mention the tremendous songs of praise that were sung by the angels and by the great tzadikim mentioned above upon surviving these travails. Certainly, upon surviving these dangers one is required to recite birkas hagomeil to thank Hashem for his salvation.

Sheva Berachos

Question #1: Is it yours?

The wedding ceremony begins with two berachos recited by the mesadar kiddushin. Should he tell the chosson to have in mind to fulfill these berachos?

Question #2: Wine on top or bottom?

Which is the first of the sheva berachos?

Question #3: Is this deliberate inconsistency?

Some of the sheva berachos begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and others don’t. Some of them end with Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, whereas others don’t. Is there any rhyme or reason to this seeming chaos?

Introduction:

The time in between the Three Weeks and the Yamim Noraim is a popular time to schedule weddings. We find a source for the recitation of sheva berachos in a discussion in Mesechta Kallah. In parshas Chayei Sarah, the Torah discusses the trip that Eliezer takes to find a wife for Yitzchok. Shortly before Rivkah leaves to marry Yitzchok, the Torah mentions that her family blesses her (Bereishis 24:60). In reference to this posuk, we find the following passage at the beginning of Mesechta Kallah: “Where is a source in the Torah for the blessings [which we call the ‘sheva berachos’] given to the bride: And they blessed Rivkah.” The Mesechta Kallah retorts, “Did Rivkah’s family use a cup [of wine when they blessed her]?” Since they did not, this verse is not a source for sheva berachos, but only an allusion to the mitzvah. In conclusion, the Mesechta Kallah and the Gemara (Kesubos 7b) derive the mitzvah of sheva berachos from other pesukim.

Erusin and nesuin

There are two stages to a Jewish wedding, and each has its appropriate berachos. The first stage, kiddushin or erusin (not to be confused with the Modern Hebrew word erusin, which means “engagement”), is when the chosson places the wedding ring on the kallah’s finger. The second step, nesuin, focuses on the chupah, the kesubah, the sheva berachos and the yichud that takes place immediately after the chupah. In Talmudic times, these two stages were conducted separately – often as much as a year apart. Today, they are conducted as one long ceremony. Each of the two stages has its own berachos, which I will discuss shortly.

Birkos erusin

Prior to the chosson explaining to the witnesses why he is placing a ring on the kallah’s finger, two berachos are recited, borei peri hagafen and the beracha called birkas erusin. They are said by the mesader kiddushin — the rosh yeshivah, rav or other talmid chacham — who is “performing the ceremony,” as people say in English, or, more accurately, the one who is responsible to make sure that everything is done according to correct halachic practice.

According to the Rambam’s opinion, the birkas erusin is a birkas hamitzvah, a beracha recited before fulfilling a mitzvah, and that, therefore, it should be recited by the chosson (Shu”t Harambam, quoted by Shu”t Noda Beyehudah Tinyana, Even Ha’ezer, #1).

A second approach is that, although the birkas erusin is a birkas hamitzvah, the mesader kiddushin recites the beracha, rather than the chosson, to avoid embarrassing a chosson who does not know the beracha by heart (Even Ha’ezer, Taz 34:1; Beis Shmuel, 34:2). Remember that, in earlier days, there were no printed works, and berachos were recited from memory. Thus, many chassanim would not know, by heart, the somewhat complicated and uncommon beracha that is recited before the erusin. Therefore, the mesader kiddushin is motzi the chosson with the beracha, and the chosson, also, should have in mind to be included in the birkas erusin (Shu”t Noda Beyehudah ad loc.).

A third approach disagrees, concluding that the birkas erusin is not a birkas hamitzvah and that, therefore, there is no need for the mesader kiddushin to be motzi the chosson when reciting this beracha (Shu”t Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim #44, quoting many earlier sources).

Who drinks the wine?

When the mesader kiddushin recites the beracha on the cup of wine, he gives the cup (usually via the parents) to the chosson and kallah, who sip from the cup. Since we may not drink or eat without first reciting a beracha (Berachos 35a), the chosson and kallah should be included in the beracha hagafen of the mesader kiddushin.

Thus, we can examine our opening question: The wedding ceremony begins with two berachos recited by the mesader kiddushin. Should he tell the chosson to have in mind to fulfill these berachos?

The answer is that he should tell both the chosson and the kallah to have in mind to fulfill their requirement to recite hagafen. Whether he should also tell the chosson to have in mind to fulfill birkas erusin is disputed.

Text of birkas erusin

The Gemara (Kesubos 7b) records a dispute regarding the text of birkas erusin. The first opinion cites the following text: Baruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al ha’arayos, ve’asar lanu es ha’arusos, ve’hitir lanu es hanesuos lanu al yedei chupah vekiddushin. The second opinion, that of Rav Acha the son of Rava, contends that we add to the above text a conclusion, baruch Attah Hashem mekadeish amo Yisrael al yedei chupah vekiddushin. The first opinion rules that this beracha does not require a concluding part, just as berachos prior to performing mitzvos and prior to eating are berachos structured simply, without any conclusion. Rav Acha the son of Rava disagrees, contending that birkas erusin should be treated like the beracha of Kiddush, which has a concluding beracha, Baruch Attah Hashem mekadeish hashabbos.

Why does Rav Acha the son of Rava compare birkas erusin to the beracha of Kiddush? This topic is a subject of dispute. Rashi explains that mentioning the sancitity of the Jewish people, mekadeish amo Yisrael al yedei chupah vekiddushin, is similar in concept to mentioning the sanctity of Shabbos, and therefore this beracha has the added mention of Hashem’s Name at the end. Tosafos explains that both these berachos, Kiddush and birkas erusin, contain multiple themes and, therefore, require a closing beracha also.

Birkas nisuin

Birkas nisuin is another way of referring to what we usually call the “sheva berachos.” These berachos are recited as part of the wedding ceremony, or, more accurately, as part of the nisuin, second part of that program. The sheva berachos are also recited at banquets held in honor of the newly married couple.

Six or seven

Although we are accustomed to referring to this series of berachos as “sheva berachos,” people are surprised to discover that this term is of relatively late origin. This is because the Gemara cites a dispute as to how many berachos are recited.

When we look at the wording of the berachos, we see that two of them, Asher yatzar es ha’adam, and Yotzeir ha’adam, begin with almost identical statements. The Gemara cites a dispute whether we should, indeed, recite both of these berachos, or just the longer one, Asher yatzar es ha’adam. The dispute concerns whether the way man and woman were originally created should require one beracha or two. According to the opinion that this requires only one beracha, there is no beracha Yotzeir ha’adam and, therefore, there are less than seven berachos.

Out of order

Since we recite both berachos, Asher yatzar es ha’adam, and Yotzeir ha’adam, we have six berachos, plus the beracha on wine, for a total of seven (that is why we call it sheva berachos). Under the chupah, the first of the seven berachos recited is the beracha on the wine. However, when sheva berachos is recited after a meal celebrated in honor of the new couple, the hagafen is recited after the other berachos. Why is the order changed?

The Beis Shmuel (62:2) explains that hagafen should really be recited first, as it is during the wedding ceremony, because it is recited more frequently, and the rule is tadir ushe’eino tadir, tadir kodem, that which is recited more frequently comes first (Mishnah Zevachim 89a). However, when reciting hagafen after the celebratory meal, someone might think we recite a beracha over wine only because of the bensching, and not because of the nuptials. In order to clarify that the wine is brought, also, because of the wedding celebration, we postpone its beracha until the end of the sheva berachos.

Where’s the wine?

When sheva berachos are recited at the end of a meal, the prevalent custom is to bring three kosos, and fill two of them to the top with wine. One of the filled kosos is held by the person leading the bensching while the second is left on the table until bensching is completed, and then held by each of the honorees who recite the berachos. When those six berachos have been recited, the person who led the bensching recites the berachaof hagafen, pours a bit from his kos into the empty cup, and drinks the majority of the wine in his kos. The wine from the sheva berachos kos and the small amount of wine that was poured into the third kos are then mixed together, and the wine in the two kosos is presented to the chosson and the kallah to drink (Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha’ezer 62:18). Some poskim recommend that the honoree leading the bensching hold the kos to be used for the sheva berachos while reciting the prayer dvei hoseir,which is inserted before bensching at a sheva berachos meal,and, then, put that kos down and pick up the first kos for bensching (Taz, Even Ha’ezer 62:7). I have never seen anyone follow this practice (see Derisha, Even Ha’ezer 62:4 who disagrees with the Taz’s practice). According to a third opinion, the second kos should not be filled until after bensching is completed (Magen Avraham 147:11 and Be’er Heiteiv, Even Ha’ezer 62:11).

According to all three approaches we have mentioned, bensching is recited over one kos, and sheva berachos over a different cup. Why do we use two different kosos? Why not use the same goblet for both bensching and sheva berachos?

The poskim dispute this issue: The Gemara (Pesachim 102b) teaches that if someone bensches and recites Kiddush at the same time, he should not recite both blessings over the same cup. Rather, he should recite Kiddush holding one cup of wine and bensch while holding a different one. The Gemara asks why we take two different cups, and answers that we do not “bundle mitzvos together.” Using the same kos for both mitzvos implies that we view these mitzvos as a burden, rather than respecting each mitzvah with its own goblet of wine.

However, when Yom Tov falls on a Sunday, we recite Kiddush of Yom Tov and Havdalah of Shabbos over the same goblet. This is not considered bundling mitzvos together, since Kiddush and Havdalah are considered one topic (Pesachim 102b).

Are birkas nisuin and bensching considered one topic, or two? This is a dispute discussed in Tosafos (Pesachim 102b s.v. she’ein), in which the first opinion views bensching and sheva berachos over the same cup as bundling mitzvos together, and therefore separate kosos need to be used for bensching and sheva berachos. Rabbeinu Meshulam, however, maintains that this is not considered bundling mitzvossince, without bensching, we do not recite sheva berachos. According to Rabbeinu Meshulam, we fill one goblet with wine and hand it to the person leading the bensching. When he finishes bensching, he hands the kos to the honoree who recites the first of the sheva berachos, who hands it to the next honoree to recite the next beracha, and so on. Eventually, the kos returns to the person who led the bensching, who holds the kos while reciting borei peri hagafen.

The Shulchan Aruch (Even Ha’ezer 62:9) quotes both opinions and observes that custom is to use only one cup for both bensching and sheva berachos, following Rabbeinu Meshulam, which apparently was the prevalent practice among Sefardim at the time of the Shulchan Aruch. The Rema notes that the custom among Ashkenazim is to use two different goblets. The Chida (Shu”t Yosef Ometz #47) notes that, although at the time of the Shulchan Aruch,the custom among Sefardim was to recite the sheva berachos on the same goblet as the bensching, in the Chida’s day, a separate goblet was used for sheva berachos. Other Sefardic authors of the last several hundred years (see Otzar Haposkim 62:9:53) record two customs, some following Rabbeinu Meshulam (following Shulchan Aruch) and others using separate cups for the two mitzvos (following Chida).

Inconsistent berachos

At this point, let us look at our third opening question. “Some of the sheva berachos begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and others don’t. Some of them end with Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, whereas others don’t. Is there a rhyme or reason to this seeming chaos?

The structures of the six birkas nisuin appear to be inconsistent. The first two, Sheha’kol bara lichvodo, “that everything was created in His Honor,” and Yotzeir ha’adam, “the Creator of man,” are structured the same way as our berachos before eating food and most of our berachos before performing mitzvos: we recite the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and then the short closing of the beracha (sheha’kol bara lichvodo or yotzeir ha’adam). However, the third and the sixth berachos both begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and also have closings: Boruch Attah Hashem yotzeir ha’adam and Boruch Attah Hashem mesamayach chosson im hakallah, respectively. To make matters more confusing, the fourth and fifth berachos that begin with the words sos tasis and samayach tesamach do not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, but conclude with Boruch Attah Hashem, similar to the structure of the berachos of the shemoneh esrei. So we are faced with an obvious question: Why does this series of berachos contain such a potpourri of beracha structures?

Among the rishonim, we find several answers to this question. Tosafos (Kesubos 8a s.v. shehakol) explains that, indeed, most of the berachos should have only an ending and no beginning beracha, as we have in the shemoneh esrei. However, since two of the berachos, Sheha’kol bara lichvodo and Yotzeir ha’adam are so small, not providing them with a full beracha would make them almost unnoticeable. Similarly, the beracha Asher yatzar, whose theme is so similar to the beracha before it, Yotzeir ha’adam, would appear to be a continuation of that beracha, if it did not begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam. Furthermore, Rabbeinu Chananel explains that, since the recital of the beracha Yotzeir ha’adam, itself, was the subject of a dispute, to emphasize that it is a beracha by itself, it includes the full statement Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam.

Tosafos explains further that the beracha Asher bara, the last of the berachos, is sometimes the only beracha that is recited. For example, when there are no new participants, called panim chadashos, this beracha is recited, notwithstanding that the others of the sheva berachos are not. For this reason, it is treated as a full, independent beracha, with both a full beginning and an ending.

Rashi presents a more detailed approach. He notes that although all these berachos are recited together, as if they are one unit, most of them are really different berachos on different aspects of the simcha. For example, Sheha’kol bara lichvodo, “that everything was created in His Honor,” is really a beracha on the beauty of having so many people joining together to celebrate a mitzvah, and should have been recited as soon as one saw all the assembled people. However, since the other berachos are recited over wine, the independent beracha of Sheka’kol bara lichvodo is included with the other berachos, so that everyone should focus on it. This is similar to the berachos of Havdalah — which include a beracha on the fragrance and a beracha on the candle — each of which is, really, a separate beracha that we combine together on the cup of wine in order to focus on all the berachos at one time.

Wrong order

If someone recited the berachos out of order, he should not repeat a beracha, but should recite the skipped beracha and then proceed to recite the remaining berachos that have, as yet, not been said. Similarly, if the honoree began saying the wrong beracha, and already recited Hashem’s Name, he should complete the beracha he has begun, the omitted beracha should then be said, followed by the remaining berachos.

If someone began reciting either the beracha of Sos tasis or Samayach tesamach, which do not begin with Hashem’s Name, out of order, and has not yet recited Hashem’s Name which appears at the end of the beracha, he should stop and recite the correct beracha, in the usual order (Amudei Apiryon, page 76).

Conclusion

Above, I quoted Rashi’s explanation that the beracha, Shehakol bara lich’vodo, is really for the gathering of the people and not directly associated to the wedding that is taking place. The Hafla’ah (Kesubos 8a) offers a different approach, which makes the beracha directly relevant to the nuptials. Hashem created His entire world for His Honor, and the last of his Creation was man. Man is, of course, imperfect until he is married, which is the celebration of the wedding. Thus, sheva berachos celebrates the completion of Hashem’s Creation!

Flavor and Fragrance – The Bracha on Fragrant Fruits

At the beginning of our parsha, Yosef is still a prisoner in Egypt. But remember, that when he was first sold into slavery to Egypt, it was to a caravan that carried pleasant smelling products….

This article will explain the halachos of the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in fruits.” Many authorities prefer that one recite the version Asher nasan rei’ach tov ba’peiros, in past tense, “He who bestowed pleasant fragrances in fruits” (Elyah Rabbah 216:5; Mishnah Berurah 216:9).

Here are some curious questions about this bracha that we need to resolve:

1.  Do we recite this bracha on a food that is not a fruit?

2. Assuming that we recite this bracha on any food, do we recite this bracha on a seasoning that is not eaten by itself, such as cinnamon or oregano?

3. If I am eating a fragrant fruit, do I recite a bracha when I smell it while I am eating it?

4. Do I recite this bracha when smelling a delicious cup of coffee or a freshly-baked pastry? After all, the coffee bean is a fruit, and the flour of the pastry is a grain, which is also halachically a fruit. As we will see, the answer to this question is not so obvious.

Origins of the BrachaHanosein Rei’ach Tov Ba’peiros

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches that someone who smells an esrog or a quince should first recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros.

Question: Why did Chazal institute a unique bracha for aromatic fruits?

Answer: Whenever one benefits from this world one must recite a bracha. Thus, Chazal instituted brachos that are appropriate for fragrances. However, all the other brachos on fragrance are not appropriate for smelling fragrant foods, since the other brachos praise Hashem for creating fragrances, whereas esrog and quince are not usually described as fragrances, but as foods that are fragrant. Therefore, Chazal established a special bracha for aromatic fruits (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim, end of Chapter 297).

It is noteworthy that even though quince is edible only when cooked, it is still considered a fruit for the purpose of this bracha. More on this question later…

Do We Recite This Bracha on Fragrant Foods That Are Not Fruits?

This leads us to a fascinating halachic discussion with a surprising conclusion.

A Bracha on Smelling Bread?

Several early poskim contend that one should recite a bracha before smelling hot fresh bread (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 297, quoting Avudraham and Orchos Chayim). However, when discussing what bracha one should recite, these poskim contend that mentioning besamim (such as Borei isvei or minei besamim) is inappropriate since bread is not a fragrance but a food. It is also inappropriate to recite on it Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, since it is not a fruit. They therefore conclude that one should recite Hanosein rei’ach tov bapas, “He who bestows pleasant fragrance in bread.” Indeed, one contemporary posek rules that someone who smells fresh cookies should recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’ugah, “He who bestows pleasant fragrances in cake.”

However the Beis Yosef and other poskim disagree, contending that one does not recite a bracha before smelling bread or cake, pointing out that the Gemara and the early halachic sources never mention reciting a bracha before smelling bread. These poskim contend that we do not recite a bracha on smelling bread because its fragrance is not significant enough to warrant a bracha (Beis Yosef, Chapter 297).

This question creates a predicament: according to the “early poskim,” one may not smell bread without first reciting a bracha;whereas according to the Beis Yosef, reciting a bracha on its fragrance is a bracha recited in vain! The only way of resolving this predicament is by trying not to smell fresh bread, which is the conclusion reached by the Rama (216:14).

(Incidentally, the Rama’s rulingteaches a significant halacha about the rule of safek brachos le’kula, that we do not recite a bracha when in doubt. Although one may not recite a bracha when in doubt, one also may not smell a fragrance or taste a food without reciting the bracha because that would be benefiting from the world without a bracha. This halacha applies in any case when someone has a doubt about reciting a bracha. Although he may not recite the bracha, he may also not benefit without finding some method of resolving the safek.)

The concept, introduced by the Beis Yosef, that one recites a bracha only on a significant fragrance is hard to define. The following is an example in which poskim dispute whether a fragrance is considered significant.

Wake Up and Smell the Coffee!

The Mishnah Berurah (216:16) rules that someone who smells fresh-roasted ground coffee should recite a bracha of Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros. However, the Kaf Hachayim (216:86), one of the great Sefardic poskim, rules that it is uncertain whether the fragrance of coffee is significant enough to warrant a bracha. Thus, most Sefardim will not recite a bracha prior to smelling fresh-roasted coffee, whereas those who follow the Mishnah Berurah will.

As we have discussed, although some poskim (Avudraham and Orchos Chayim) limit the bracha of Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros to fruits, other poskim contend that this bracha should be recited before smelling any fragrant food. This dispute influences the next discussion.

Do We Recite Hanosein Rei’ach Tov Ba’peiros on a Fragrant Seasoning?

The question here is what defines an edible fruit for the purposes of this bracha. Do we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros only on fruit or do we recite it on any edible item? Furthermore, assuming that we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros on any edible item, is a flavoring or seasoning considered a food for the purposes of this bracha?

Spices that are used to flavor but are themselves never eaten, such as bay leaves, are not considered a food. For this reason, there is no requirement to separate terumos and maasros on bay leaves, even if they grew in Eretz Yisrael (Tosafos, Yoma 81b; Derech Emunah, Terumos 2:3:32). A seasoning that is never eaten by itself, but is eaten when it is used to flavor — such as cinnamon, oregano, or cloves — is questionable whether it is considered a food. Therefore, we separate terumos and maasros on it without a bracha, and, if it is eaten by itself, we do not recite a bracha of borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 202:16). What bracha do we recite before smelling a seasoning?

Cloves

A clove is the dried flower bud that grows on a tree; the clove is consumed only as a spice, but is not eaten on its own. The poskim dispute what is the correct bracha to recite before smelling cloves, there being a total of four opinions:

Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros:The Shulchan Aruch (216:2) rules that this is the correct bracha to say before smelling cloves, despite the fact that cloves are never eaten alone (Taz 216:4). He contends that we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros on anything that is consumed, even if it is eaten only as a seasoning.

Borei atzei besamim:Many poskim rule that we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros only on items that are eaten on their own, but not if they are eaten solely as a flavoring. Cloves are therefore discounted as a food item and treated exclusively as a fragrance. Since the clove grows on a woody stem, these poskim rule that we should recite Borei atzei besamim before smelling the spice. This approach is followed by some Sefardic poskim (Yalkut Yosef 216:4).

Borei isvei besamim:In a different article, I pointed out that some poskim contend that one recites Borei atzei besamim only on a fragrance that grows on what is considered a tree for all other halachos. The stem of the clove is hollow, which according to some opinions precludes it being considered a tree. (In a different article, I pointed out that some poskim contend that the correct bracha before eating papaya is Borei pri ha’adamah because the papaya plant has a hollow trunk [Shu’t Rav Pe’alim Vol. 2, Orach Chayim #30].) Because of the above considerations, some rule that the clove is not considered a food or a tree, but a herbaceous (non-woody) plant upon which the correct bracha is Borei isvei besamim. This is the common custom among Yemenite Jews(Ohr Zion Vol. 2 pg. 136; Vezos Haberacha, pg. 174). (It should be noted that some varieties of forsythia also have a hollow or semi-hollow stem. According to the Yemenite custom, the bracha recited before smelling these would be Borei isvei besamim rather than Borei atzei besamim. However, non-Yemenites should recite Borei atzei besamim before smelling forsythia since it is a woody, perennial shrub.)

Borei minei besamim:Because of the disputes quoted above, many poskim rule that one should recite Borei minei besamim on cloves (Elyah Rabbah 216:9; Mishnah Berurah 216:16). This is the accepted practice among Ashkenazim and many Sefardic poskim (Birkei Yosef 216:5; Kaf Hachayim 216:34; Ohr Zion Vol. 2 pg. 136).

Is It Wood or Food?

Based on this last opinion, we can derive a different halacha. Assuming that there is a dispute whether the bracha on cloves is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros or Borei atzei besamim, why do we recite Borei minei besamim when we are in doubt?Shouldn’t the correct bracha be Borei atzei besamim, since it grows on a tree? From this ruling we see that Borei atzei besamim and Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros are mutually exclusive categories. Either an item is a fragrance or it is considered an edible food that is fragrant, but it cannot be both. Thus, if the correct bracha is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros then it is considered to be a food, not wood, and the bracha Borei atzei besamim is in vain. On the other hand, if the correct bracha is Borei atzei besamim then we have concluded that clove is not food and the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros would be in vain. For this reason, Ashkenazim and most Sefardic poskim recite the bracha Borei minei besamim whenever there is a question on what bracha to recite (Aruch Hashulchan 216:5; Elyah Rabbah 216:9; Mishnah Berurah 216:16; Birkei Yosef  216:5; Kaf Hachayim 216:39 and Ohr Tzion Vol. 2 pg. 136; compare, however, Yalkut Yosef 216:4).

Cinnamon, Spice and Everything Nice

What bracha does one recite before smelling cinnamon?

The Tur quotes a dispute between the Rosh, who contends that the bracha is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, and the Maharam, who contends that one should recite Borei atzei besamim. In the Rosh’s opinion, cinnamon should be treated as a food. Thus, we may assume that he contends that the bracha before smelling all spices is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, even though they are not eaten by themselves. We can also draw a conclusion from this Rosh that we recite the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros even on the bark of a tree that is eaten, such as cinnamon. Thus in his opinion, the word ba’peiros in the bracha should be translated as food rather than as fruit. (In truth, the word pri in the bracha Borei pri ha’adamah should also not be translated as fruit, since we recite it on stems, roots, and leaves when we eat celery, carrots, and lettuce.)

On the other hand, the Maharam contends that Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros  is inappropriate, presumably because cinnamon is usually not eaten by itself. Alternatively, the Maharam may hold that Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros is inappropriate for cinnamon because it is a bark and not a fruit.

Either way, many Ashkenazi poskim rule it is a safek whether the bracha on cinnamon is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros or Borei atzei besamim and therefore one should recite borei minei besamim (Elyah Rabbah 216:9; Mishnah Berurah 216:16). Many Sefardim recite Borei atzei besamim before smelling cinnamon (Yalkut Yosef 216:4). Everyone agrees that the bracha before smelling cinnamon leaf is Borei atzei besamim.

And the Lemon Smells So Sweet!

But the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat! Is the bracha before smelling a lemon Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros because it is after all a fruit, or do we recite a different bracha since it is too bitter to eat by itself?

Some poskim rule that one should recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros before smelling lemons (Ginas Veradim 1:42; Yalkut Yosef 216:7), whereas others contend that one should recited Borei minei besamim before smelling a lemon, treating the lemon as a safek as to whether it is considered a fruit or not (Ketzos Hashulchan 62:9 in Badei Hashulchan).

However, this latter opinion causes one to wonder why the bracha before smelling a lemon is different from the bracha before smelling an esrog? After all, the Gemara teaches that before smelling an esrog we recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, although an esrog is also too bitter to eat. Possibly, the esrogim in the days of Chazal were less bitter and were edible. This is implied by the Gemara (Sukkah 36b), which mentions that Rav Chanina took a bite out of his esrog, something difficult to imagine doing to a contemporary esrog.

An alternative approach is that an esrog is a fruit because it can be made edible by adding sugar. However according to this reason, a lemon should also be considered a fruit, since one can eat candied lemon, which I presume would require the bracha of Borei pri ha’eitz (Vezos Ha’beracha pg. 366). Similarly, some people eat the slice of lemon they used to season their tea, and lemon is also eaten as a pudding or pie filling. I presume that the bracha on these items when eaten alone would be Borei pri ha’eitz. The fact that lemon cannot be eaten unsweetened should not affect what bracha we recite before eating or smelling lemon just as the bracha before smelling fresh quince is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros even though it is also not edible raw.

Furthermore, we noted above that Chazal instituted the bracha Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros on fragrant fruits and foods because one cannot recite a bracha on them by calling them fragrances. Few people would describe lemon as a fragrance, but as a fruit.

Because of these reasons, I believe the bracha before smelling a lemon should be Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros, but I leave it for the individual to ask their rav.

Incidentally, the correct bracha to recite before smelling citrus blossoms or flowers is Borei atzei besamim, since the flower is not edible.

As a side point, one should be very cautious about eating esrog today. Esrog is not a food crop and it is legal to spray the trees with highly toxic pesticides. Because of the rule of chamira sakanta mi’isurah (the halachos of danger are stricter than that of kashrus), I would paskin that it is prohibited to eat esrogim today unless the owner of the orchard will vouch for their safety. However, this will get me into a controversial debate with many rabbonim who give hechsherim on esrog orchards, so I am not going to discuss this issue anymore. Simply — although Aunt Zelda may have a great recipe for making esrog jam, I suggest substituting lemon or lime instead.

Incidentally, the bracha on eating lemon jam should be Borei pri ha’eitz, which is additional evidence that the bracha before smelling a lemon is Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros.

There is a major shaylah in halacha whether one may smell one’s esrog and hadasim during Sukkos. I have written a separate article on this subject.

Eating and Smelling a Fruit

If I am eating a fragrant fruit, do I recite a bracha before I smell it even though I am not deliberately trying to?

One does not recite the bracha on fragrance if one is picking up the fruit to eat and happens to smell it at the same time (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 216:2). However, if one intends both to smell the food and also to eat it, then it would seem to be a question of dispute whether one should recites both brachos, Borei pri ha’eitz and Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros. This issue is dependent on a dispute between poskim whether one recites a bracha on a fragrant item that is intended to be used for another purpose. I analyzed this subject in a different article in which I discussed when one should not recite a bracha before smelling a fragrance.

Which Bracha Should I Recite First?

The poskim disagree as to whether one should first recite the bracha on eating the fruit because this is considered a greater benefit (Olas Tamid), or whether one should first recite the bracha on smelling it, since the fragrance reaches your nose before you have a chance to take a bite out of it it (Elyah Rabbah 216:6). The Mishnah Berurah (216:10) rules that one should recite the bracha on smelling the fruit first, although he also cites another suggestion: have in mind not to benefit from the fragrance until after one has recited the bracha on eating it and has tasted the fruit. Then, recite Hanosein rei’ach tov ba’peiros and benefit from the fragrance.

Many poskim state that the custom today is to not make a bracha on smelling a fruit unless it has a pronounced aroma (see Vezos Haberacha pg. 174). For this reason, some hold that one should not make a bracha when smelling an apple since apples are often not that fragrant, but one could recite a bracha when smelling guava which is usually much more aromatic. (However, note that Rambam and Mishnah Berurah [216:8] mention reciting a bracha before smelling an apple, although it is possible that the apples they had were more fragrant than ours.)

The Gemara (Berachos 43b) teaches “How do we know that one must recite a bracha on a fragrance, because the pasuk (Tehillim 150:6) says, ‘Every neshamah praises Hashem,’ – What exists in the world that the soul benefits from, but not the body? Only fragrance.”

Although the sense of smell provides some physical pleasure, it provides no nutritional benefit. Thus, smell represents an interface of the spiritual with the physical. Similarly, we find that we are to offer korbanos as rei’ach nicho’ach, a fragrance demonstrating one’s desire to be close to Hashem. We should always utilize our abilities to smell fragrant items as a stepping stone towards greater mitzvah observance and spirituality.

The author acknowledges the tremendous assistance provided by Rabbi Shmuel Silinsky for the horticultural information used in researching this article.

May I Daven in English?

The end of parshas Noach teaches about the beginning of languages…

Question #1:

I received the following e-mail question from Verna Acular:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur in Hebrew provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Question #2:

Bella, a middle-aged new immigrant from Central Europe, struggles to ask the rabbi:

Hungarian is the only language that I can read and understand. Someone told me that, now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so? I am really too old to learn a new language.

Question #3:

Bracha Acharona asked me the following:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not understand a word of Japanese; yet, if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between the brachos recited before and after eating?

Those That Can and Those That Cannot

The Mishnah (Sotah 32a) supplies a rather long list of mitzvos that are fulfilled only when recited in Hebrew and those that are fulfilled when recited in any language. For example, one cannot fulfill the requirements of chalitzah (see Devarim 25:7-10), duchening (see Bamidbar 6:24-26), and the narration that accompanies bikkurim (see Devarim 26:5-11), unless one recites the exact Hebrew words that the Torah cites. On the other hand, other mitzvos, including the reciting of shema, prayer (including shemoneh esrei), and birkas hamazon (bensching) can be fulfilled by translating the relevant passages into a language that one understands. Indeed, the Gemara (Brachos 40b) records an instance in which an individual named Binyomin the Shepherd bensched in Aramaic, and Rav ruled that he had fulfilled his requirement. The Gemara explains the reason why some mitzvos may be fulfilled in translation, but not others, on the basis of several intricate interpretations from various verses.

Which is preferable?

Having established that one may pray in a vernacular, the first question on which we will focus is whether it is preferable or perhaps even essential for someone who does not understand Hebrew to pray in a language that he understands, or whether it is preferred to pray in Hebrew, even though it is not understood.

Tosafos’ opinion

From Tosafos (Sotah op. cit.) we see that someone who does not understand Hebrew and recites a prayer, shema, or bensching in Hebrew does not fulfill the mitzvah. Tosafos asks why the Mishnah omits hearing megillah from its list of mitzvos that may be fulfilled in any language. Tosafos answers that the mitzvah of megillah is qualitatively different from all the other mitzvos mentioned in this Mishnah, because one who does not understand Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah of megillah in Hebrew. Tosafos clearly understands that someone who prays, bensches or reads shema in a language he does not understand does not fulfill the mitzvah, even if the language is Hebrew, and the Mishnah is listing mitzvos that someone who doesn’t understand Hebrew will fulfill only in the vernacular. Thus, according to Tosafos’ opinion, Verna should be reciting her prayers in English, and Bella should recite them in Hungarian.

Hebrew for the Hungarians

Although Tosafos holds this way, later authorities reject this conclusion. The Keren Orah notes that, according to Tosafos, someone who does not understand Hebrew will be unable to fulfill the mitzvos of bensching and davening if he does not have a siddur handy with a translation in a language that he understands. The Keren Orah cites other early authorities who answered Tosafos’ question (why Megillah is not cited in the Mishnah) in a different way, and he concludes that one who prayed, bensched or read shema in Hebrew fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand Hebrew, providing that he knew that he was about to fulfill the mitzvah.

Quoting other authorities, the Mishnah Berurah (62:2), rules that someone who does not understand Hebrew should preferably daven, bensch and recite shema in Hebrew.

What does veshinantam mean?

The Mishnah Berurah adds an additional reason to recite shema in Hebrew; there are several words in shema that are difficult to translate, or whose meaning is unclear. For example, the word veshinantam may often be translated as and you shall teach them, but this translation does not express the full meaning of the word. The word for teach them in Hebrew is velimad’tem, which is used in the second parsha of shema. The word veshinantam means teaching students until they know the Torah thoroughly, and simply translating this word as and you shall teach them does not explain the word adequately.

This difference in meaning is reflected in Targum Onkeles, where velimadtem is translated vesalfun, whereas veshinantam is translated u’sesaninun, which comes from the Aramaic root that is equivalent to the Hebrew veshinantam. Thus, Aramaic possesses two different verbs, one of which means to teach and the other meaning to teach until known thoroughly, whereas English lacks a short way of expressing the latter idea.

I have heard it suggested that one may alleviate this problem of reciting shema in English by translating the word veshinantam with the entire clause you shall teach it to your sons until they know it thoroughly. This approach should seemingly resolve the concern raised by the Mishnah Berurah, although I am unaware of an English translation that renders the word veshinantam in this way.

Other hard translations

Whether or not one can translate veshinantam accurately, the Mishnah Berurah questions how one will translate the word es, since it has no equivalent in most languages. He further notes that the word totafos, which refers to the tefillin worn on the head,is also difficult to translate. However, when we recite these words in Hebrew, we avoid the need to know the exact translation, since we are using the words the Torah itself used. The Mishnah Berurah feels that, for the same reasons, someone who can read but does not understand Hebrew should recite kiddush, bensching, davening and his other brachos in Hebrew.

Although the Mishnah Berurah does not mention this predicament, a problem similar to the one he raises concerns the translation of the Name of G-d. When reciting a bracha or any of the above-mentioned requirements in a different language, one must be careful to translate this Name accurately (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:40:27). Rav Moshe Feinstein notes this problem in the context of the anecdote I mentioned above about Binyomin the Shepherd, who bensched in Aramaic. The Gemara records that Binyomin referred to G-d as Rachmana. In a teshuvah on the subject, Rav Moshe notes that although the word Rachmana obviously derives from the same source as the word rachum, mercy, one would not fulfill the requirement of reciting a bracha by substituting the word rachum for Hashem’s Name. Thus, Rav Moshe asks, how could Binyomin the Shepherd have fulfilled his bracha by reciting the translation of the word rachum?

Rav Moshe answers that although the source of the word Rachmana and the word rachum are the same, Rachmana is the translation of G-d’s Name in Aramaic, and therefore it is used in Aramaic prayers and blessings. However, rachum is not a translation of G-d, but an attribute of G-d, and its recital in a bracha is not adequate.

We thus realize that someone translating Hashem’s Name into any language must be careful to do so accurately.

Is “G-d” correct?

I have seen two common ways of translating the Name of Hashem into English, one as Lord and the other as G-d. Translating His Name as Lord is based on the meaning of the Name Adnus as Adon hakol, the Lord of all, which is the basic understanding one is required to have when reciting His Name. However, I have noticed that some recent translations now transliterate the Name in English as Hashem. This is not an accurate translation, and a person reciting the bracha this way will not fulfill his responsibility. I strongly suggest that the publishers not do this, since they are performing a disservice for people using their translation.

The position of the Sefer Chassidim

Notwithstanding that the Mishnah Berurah prefers that someone who does not understand Hebrew daven, bensch, and recite shema in Hebrew, the Sefer Chassidim (#588) advises, “A G-d-fearing man or woman who does not understand Hebrew who asks, tell them to learn the prayers in the language that they understand. Prayer can be recited only with the understanding of the heart, and if the heart does not understand what the mouth expresses, nothing is accomplished. For this reason, it is best to pray in a language one understands.

He states this even more clearly in a different passage (#785).

It is better for a person to pray and recite shema and brachos in a language that he comprehends, rather than pray in Hebrew and not understand… It is for this reason that the Talmud, both in Bavel and in Eretz Yisrael, was written in Aramaic, so that even the unlettered can understand the mitzvos.

The Sefer Chassidim’s position is subsequently quoted by the Magen Avraham (101:5), who also cites this approach in the name of the Asarah Ma’amaros of the Rama miFanu.

The Yad Efrayim’s approach

The Yad Efrayim quotes the Magen Avraham (who ruled as the Sefer Chassidim), but contends that one should recite the tefillah in Hebrew. To quote him: In our days, when there is no one who can translate the Hebrew accurately, one should rebuke anyone who follows a lenient route and prays in the vernacular. Rather, one should not separate himself from the community that reads the prayer in Hebrew, and one fulfills the mitzvah even if he does not understand. Someone concerned about the issues raised by Sefer Chassidim should learn enough basic understanding of Hebrew to know what he is asking. Although he does not understand every word, this is not a concern… If he does not want to learn Hebrew, he should pray in Hebrew with the community, and afterwards read the prayer in translation.

Thus, the Yad Efrayim is a strong advocate of praying only in Hebrew, and he is presumably one of the authorities upon whom the Mishnah Berurah based his ruling.

At this point, we can return to Verna’s question:

I much prefer to pray in English, since reading the siddur provides me with no emotional connection to G-d. I was told to read the Hebrew, even though I cannot comprehend it; yet, other people I know were told that they could pray in English. Which approach is correct?

Verna has been told to follow the ruling of the Yad Efrayim and the Mishnah Berurah, which is the most commonly, followed approach today. The “other people” that Verna mentions were instructed to follow the approach of the Magen Avraham and the Sefer Chassidim. It is also possible that the “other people” cannot read Hebrew properly. Someone who cannot read Hebrew has no choice but to recite prayers in the best translation that he/she can find.

Is this the language of the country?

At this point, I would like to address Bella’s predicament:

Hungarian is the only language that I read and understand. Someone told me that, now that I am living in the United States, I cannot pray in Hungarian, but must learn to read either English or Hebrew. Is this so?

What is the halacha if someone does not understand the language of the country in which he/she lives? Can one fulfill the mitzvos of shema, brachos and davening by reciting these prayers in his native language, notwithstanding the fact that few people in his new country comprehend this language?

Although this may seem surprising, the Bi’ur Halacha rules that one fulfills the mitzvos in a vernacular only when this is the language that is commonly understood in the country in which he is currently located. The Bi’ur Halacha based his ruling on a statement of the Ritva (in the beginning of his notes to the Rif on Nedarim), who implies that halacha recognizes something as a language only in the time and place that a people has chosen to make this into their spoken vernacular.

Following this approach, one who recites a bracha in America in a language that most Americans do not understand is required to recite the bracha again. Bella was indeed told the position of the Bi’ur Halacha that one cannot fulfill the mitzvah of praying in the United States in Hungarian or any other language that is not commonly understood, other than Hebrew.

Rav Gustman’s position

Other authorities dispute the Bi’ur Halacha’s conclusion, demonstrating that this concern of the Ritva refers only to a slang or code, but not to a proper language (Kuntrisei Shiurim of Rav Gustman, Nedarim page 11; and others). This means that if someone prayed or recited a bracha in something that is not considered a true language, he would not fulfill his mitzvah and would be required to recite the prayer or bracha again. However, although most Americans do not understand Hungarian, this is a bona fide language, and Bella fulfills the mitzvah by davening in Hungarian. Rav Gustman writes that he told many Russian baalei teshuvah that they could pray in Russian when they were living in Israel or the United States, even though Russian is not understood by most people in either country. He acknowledges that, according to the Bi’ur Halacha, this would not fulfill the mitzvah.

Must one understand the foreign language?

At this point, we will address Bracha’s brachos question:

I heard that some authorities rule that if one recited a bracha in Japanese before eating, one should not recite the bracha again, even if one does not know a word of Japanese; yet if one bensched in Japanese, one would be required to bensch again. Is there indeed a difference between a bracha before eating and one after?

According to Tosafos, someone can fulfill reciting the brachos before eating, Hallel and Kiddush even in a secular language that one does not understand. Tosafos contends that we see from the Mishnah that these mitzvos have a difference in halacha with bensching, davening and shema, where one fulfills the mitzvah only in a language that one understands.

Do we follow Tosafos’ opinion?

Although the Magen Avraham (introduction to Orach Chayim 62) rules in accordance with this Tosafos, most later commentaries do not (Keren Orah and Rav Elazar Landau on Sotah ad loc.; Bi’ur Halacha 62 s.v. Yachol; Aruch Hashulchan 62:3). Several authorities state that they do not understand Tosafos’ position that there is a difference between shema, shemoneh esrei and birkas hamazon, which can only be recited in a language one understands, and Kiddush, Hallel, birkas hamitzvos and brachos before eating, which Tosafos rules one may recite even in a language that one does not comprehend.

I suggest the following explanation of Tosafos’ view: The drasha of Chazal states that one fulfills shema only in a language that one understands. This is logical, because shema is accepting the yoke of Heaven, and how can one do this without comprehending the words? The same idea applies to the shemoneh esrei — how can one pray if he does not understand what he is saying? Birkas hamazon is also a very high level of thanks, and what type of acknowledgement is it, if one does not know the meaning of the words he is saying? However, one can praise in a language that he does not understand, as evidenced by the fact that chazzanim or choirs may sing beautiful praise, although they do not necessarily comprehend every word. Similarly, as long as one knows that kiddush sanctifies Shabbos, he fulfills the mitzvah, even if he does not understand the words.

Conclusion

Some people, who cannot read Hebrew at all, have no choice but to pray in the language that they can read and understand. However, anyone who can should accept the challenge of studying the prayers a bit at a time, thereby gradually developing both fluency and comprehension. In the interim, they can read the translation of each paragraph first, and then read the Hebrew, which will help them develop a full understanding of the prayers as Chazal wrote and organized them.

The Bracha on Blossoming Trees

Question #1: How Many?

“May I recite birkas ilanos when I see only one blossoming tree?”

Question #2: What Type?

“Must it be a fruit-bearing tree?”

Question #3: When?

“Must I recite this bracha in the month of Nissan? I live in Australia!”

Foreword:

Since Chodesh Nissan is arriving, we will discuss birkas ilanos, the special bracha that Chazal instituted to be recited when observing trees in bloom. As an introduction, I note the words of the Aruch Hashulchan about this bracha, “The observance of reciting this bracha is weak among the common people. Furthermore, the Bedek Habayis (notes that Rav Yosef Karo, himself, added afterward to his Beis Yosef commentary) writes that the custom is not to recite this bracha. However, all talmidei chachamim and G-d-fearing people are meticulous about observing this bracha.”

Introduction:

The Gemara that provides the source of this bracha is extremely brief and in an unusual location. Whereas other similar brochos recited upon items that one sees are discussed in the last chapter of mesechta Brochos, birkas ilanos is discussed in the sixth chapter of Brochos, which is the source for the brochos recited before eating and drinking. In the midst of a discussion of the brochos on fragrances, the Gemara inserts the following passage:

Rav Yehudah said,  “Someone who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees that are blooming, says  ‘Blessed (is Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe) Who did not leave anything lacking in His universe, and He created good creations and good trees so that mankind can have pleasure from them’” (Brochos 43b).

As we will soon see, although the Gemara mentions only the first word of the bracha, Boruch,it means that we should recite a full bracha. The Gemara then resumes its discussion on fragrances, without any further mention of birkas ilanos.

The wording of the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 226) is remarkably and unusually similar to that of the Gemara. To quote the Shulchan Aruch: “Someone who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees that are blossoming, recites, ‘Blessed is Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who did not leave anything lacking in His universe, and He created good creations and good trees so that mankind can have pleasure from them.’ This bracha is recited only once each year, and if he waited until after the fruits are grown, he should no longer recite it.” (See also Mishnah Berurah 225:12.) The wording of the bracha as quoted in Shulchan Aruch is Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam shelo chisar be’olamo kelum, uvara bo beriyos tovos ve’ilanos tovos leihanos beham benei adam.

It is surprising that there is very little Mishnah Berurah on this halacha, and no Biur Halacha at all, but there is much discussion on this bracha in the writings of other halachic authorities, such as the Kaf Hachayim, who lived shortly after the Mishnah Berurah.

Required?

The wording of the Gemara implies that there is no requirement to look for a blooming tree – if you happen to notice one, you should recite a bracha. This sounds similar to the bracha we recite upon hearing thunder, seeing lightning or a rainbow, or seeing something very unusual. There is no requirement to look for them, but a bracha praising Hashem is recited when you see any of these natural phenomena. This is as opposed to the bracha on kiddush levanah, which is a requirement. Perhaps this explains why the common people were not so concerned about reciting birkas ilanos, as the Aruch Hashulchan reports.

However, notwithstanding this point, the sifrei kabbalah assume that this mitzvah is an obligation, or, at least, a very important bracha to recite. The fact that this bracha assumes a greater role in kabbalistic sources than in halachic sources may explain another phenomenon that I will discuss shortly.

Season or date?

Reading the Gemara carefully, we should ask several questions. For example, the words of the Gemara say that you should recite this bracha “in the days of Nissan.” If this means during the month of Nissan, then the Gemara should say “the month of Nissan,” not the “days of Nissan,” which implies that the season is important. On the other hand, if the season is the most important factor, then the Gemara should have said, “in the spring,” and not mentioned Nissan at all.

This question results in a dispute among halachic authorities. The Birkei Yosef writes that it is preferred to wait until Nissan to recite birkas ilanos. On the other hand, the Mishnah Berurah rules that the Gemara mentions Nissan only because it was written in a place where fruits usually began blossoming then, but that you should recite the bracha whenever you first see trees blossom in your climate and place. Thus, the Mishnah Berurah rules that you should recite it whenever you see the first blossoms, and the Aruch Hashulchan, who also lived in a cold climate, notes that, where he lived, the bracha was usually not recited until Iyar or even Sivan, when it finally became warm enough for fruit trees to blossom. The Kaf Hachayim quotes several sources who contend that this bracha should not be recited before Nissan. Specifically, he quotes authorities who rule that birkas ilanos should not be recited when seeing the blossoming of almonds, which bloom well before Nissan; the same is true of the loquat, called shesek in Modern Hebrew, which also blossoms in the middle of the winter.

The conclusion of most authorities is that it is preferred to wait until Nissan in order to recite the bracha according to all opinions, but not required. Based on the conclusion of these authorities, we can answer one of our opening questions:

“Must I recite this bracha in the month of Nissan? I live in Australia!”

Australia, South Africa and most of South America are located in the southern hemisphere, where the month of Nissan is in the fall and Tishrei occurs in the spring. The answer to the question is that you can recite the bracha of birkas ilanos in whatever season fruits blossom, in your climate. If you live in a place where there are blossoming trees readily available in the month of Nissan, but some trees already blossom earlier, there are authorities who suggest waiting until Nissan to recite the bracha.

One or more?

The Gemara states that birkas ilanos is recited when a person sees “trees.” Does he recite this bracha if he sees only one blossoming tree?

The Birkei Yosef mentions that there must be at least two blossoming trees, and this is quoted subsequently by the Kaf Hachayim. However, I note that the Mishnah Berurah does not quote this halacha, although he had ready access to the Birkei Yosef and quotes him innumerable times in the context of many other laws.

Among those who require that there be at least two trees, the Kaf Hachayim mentions that there is no requirement that there be trees of more than one species.

Two date palms

While researching materials for this article, I found the following curious question, raised by Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, son-in-law of Rav Elyashiv and a well-respected rav in Bnei Brak.

“Do you recite birkas ilanos if you see two date palms?”

What is the question? The Gemara (Pesachim 111a) rules, ha’oveir bein shenei dekalim damo berosho venischayov benafsho,“someone who walks between two palm trees, his blood is on his head and he is obligated for the damage that he will bring upon himself.” Rashi and the Rashbam there explain that the concern is because of ruach ra’ah.

A question regarding birkas ilanos is that since the wording of the bracha states “for mankind to benefit,” perhaps it should not be recited over two palm trees, since this might be harmful for someone who walks between them. The case in question was when there is a path running between the two trees that individuals walk through. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein suggests that, since the halacha is that you may recite this bracha when you see only one tree, and one palm is not dangerous, you may recite it. Then he asks that since the two trees together are dangerous, one of them should be removed, so that they not continue to present a hazard to people walking between them. Since we are not sure which tree will ultimately be removed, perhaps you cannot recite the bracha!

We should note that this question is probably theoretical. Dates do not usually blossom until late in the season, and, since are other fruit trees that blossom much earlier. Someone concerned about reciting the bracha would have recited it already — unless he lives in an area where there are few other species of trees that blossom.

As many as possible?

Some authorities quote that, according to kabbalah, you should try to recite this bracha in a place where there are as many trees as possible. I have been told that even among those who do practice according to the kabbalah, most do not follow this approach. There are also opinions quoted that you should not recite this bracha while in the city, but should go outside the city (Kaf Hachayim quoting Rav Chayim Palagi). I personally do not know of anyone who observes the bracha this way. Again, Mishnah Berurah does not mention this.

Many Sefardim make it a lengthy procedure, including going as a group. They recite several chapters of Tehillim, then an extensive lesheim yichud, some other kabbalistic prayers, and a tefillah that our bracha should be valued as if we had all the deep kabbalistic ideas that are included in this bracha that Chazal implemented. They also recite the versesof Ve’yitein lecha and Vihi noam (recited on Motza’ei Shabbos), before making the birkas ilanos (Kaf Hachayim). After reciting birkas ilanos in a very loud voice, each person sets aside three coins for tzedakah. They then recite several more chapters of Tehillim, a tefillah that is taken from the middle of the musaf shemoneh esrei of Yom Tov, a tefillah that moshiach come, and the part of the Zohar that begins with the words Patach Eliyahu that many Sefardim recite daily before davening mincha. They conclude the procedure with the passage that begins with the words Rabbi Chananya ben Akavyah omer, and then recite a kaddish derabbanan. This is the procedure that I saw followed in the Kaf Hachayim. In the Sefardic siddurim that I examined, I found similar procedures. All of this means that it is a far more elaborate procedure than that followed by Ashkenazim, who simply recite the bracha without any fanfare.

Edible fruits?

There is no mention in the Gemara that the bracha is recited only if the tree bears edible fruit. However, this halacha could perhaps be inferred from the wording of the bracha, since it implies that mankind receives some direct pleasure from this tree, which is the case when people will enjoy eating its fruit. The halachic conclusion of the late authorities is that it should be recited on a tree whose fruit is edible (Be’er Heiteiv, Mishnah Berurah, Kaf Hachayim).

How many species?

Do we recite this bracha for each species that we see blossoming, just as we recite a bracha for each species of new fruit we observe or eat in the course of the year, or is this bracha recited only once each year? The Mordechai, a rishon, implies that this bracha is recited only once each year, and when the Mishnah Berurah discusses this question, he reaches the same conclusion.

Missed first time?

If someone did not recite birkas ilanos the first time he saw a blossoming tree, can he still recite the bracha the next time he sees one? The halachic conclusion of the Mishnah Berurah is that he can still recite the bracha, even if the blossom has already developed into a fruit, as long as the fruit is not fully grown.

Shabbos or Yom Tov

The prevalent custom is not to recite this bracha on Shabbos or Yom Tov, although the Mishnah Berurah makes no mention of such a rule. The Kaf Hachayim does, prohibiting it because of a gezeirah that you might pull off leaves or flowers. He also mentions that there are kabbalistic reasons not to recite this bracha on Shabbos or Yom Tov.

Prohibited fruit

Can you recite this bracha on a tree planted (or transplanted) within the previous three years, whose fruit, when it grows, will be prohibited because of orlah? The Kaf Hachayim rules that you should not. The reason is, presumably, because the wording of the bracha is that these blossoms are for mankind to benefit from, and any benefit from the fruit of this particular tree is prohibited. Nevertheless, I note that the Mishnah Berurah does not mention anything about this ruling.

Grafted trees

Can you recite birkas ilanos on a grafted tree? Several late authorities discuss whether you can recite this bracha for a tree that is grafted from different species, such that it would be forbidden for a Jew to graft these trees. (The fruit of this tree may be eaten, so this is a different question from the previous one, regarding a tree producing orlah fruits.)

There is a dispute among earlier acharonim regarding whether you can recite a shehecheyanu on a fruit from a tree that was grafted. Quoting the Halachos Ketanos (1:60) as his source, the Be’er Heiteiv (Orach Chayim 225:7) rules that you cannot recite shehecheyanu on a fruit from a grafted tree. However, the She’eilas Yaavetz (#63) disagrees and rules that you may. Among later authorities, several discuss how we rule between these authorities. Biur Halacha 225:3 s. v. Peri quotes both opinions, but implies, slightly, that the bracha can be recited. (See also Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 2:58.) Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:25 concludes that it is better to find something else on which to recite the shehecheyanu.

Regarding birkas ilanos, I found one responsum among the late halachic authorities, which concluded that it is preferred not to recite the bracha on a tree grafted in a way that would violate halacha (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 3:25). This case is actually quite common, since most fruit trees today are grafted, and frequently from one species onto another. There is an article on this subject on RabbiKaganoff.com

From a passing vehicle

If you see the blossoming tree while you are in a passing vehicle, can you recite the bracha? Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, whom we quoted above, discusses this question. He compares it to a Biur Halacha (218:1 s. v. Bimkom), which is based on the law regarding the bracha recited upon hearing thunder (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 227:3). The Biur Halacha concludes that you can recite the bracha on a place where a miracle occurred only as long as you see the place. Rav Zilberstein adds that the Shulchan Aruch rules that you can recite the bracha for thunder, as long as it is within the period of time of toch kedei dibbur, enough time either to say shalom alecha rebbe, or shalom alecha rebbe umori (this is a dispute among halachic authorities), which is only a few seconds after you heard the thunder. The same halacha, concludes Rav Zilberstein, should be true regarding someone who sees the blossoming trees while traveling – if it is within a few seconds, he may still recite birkas ilanos, but if more time has elapsed since he saw the blossoms, he may not (Chashukei Chemed, Pesachim 111a).

Ripping up a tree

Rav Zilberstein has another teshuvah about the following question: An ailing father wants desperately to recite birkas ilanos, but cannot physically be taken outdoors to see a tree. Is it permitted to rip up a blossoming tree by its roots and bring it to the ill man, so that he may recite the bracha? Since this question is not about birkas ilanos, but about the issue of bal tashchis (destroying fruit trees), we will not discuss it in this article.

Conclusion

In a monumental essay, Rav Hirsch (Bereishis 8:21) explains that the expression rei’ach nicho’ach that we find in the context of korbanos, usually translated as “a pleasant fragrance,” should more accurately be rendered “an expression of compliance.” He demonstrates that the word nicho’ach means “giving satisfaction” and the concept of “rei’ach” is used, because fragrance implies receiving a very slight impression of something that is distant. Thus, when a korban is offered as a rei’ach nicho’ach, it means that it shows a small expression of our fulfilling Hashem’s will.

Similarly, the concept of birkas ilanos is that we thank Hashem, not only for the essential things in life, but also for the extras – the things that we can live without, but that Hashem gave us as extra pleasures. Fruits are usually not essential for life, but make our sojourn through earth a bit more pleasurable. And for that also, we must be sure to thank Hashem.

Brachos on Good Tidings

After the wondrous splitting of the Yam Suf, Bnei Yisroel recited a brocha of thanks to Hashem.

close up photography of wet leaves
Photo by Sitthan Kutty on Pexels.com

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?

Origin

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.

What brocha?

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.

New house

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.

Grandson?

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.

Correspondent

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.

Twins

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.

New clothes

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.

New socks?

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.

New shul

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.

Conclusion

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.

How Much Must I Bensch?

Question:

I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?

Introduction

Prior to answering our opening question, we need to review many of the basic laws of brachos after eating, and their sources, which will help us understand the topic at hand. Parshas Eikev opens by teaching that when we observe all of Hashem’s mitzvos, we will be rewarded with a beautiful land. Shortly afterwards, the Torah continues: Ki Hashem Elokecha me’viacha el eretz tovah… eretz chitah u’se’orah vegefen u’se’einah verimon eretz zeis shemen u’devash. Eretz asher lo bemiskeinus tochal bah lechem, lo sechsar kol bah.“For Hashem, your G-d, is bringing you to a good land… a land of wheat and barley, grape vines, figs and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey. A land where you will eat bread without poverty; you will be missing nothing” (Devorim 8:7-9).

Bensching in the Torah

The Torah then continues: Ve’achalta ve’savata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha al ha’aretz hatovah asher nosan loch, “And when you eat and are satisfied, you shall bless Hashem, your G-d, for the good land that He gave you.” This wording implies that we are required to bensch min haTorah only when a person has eaten enough to be fully satisfied, and this is the halachic opinion of most, but not all, rishonim. This law has halachic ramifications for someone who is uncertain whether he has a requirement to recite bensching. This uncertainty might be due to the fact that he does not remember if he bensched, or he was delayed and does not know if he has missed the time in which he can still bensch. When his doubt involves a possible Torah requirement, the rule is safeik de’oraysa lechumra, and he should recite bensching. However, if his question is regarding a rabbinic requirement, then the rule is safeik brachos lehakeil, and he does not recite the bracha acharonah. According to most rishonim, someone who ate a full meal and now is uncertain whether he is required to bensch should do so. If he ate less than a full meal, he does not bensch in case of doubt.

The requirement to recite a bracha acharonah after eating a snack is only miderabbanan. Therefore, if someone has a doubt whether he is required to recite this bracha, he does not, because of the rule of safeik brachos lehakeil.

Three aspects

The wording of the posuk that we should bless Hashem al ha’aretz hatovah asher nosan loch, “for the good land that He gave you,” implies that, in addition to thanking Hashem for providing us with sustenance, our bensching must include a reference to Hashem granting us Eretz Yisroel. Furthermore, the Gemara (Brachos 48b) derives that bensching must include reference to Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. These three aspects are represented in the first three brachos that we recite in our bensching. The first bracha is thanks for the fact that Hashem provides us, and the entire world, with food and sustenance. The second bracha praises Him for having given us Eretz Yisroel; and the third bracha is for the special gift of Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. Since, unfortunately, the Beis Hamikdash is now destroyed, the third bracha emphasizes our plea that Hashem have mercy on the land and rebuild it.

The Gemara explains that Moshe established the first bracha of bensching when the man first fell in the desert, Yehoshua established the second bracha of bensching when the Jews entered Eretz Yisroel, and Dovid Hamelech and Shelomoh Hamelech established the third bracha of bensching – Dovid establishing the reference to Yisroel and Yerushalayim, and Shelomoh adding the reference to the Beis Hamikdash (Brachos 48b).

Borei Nefashos

As we are all aware, other than the full bensching, there are two forms of bracha acharonah that we recite after we eat. One is a short bracha that begins with the words borei nefashos, which we recite after eating foods not mentioned in the above pesukim, including, but not exclusively, items upon which we recite the brachos of shehakol and ha’adamah. According to all opinions, this bracha is required only because of a takkanas chachomim, but is not included under the Torah’s mitzvah.

Bracha mei’ein shalosh

The other bracha, colloquially referred to as al hamichyah, is called in halachic sources bracha mei’ein shalosh, literally, a bracha that abbreviates three. This is because this bracha acharonah includes all three of the themes that are included in the posuk, similar to the full bensching. The difference is that in al hamichya, each theme does not have its own separate bracha, whereas in the full bensching that we recite after eating bread, each theme does.

There are three types of bracha mei’ein shalosh. We recite most frequently al hamichyah, the version that is said after eating grain products other than bread. This bracha is derived from the fact that the Torah praises Eretz Yisroel as “a land of wheat and barley.” Although there are also three other grains upon which we recite al hamichyah, namely spelt, rye and oats, these three are considered halachically as sub-categories of wheat and barley.

The second version of bracha mei’ein shalosh, al ha’eitz, is recited after eating olives, dates, grapes, figs, and pomegranates, all of which are also included in these pesukim. The order I chose, which has halachic significance, is not the order of the posuk, but reflects the proximity of each fruit to the word eretz in the posuk.

Although dates are not mentioned explicitly, the honey referred to in the posuk is date honey, not bee honey. (Silan, or date syrup, often used today as a natural, although not dietetic, sweetener, is similar to date honey. Silan is usually produced by cooking dates into syrup, whereas date honey in earlier days was produced simply by crushing dates.)

The third version of the bracha mei’ein shalosh is recited after drinking wine or grape juice, also alluded to in the posuk as the product of grapes. This is the only instance in which we recite bracha mei’ein shalosh after consuming a beverage. It is a reflection of the prominence we give wine, also evidenced by such mitzvos as kiddush and havdalah, and the fact that wine is used for such ceremonies as weddings, sheva brachos, brissin and pidyon haben.

These three versions are not mutually exclusive. Someone who ate grain products and fruit includes both texts in his bracha, as does someone who ate grain products and wine. Someone who ate all three “special” foods recites a bracha that includes all three references.

We should note that, since the Torah mentions all these varieties of food, there are rishonim who contend that the requirement to recite a bracha after consuming them is min haTorah. There are many halachic ramifications that result from this issue; however, that sub-topic requires its own article.

Fourth bracha

Our full bensching also has a fourth bracha, which is usually referred to as Hatov vehameitiv, which was added to the bensching by Chazal after the destruction that took place in Beitar, two generations after the churban (Brachos 48b). We will leave discussing the details of that topic for a different time, but I want to point out that this explains why this theme is not mentioned in the bracha of al hamichyah. When Chazal added this bracha, they added it only to the full bensching and not to the abbreviated version that is al hamichyah.

Harachaman

Common custom is to add a long list of general requests (Avudraham, Seder Birchas Hamazon) followed by a recital of several pesukim, after the fourth bracha of bensching. The origin for this practice is a passage of Gemara (Brachos 46a) that quotes a text that a guest should recite to bless his host. There, the Gemara quotes a basic bracha and then notes that others added to it. Based on this background, the Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 2:7) teaches that a guest can freely add to this blessing, and this has generated various additional texts to this bracha.

In his monumental work, Even Ha’azel, Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer notes that, according to the Rambam, the prayer of the guest for the host is an addendum to the fourth bracha of bensching. It would appear that, in the Rambam’s opinion, a person should not answer “amen” when a guest recites the words leolam al yechasreinu, since he has not yet completed his bracha until he blesses the host. This approach is not accepted, practically. The opinion of other halachic authorities (Avudraham, Seder Birchas Hamazon) as well as prevailing custom is to recite the blessing for the host a bit later in the bensching, after other prayers beginning with word Harachaman have already been expressed.

With time, many other requests were added to the bensching. Some individuals follow the practice of the Gra and recite these prayers only on weekdays, but not on Shabbos and Yom Tov when we generally do not make personal prayer requests, although theaccepted halachic practice is to recite these prayers and blessings on Shabbos, also.

Three brachos or one?

We noted above that the Torah requires the mention of three topics in our bensching, (1) thanks for sustenance, (2) thanks for the Land of Israel, and (3) a prayer for Yerushalayim and the Beis Hamikdash. However, it is disputed whether the Torah requires that each of these three themes have its own bracha, and that bensching min haTorah must contain at least three different brachos, or whether the Torah requirement is fulfilled by reciting one bracha that emphasizes the three different themes, and reciting three different brachos is only a rabbinic requirement.

There are several differences in practical halacha that result from this dispute.  One obvious difference is that, although one is certainly required to recite all the brachos of bensching, according to one approach, this requirement is only miderabbanan,whereas, according to the other approach, reciting three brachos is required min haTorah. We will soon see other halachic differences that result from this dispute.

This question, whether bensching min haTorah must contain at least three different brachos, or whether the Torah requirement is fulfilled by reciting one bracha, is the subject of a dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam. The opinion of Tosafos is stated in his comments germane to the following topic, to which I provide an introduction:

There is a general Talmudic assumption that a worker who is hired for a day is required to work a full day, and that taking time to check his personal email or to make a phone call violates his contractual obligation to his employer. (In today’s world, when it is assumed that a worker may take an occasional coffee break, presumably one may take time off that is assumed to be included in one’s work schedule. However, doing anything else at the time that a person is obligated to work for someone is certainly forbidden.)

In this context, the Gemara (Brachos 16a) quotes the following beraisa:

“Hired workers are required to read the Shema and to pray. When they eat bread, they are not required to recite a bracha before eating, but after eating they are required to recite two brachos. Which two brachos do they recite? The first bracha of bensching is recited in its usual fashion. The second bracha begins the way it usually begins, but includes the third bracha.” In other words, the Gemara assumes that the worker’s responsibility to his employer is more important than his requirement to recite the full bensching!

Tosafos, there, notes: “Although reciting both the second and third bracha is required min haTorah, the Sages have the ability to uproot a Torah requirement for the benefit of these workers, who are occupied with performing the work of their employer.” In order to explain how a worker is permitted to omit a bracha of the bensching, Tosafos utilizes a halachic principle called yeish koach be’yad chachomim la’akor davar min haTorah, that the Sages have the ability to “uproot” a law of the Torah, when deemed necessary. It is clear that Tosafos assumes that the requirement to recite three brachos is min haTorah.

In his monumental anthology, in which he gathers all the earlier halachic opinions, the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 191) indeed quotes Tosafos’ approach, but then disagrees, contending that there is no need to apply the principle of yeish koach be’yad chachomim la’akor davar min haTorah in this case. To quote the Beis Yosef: “It appears to me that there is no need for this answer, since there is no requirement min haTorah to recite several brachos to fulfill the mitzvah of birchas hamazon. This can be demonstrated from the words of the Rambam in his Sefer Hamitzvos, in which he writes: ‘The nineteenth mitzvah is that we are commanded to bless Him after eating.’ The Rambam makes no mention that there is a Torah requirement to recite several brachos. Notwithstanding that the Gemara derives the requirement of three brachos from verses, these derivations are only asmachta (which means that the requirement to do so is only rabbinic).”

In other words, although one is required min haTorah to mention all three themes, there is no Torah requirement that each theme have its own bracha. That requirement is only rabbinic. Since Chazal were the source of the requirement to recite three brachos for bensching, they had the ability to dispense with the requirement to recite all three brachos in the case of the hired worker. Thus, in the Beis Yosef’s opinion, whether three brachos are required min haTorah is a dispute between Tosafos and the Rambam, and the halacha follows the Rambam’s approach,that the requirement to recite three brachos is only miderabbanan. Those who disagree with the Rambam and contend that all three brachos are required min haTorah will be forced to find a way of explaining why the workers are exempt from reciting a full bensching, and will probably have to follow Tosafos’ difficult approach to resolve the conundrum.

It is significant that the Bach, in his commentary on the same chapter of Tur Orach Chayim,agrees that the Rambam rules that the requirement to recite three brachos for bensching is not min haTorah, but contends that his opinion is the minority. The Bach concludes that Tosafos’ approach is the primary one. In other words, both the Beis Yosef and the Bach recognize that there is a dispute among the rishonim whether we are required min haTorah to recite three brachos for bensching; they dispute regarding which of these approaches is considered the normative halacha.

Al hamichyah

Here is another practical difference that results from this dispute: According to the Beis Yosef, someone who recited al hamichyah when he was required to recite the full bensching has fulfilled his requirement min haTorah, although he has not fulfilled his requirement miderabbanan. A ramification of this will be that if he recited al hamichyah and he has a safeik whether he is required to recite the entire bensching, he will neither be required nor permitted to recite the full bensching. Since he has fulfilled his Torah requirement and what remains is an unresolved question regarding a rabbinic requirement, the rule of safeik brachos lehakeil applies.

However, according to the Bach, someone who recited al hamichyah when he was required to recite the full bensching may be missing a Torah requirement to recite three brachos.  This could mean that the rule of safeik de’oraysa lechumra applies, and he is required to repeat the bensching.

Uncertain identity

This analysis may explain exactly such a dispute between the Beis Yosef and the Bach that appears in a different context (Orach Chayim 168). The question concerns a food about which there is an unresolved question whether it is considered regular bread, requiring full bensching, or whether its bracha is mezonos, after which one should recite al hamichyah. The Beis Yosef appears to hold that one may eat the food and recite al hamichyah afterwards, whereas the Bach does not permit this approach, insisting that such a food should be eaten only as part of a regular bread meal in which hamotzi and full bensching were recited for the regular bread. Apparently, the Beis Yosef considers al hamichyah to be a type of bensching, whereas the Bach rejects this approach, which implies that they are consistently following the positions that each advocated in chapter 191.

Before we close, let us return to our opening question, which we can now resolve:

“I mistakenly recited al hamichyah, when I was required to bensch. Am I now required to bensch?”

The answer is that in this instance, one is required to bensch to fulfill the recitation of the three brachos that Chazal instituted. However, if there is a safeik whether there is a requirement to bensch, then, according to the Beis Yosef, since one has already fulfilled his Torah obligation by reciting al hamichyah, there is neither a requirement, nor should one bensch.

Conclusion

According to the Gemara (Bava Kamma 30a), someone who desires to become exemplary in his spiritual behavior should toil in understanding the laws of brachos. 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 Him.

Birkas Kohanim

Question #1: Why is this bracha different?

“Why is the bracha for duchening so different from all the other brochos we recite before we perform mitzvos?”

Question #2: Hoarse kohein

“If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, how does he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Question #3: The chazzan duchening

“If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

Answer:

I have written other articles about the mitzvah of duchening; this article will deal with a few specific issues not mentioned in the other articles.

First of all, I should explain the various names of this beautiful mitzvah. Ashkenazim usually colloquially refer to the mitzvah as duchening. The word “duchen” means a platform, and refers to the raised area in front of the aron kodesh on which the kohanim traditionally stand when they recite these blessings. However, in many shullen today, there is no platform in front of the aron kodesh, and, even when there is, in many shullen there are more kohanim than there is room for them on the duchen. In all these instances, the mitzvah is performed with the kohanim standing on the floor alongside the wall of the shul that has the aron kodesh, facing the people.

There are at least two other ways of referring to this mitzvah. One way of referring to the mitzvah is “Birkas Kohanim,”which is very descriptive of the mitzvah. I will use this term throughout this article, because it avoids confusion.

Nesi’as kapayim

The Mishnah and the Shulchan Aruch call this mitzvah by yet a third term, nesi’as kapayim, which means literally “raising the palms,” a description of the position in which the kohanim hold their hands while reciting these blessings. According to accepted halacha, the kohanim raise their hands to shoulder level, and each kohein holds his hands together. (There are some mekubalim who raise their hands directly overhead while reciting the Birkas Kohanim [Divrei Shalom 128:2]. However, this is a very uncommon practice.) Based on a midrash, the Tur rules that, while he recites the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein should hold his hands in a way that there are five spaces between his fingers. This is done by pressing, on each hand, the index finger to the middle finger and the small finger to the ring finger. This creates two openings — one between the middle finger and the ring finger on each hand. Another two are created between the index finger and thumb on each hand. The fifth opening is between the thumbs. There are various ways for a kohein to position his fingers such that he has a space between his thumbs. I know of several different methods, and I have never found an authoritative source that states that one way is preferable over any other. Most kohanim, myself included, follow the way that they were taught by their father.

An unusual bracha:

Immediately prior to beginning Birkas Kohanimbracha, the kohanim recite a birkas hamitzvah, as we do prior to performing most mitzvos. The text of the bracha is: Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah. “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon, and commanded us to bless His people, Yisroel, with love.”

Two aspects of this bracha are different from the standard structure of brochos that we recite prior to fulfilling mitzvos. The first change is that, instead of the usual text that we say, asher kideshanu bemitzvosav ve’tzivanu, “Who sanctified us with His mitzvos and commanded us,” the kohanim leave out the reference to “His mitzvos” and instead say “Who sanctified us with the sanctity of Aharon.” The second change is that the kohanim not only describe the mitzvah that they are performing — that Hashem “commanded us to bless his people Yisroel” –but they add a qualitative description, “with love.”

The fact that the kohanim make reference to Aharon’s sanctity is, itself, not unusual. It is simply atypical for us to recite or hear this bracha since, unfortunately in our contemporary world, we have no other mitzvos for which we use this text. However, when we are again all tehorim and when we have a Beis Hamikdash, every time a kohein performs a mitzvah that only a kohein can perform, such as eating terumah, korbanos or challah, donning the bigdei kehunah in the Beis Hamikdash (Artzos Hachayim, Eretz Yehudah 18:1, page 81b), or performing the mitzvos of offering korbanos, he recites a bracha that includes this reference. Unfortunately, since we are all tamei and we have no Beis Hamikdash, a kohein cannot perform these mitzvos today, and therefore we do not recite this bracha text at any other time.

“With love”

The other detail in this bracha that is highly unusual is the statement that the mitzvah is performed be’ahavah,“with love.” No other mitzvah includes this detail in its bracha, and, in general, the brochos recited performing mitzvos do not include details about how the mitzvos are performed. For example, the bracha prior to kindling the Shabbos or Chanukah lights says simply lehadlik neir shel Shabbos or lehadlik neir shel Chanukah,and does not add that we do so “with wicks and oil.” Similarly, note that the bracha recited before we pick up and shake the lulav and esrog does not even mention the esrog, aravos and hadasim, and says, simply, al netilas lulav. Again, the bracha for washing our hands is simply al netilas yadayim without mentioning any of the important details of the mitzvah. Yet, the bracha recited prior to Birkas Kohanim includes the word be’ahavah, with love. Why is this so?

Let us examine the original passage of the Gemara (Sotah 39a) that teaches us about the text of this bracha: “The disciples of Rabbi Elazar ben Shamua (who was a kohein) asked him, ‘Because of what practices of yours did you merit longevity?’ He answered them, ‘I never used a shul as a shortcut, I never stepped over the heads of the holy nation (Rashi explains that this means that when people were sitting on the floor in the Beis Hamedrash, as was common in his day, he never walked over them, but either arrived before everyone else did, or else he sat outside) and I never recited the nesi’as kapayim without first reciting a bracha.’”

The Gemara then asks, “What bracha is recited prior to Birkas Kohanim? Answered Rabbi Zeira, quoting Rav Chisda, asher kideshanu bikedushaso shel Aharon, ve’tzivanu levareich es amo Yisroel be’ahavah.

Thus, we see that the text that we recite prior to Birkas Kohanim is exactly the way the Gemara records it, and that the word “be’ahavah” is part of the original text. Why is this required?

The Be’er Sheva, a European gadol of the late 16th-early 17th century, asks this question. To quote him (in his commentary, Sotah 39a): “Where is it mentioned or even hinted in the Torah that the kohein must fulfill this mitzvah ‘with love’? The answer is that when the Torah commanded the kohanim concerning this mitzvah, it says Emor lahem, ‘Recite this blessing to the Jewish people,’ spelling the word emor with a vov, the full spelling of the word, when it is usually spelled without a vov. Both the Midrash Tanchuma and the Midrash Rabbah explain that there is an important reason why this word is spelled ‘full.’ ‘The Holy One, blessed is He, said to the kohanim that they should bless the Jewish people not because they are ordered to do so, and they want to complete the minimum requirement of that “order,” as if it were “forced labor” and therefore they say it swiftly. On the contrary, they should bless the Jews with much focus and the desire that the brochos all be effective – with full love and full heart.’”

We see from this Gemara that this aspect of the mitzvah, that the kohanim bless the people because they want to and not because they are required to, was so important to Chazal that they included an allusion to this in the text of the bracha, something that is never done elsewhere!

Brochos cause longevity

There are several puzzling questions germane to this small passage of Gemara that we quoted above. What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s three practices that he singled them out as being the spiritual causes of his longevity? The commentaries explain that each of these three acts were personal chumros that Rabbi Elazar, himself one of the last talmidim of Rabbi Akiva and a rebbe of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi, practiced (Keren Orah, Meromei Sadeh et al). Since our topic is Birkas Kohanim, we will address only that practice: What was unique about Rabbi Elazar’s practice of reciting a bracha before performing the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim? Didn’t every kohein do the same? And, if so, why did the other kohanim not achieve the longevity that he did?

The Keren Orah commentary notes that the Gemara quotes the amora, Rav Zeira, as the source for the bracha on Birkas Kohanim, implying that the bracha on Birkas Kohanim was not standardized until his time, and he lived well over a hundred years after Rabbi Elazar’s passing. This implies that a bracha on this mitzvah was not necessarily recited during the era of the tanna’im and early amora’im. The Keren Orah suggests the reason for this was because Birkas Kohanim itself is a blessing, and we do not recite a bracha prior to reciting birkas hamazon or birkas haTorah, even though they themselves are mitzvos. Notwithstanding this consideration, Rabbi Elazar was so enthusiastic about blessing the people that he insisted on reciting a bracha before performing Birkas Kohanim. This strong desire to bless people was rewarded by his having many extra years to continue blessing them (Maharal).

Notwithstanding that the mitzvah is such a beautiful one, technically, the kohein is required to recite the Birkas Kohanim only when he is asked to do so, during the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. We will see shortly what this means practically.

Hoarse kohein

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “If a kohein is suffering from laryngitis, how does he fulfill the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim?”

Let us examine this question thoroughly, starting from its sources in the Gemara: “One beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu (‘this is how you should bless’): face to face… therefore the posuk says Emor lahem (say to them), as a person talks to his friend. Another beraisa teaches: Koh sevarchu, in a loud voice. Perhaps it means that the bracha should be said quietly, therefore the posuk says Emor lahem, as a person talks to his friend” (Sotah 38a).

This derives from the words of the posuk Koh sevarchu and Emor lahem two different laws. The first is that the audience receiving the kohanim’s bracha should be facing them during the Birkas Kohanim. (In error, some people turn around while the kohanim recite Birkas Kohanim, in order to make sure that they do not look at the kohanim’s hands. It is correct that they should not look at the hands of the kohanim who are duchening, but they can look down to avoid this problem, and, anyway, most kohanim cover their hands with their talis while duchening.)

The second law derived from these pesukim is that the kohein should recite the Birkas Kohanim loudly enough so that the people can hear him. Although there are kohanim who shout the words of the Birkas Kohanim, the continuation of the Gemara clearly explains that be’kol ram, in a loud voice, means simply loud enough for the people to hear the kohein. However, someone whose voice is so hoarse that people cannot hear him is not permitted to recite Birkas Kohanim and should leave the sanctuary part of the shul before the chazzan recites the word retzei in his repetition of shemoneh esrei (Mishnah Berurah 128:53).

Why retzei?

Why should the kohein leave the shul before retzei?

Some mitzvos aseh, such as donning tefillin daily, making kiddush, or hearing shofar, are inherent requirements. There isn’t any way to avoid being obligated to fulfill these mitzvos. On the other hand, there are mitzvos whose requirement is dependent on circumstances. For example, someone who does not live in a house is not obligated to fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah. Living in a house, which most of us do, creates the obligation to install a mezuzah on its door posts. Someone who lives in a house and fails to place a mezuzah on the required doorposts violates a mitzvas aseh.

Similarly, the mitzvah of Birkas Kohanim is not an inherent requirement for the kohein. However, when someone asks the kohein or implies to him that he should perform the Birkas Kohanim, the kohein is now required to do so, and, should he fail to, he will violate a mitzvas aseh.

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 128:2) rules that a kohein who remains in shul is required to recite Birkas Kohanim if (1) he hears the chazzan say the word kohanim, (2) someone tells him to ascend the duchen or (3) someone tells him to wash his hands (in preparation for the Birkas Kohanim). Any of these three actions summon the kohanim to perform the mitzvah, and that is why they create a requirement on the kohein. A kohein for whom it is difficult to raise his arms to recite the Birkas Kohanim should exit the shul before the chazzan says the word kohanim (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 128:4 and Mishnah Berurah). The Magen Avraham and the Elyah Rabbah conclude that it is preferred if he exits before the chazzan begins the word retzei. The Shulchan Aruch mentions that the custom is for any kohein who is not reciting Birkas Kohanim to remain outside until the Birkas Kohanim is completed.

Washing hands

The Shulchan Aruch we just quoted rules that telling a kohein to wash his hands creates the same obligation to recite Birkas Kohanim as directly summoning him to recite the Birkas Kohanim. Why is that so?

This is because the Gemara rules that “any kohein who did not wash his hands should not perform nesi’as kapayim.” The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah Uvirkas Kohanim 15:5) rules that the washing before Birkas Kohanim is similar to what the kohanim do prior to performing the service in the Beis Hamikdash. For this reason, he rules that their hands should be washed until their wrists. We rule that this is done even on Yom Kippur, notwithstanding that, otherwise, we are not permitted to wash the entire hand on Yom Kippur (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 128:6). Several acharonim rule that, since Birkas Kohanim is a form of avodah, washing before performing this mitzvah includes other requirements, such as washing with a cup, with clear water, and with at least a revi’is (about three ounces) of water (see Magen Avraham, Yeshuos Yaakov, Shulchan Shelomoh and Mishnah Berurah).

In many shullen, a sink is installed near the duchen, so that the kohanim can wash immediately before Birkas Kohanim. Others have a practice that water and a basin are brought to the front of the shul for this purpose. These customs have a source in rishonim and poskim and should definitely be encouraged. Tosafos (Sotah 39a s.v. Kol) concludes that the kohein should wash his hands immediately before ascending the duchen. He rules that the kohein should wash his hands within twenty-two amos, a distance of less than forty feet, of the duchen. The Magen Avrohom (128:9) rules according to this Tosafos, and adds that, according to Tosafos, since the kohanim wash their hands before retzei, the chazzan should recite the bracha of retzei rapidly. In his opinion, the time that transpires after the kohein washes his hands should be less time than it takes to walk twenty-two amos, and, therefore, retzei should be recited as quickly as possible. The Biur Halacha (128:6 s.v. Chozrim) adds that the kohanim should not converse between washing their hands and reciting Birkas Kohanim, because this also constitutes a hefsek.

The chazzan duchening

At this point, let us examine the third of our opening questions: “If the chazzan is a kohein, may he duchen?”

This question is the subject of a dispute between the Shulchan Aruch and the Pri Chodosh. According to the Shulchan Aruch, if the chazzan is a kohein, he should not recite Birkas Kohanim, unless he is the only kohein. The reason he should not recite Birkas Kohanim is out of concern that he might get confused and not remember the continuation of the davening. The Pri Chodosh disagrees, concluding that this was a concern only when the chazzan led the services from memory, which, although very common in earlier era, is today quite uncommon. If the koheinchazzan is using a siddur, such that Birkas Kohanim will not confuse him from continuing the davening correctly, he can recite Birkas Kohanim

In chutz la’aretz, the accepted practice in this halacha follows the Shulchan Aruch, whereas in Eretz Yisroel, customs vary in different locales. In Yerushalayim and most other places, the accepted practice follows the Pri Chodosh, and the chazzan performs Birkas Kohanim.

When the chazzan does recite Birkas Kohanim, he turns around to face the people, recites Birkas Kohanim, and then turns back to complete the repetition of the shemoneh esrei. He is even permitted to walk to the front of the shul from his place in order to recite Birkas Kohanim should he be leading the services from the middle of the shul rather than the front.

Conclusion

As a kohein myself, I find duchening to be one of the most beautiful mitzvos. We are indeed so fortunate to have a commandment to bless our fellow Jews, the children of Our Creator. All the more so, the nusach of the bracha is to bless His nation Israel with love. The blessings of a kohein must flow from a heart full of love for the Jews that he is privileged to bless.

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