We will shortly see a midrash that describes the childhood of Yaakov and Eisav, and how they went their separate ways after they turned bar mitzvah. Certainly, the most appropriate week to discuss:
Question #1: When?
When does a father recite the brocha “she’petorani”?
Question #2: What?
What does this brocha mean?
Question #3: Why?
Why do we not recite this brocha at a bas mitzvah?
Question #4: Whether?
Does an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?
After a bochur habar mitzvah receives his aliyah to the Torah, his father recites the following passage: Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh. We will be discussing many questions about this passage, including:
What does it mean?
Is it a brocha or a prayer?
Why does it have such an impersonal text? The brocha does not even say that the bar mitzvah is his child!
Background: With Sheim and Malchus
In the Sefer Maharil, an early and highly respected source for accepted Ashkenazi halachic practice, we find the following:
“When the Maharil’s son turned bar mitzvah and read from the Torah, the Maharil recited a brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh. Furthermore, we find this brocha in the works of the Mordechai with Sheim and malchus” (Sefer Maharil, Hilchos Kerias HaTorah). Thus, the Maharil rules that there is a regular brocha, including the words Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam (which is referred to as sheim umalchus), that is recited by a father when his son reaches the age of bar mitzvah and demonstrates this by reading from the Torah. It should be noted that although the Maharil attributes this ruling to an early rishon, the Mordechai, this ruling is not found in any extant editions of the Mordechai, although, as we will soon see, we do find it quoted in other authorities of the same era and school.
Some mention a custom that the father should place his hand on his son’s head when he recites the brocha, although I have never seen this in practice (mentioned in the Meshivas Nefesh [Vayikra 9] of R. Yochanan Luria, a prominent posek in fifteenth-century western Germany).
The ruling of the Maharil to recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus is quoted by the Rema in his Darchei Moshe commentary on the Tur (Orach Chayim 225:1), where he adds the following, “However, I did not find this brocha in the Gemara, and I find it difficult to recite a brocha that is not mentioned in the Gemara and in the halachic authorities, although Bereishis Rabbah mentions it at the beginning of parshas Tolados.
Presumably, what bothered the Rema is the following statement of the Rosh (Kiddushin 1:41), “We do not find that we recite any brocha that is not mentioned in the Mishnah, Tosefta, or Gemara.” Thus, the Rema was concerned that the brocha of Boruch she’petorani was never established by Chazal, and reciting it with sheim umalchus constitutes a brocha levatalah, a brocha recited in vain.
The Bereishis Rabbah that the Rema quotes says as follows: “‘And the lads [Yaakov and Eisav] grew up (Bereishis 25:27).’ Rabbi Levi explained, ‘this can be compared to a hadas and a thorn bush that grew next to one another. Once they grew and blossomed, the hadas provided its beautiful fragrance and the thorn bush produced its thorns. Similarly, for thirteen years, both lads went to yeshivah and came home from yeshivah. After they turned thirteen, one went to batei midrash and the other went to houses of idolatry.’ Rabbi Elazar explained, ‘A person is obligated to work with his son until he turns thirteen years old. After that time, he should declare, “Boruch she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh”’” (Bereishis Rabbah ad loc.).
Commentaries on Shulchan Aruch
In his glosses to the Shulchan Aruch, the Rema alludes to what he wrote in his Darkei Moshe commentary on the Tur and reaches the same conclusion: “Some say that when one’s son turns bar mitzvah, he should recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh, but it is better to recite it without sheim umalchus” (Orach Chayim 225:2). We should note that I found no reference to this brocha in any Sefardic authorities, until the very late poskim. All the discussion about reciting it, and whether it should be a full brocha with sheim umalchus, I found only among the Ashkenazic authorities.
The Rema’s conclusion that Boruch she’petorani should be recited without sheim umalchus is followed by most, but not all, subsequent halachic authorities, including the Derisha, Levush, Tosafos Yom Tov (in his Divrei Chamudos commentary on the Rosh, Brochos 9:30), Shelah, Magen Avraham, Mishnah Berurah, and the Kaf Hachayim. The Kaf Hachayim, a very late authority who quotes many Ashkenazic sources, is the first Sefardic authority that I saw who makes any reference at all to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.
(In the standard, older editions of the Derisha, his comments on this topic were omitted by the publisher, since the Derisha there merely quoted the comments of the Darchei Moshe written by his rebbe, the Rema. However, the Shelah had this quotation in his edition of the Derisha, and it is published in the newer editions of the Tur.)
With sheim umalchus
Thus far, I have quoted predominantly the majority who rule that Boruch she’petorani should be recited without sheim umalchus – in other words, not as a real brocha. However, there are several major authorities who rule that one must recite this brocha with sheim umalchus. In their opinion, since a brocha must include sheim umalchus, reciting this brocha without sheim umalchus does not fulfill the requirement. The Gra, in his comments to the Rema on Shulchan Aruch, simply states that the decision of the Maharil to recite the brocha with sheim umalchus is correct. This approach is subsequently quoted as the primary opinion by both the Chayei Odom (Klal 65:3) and the Aruch Hashulchan. The Chayei Odom rules very directly, “One whose son turns bar mitzvah, when he reads the Torah for the first time, he [the father] should recite the following brocha, Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam asher petorani mei’onsho shel zeh.” He then reviews the discussion of the Rema, adding the following points:
Although the Bereishis Rabbah does not state explicitly that one should recite the brocha with sheim umalchus, the Gemara uses the same abbreviated wording when it means that one should recite a regular brocha with sheim umalchus.
The Chayei Odom then refers to a discussion in which the Maharshal ruled that we are not to introduce brochos that are not mentioned in the Gemara, and notes that this includes only brochos that are not mentioned in midrashim, either. However, a brocha that is mentioned in a midrash is halachically valid. The Chayei Odom completes his discussion by noting that his own halachic conclusion (in Klal 8:1) was that reciting a brocha in vain is only a rabbinic prohibition. Therefore, he concludes that once the Maharil and the Gra both rule that Boruch she’petorani should be considered a regular brocha, and we have a source for it in a midrash, then hamevoreich lo hifsid – one who recites it as a regular brocha does not lose. He notes that this is despite the fact that the prevalent custom follows the Rema. Even if Chazal never introduced such a brocha, reciting it would constitute only a rabbinic violation, and one may rely on the many opinions who rule that this brocha does exist (safek derabbanan lehakeil).
It is interesting to note that the Aruch Hashulchan, who usually follows accepted custom even when it appears to run against halachic literature, also rules to recite Boruch she’petorani with sheim umalchus. In other words, he agrees with the position of the Maharil, Gra and Chayei Odom, even though the general custom is not to follow that approach.
As mentioned above, the Maharil notes that he found this practice recorded in the Mordechai. We do not have this in our editions of the Mordechai, but obviously it was in the Maharil’s edition. Furthermore, we do have this practice mentioned in other sources from the same era and area. For example, the Tashbeitz Koton, who lived in the same place and time as the Mordechai (13th century Germany), writes the following: “In Bereishis Rabbah it says that a person should work with his son until he turns thirteen. Afterward, he is required to recite Boruch Atah Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh (Tashbeitz Koton #390).”
On the other hand, there are other rishonim who believe that Boruch she’petorani should not be treated as a regular brocha. For example, Rabbeinu Yehonoson, a talmid of the Raavad, cites the text of the brocha as Boruch Hamakom she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh, which, clearly, avoids reciting Hashem’s Name as one does in a brocha (notes to Rif, Shabbos 55b). We should note that this is not from an Ashkenazic source, but from Provence. Although today Provence is often referred to as an area that followed Sefardic custom, that is not truly accurate. Provence, the area of southern France that borders on the Mediterranean Sea, was at the time of the rishonim an area that had its own minhagim, neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic. It had absorbed from the traditions and authorities of both areas, yet had developed independently. For example, they began recital of ve’sein tal umatar on the 7th of Marcheshvan, which follows neither Sefardic nor Ashkenazic practice in chutz la’aretz.
What does the brocha mean?
Until this point, I have carefully avoided translating and explaining the words of Boruch she’petorani. An early posek, the Levush, upon recording the halachic discussion germane to the brocha of Boruch she’petorani, states the following: “The text of this brocha is not clear, since one who continues in the evil ways of his ancestors can be punished for their misdeeds for several generations, as the Torah states, pokeid avon avos al banim al shileishim ve’al ribei’im – that Hashem will remember the sins of someone who performed evil to four generations, if the descendants continue the nefarious practices of their antecedents.”
Apparently, the Levush understood the brocha to mean that the son is now exempt from the sins of his father. This means that until bar mitzvah, what happens to the son is because of the father’s misdeeds, and that, therefore, the father will be punished for harm that he caused to the son. This is based on the Gemara (Shabbos 149b) that a person is responsible for punishment that he caused to someone else. It is also borne out by a statement in a midrash, concerning the deaths of Machlon and Kilyon, Naomi’s sons, “Rav Chiya bar Abba said: ‘Until a child turns thirteen, the son is punished for the sins of his father; afterward, he is punished for his own sins.’”
Challenges to the Levush
The Tosafos Yom Tov, in his commentary to the Rosh (Divrei Chamudos 9:30), reviews much of the above material and then challenges the Levush’s approach to explaining the brocha. He writes, “This approach [of the Levush] is forced and difficult to reconcile with the words of the brocha. The intention of the brocha is that, until now, the father was responsible to educate his child in mitzvos and to have him grow in Torah. If the father did not fulfill his responsibility, he will be punished for this. Now that the son has become bar mitzvah, the responsibilities fall on the son himself, and the father will no longer be punished.” This approach is also recorded by the Magen Avraham.
When should the brocha be recited?
The Maharil mentions reciting the brocha when the son receives his first aliyah. The authorities explain this to mean that he performs a mitzvah activity that a child cannot perform (Divrei Chamudos; Magen Avraham). Thus, they rule that if the son led the services (davened in front of the amud), the father should already recite the brocha at that time, since a child cannot fulfill this mitzvah. One may also argue that a father should not recite it when his son has been called up to maftir and read only the maftir and the haftarah, since these activities can be performed by a minor – a topic that we will need to address a different time. However, if the son read a different part of the parsha, and certainly, if he read the entire parsha, the father can recite Boruch she’petorani then.
Under which category of brochos does this fit?
We know that we have birchos hanehenin – brochos of benefit, including the brochos we recite before and after eating and the brochos before we smell certain fragrances. We also have brochos of praise, which include brochos upon seeing or otherwise experiencing wondrous creations of Hashem, such as the brochos recited when one sees the sea, sees something unusual, hears thunder, or witnesses lightning. And we have brochos of prayer, such as davening, tefilas haderech, and some of the brochos of sheva brochos. Under which heading does the brocha of Boruch she’petorani fit?
From the way the halachic authorities discuss it, it appears that it should be categorized under the heading of brochos of praise.
Why no malchus?
When the Rema ruled that one should not recite the name of Hashem when reciting Boruch she’petorani because he was concerned that it might be a brocha levatalah, why didn’t he suggest the following text: Boruch Atah Melech Ha’olam she’petorani mei’onsho shel zeh? Since one is not reciting the words Hashem and Elokeinu, there is no question about reciting a brocha levatalah, yet one is reciting a text closer to the brocha advocated by the Maharil,and this text includes the concept of malchus.
Indeed, this question can be asked on the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 218:9, in a different context. There, the Shulchan Aruch discusses someone reciting a brocha on a personal miracle that he has experienced, and it states as follows: “Some say that one should not recite this brocha unless it was a miracle that was beyond what usually happens in the world; but on a miracle that is within natural experience, such as, he was endangered by thieves at night and saved, or something similar, he is not required to recite a brocha. There are other authorities – who disagree with this [and require a brocha in this instance also]. Therefore, it is proper to recite this brocha without sheim umalchus.” The question to be asked on this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is that there would be no question of brocha levatalah should one recite the brocha with the words Melech Ha’olam, so why does he omit them?
Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld answers that one does not recite Melech Ha’olam in these situations so that people will not think that someone fulfills a brocha by reciting Melech Ha’olam without reciting Hashem’s Name and Elokeinu (Shu”t Salmas Chayim, Orach Chayim #197).
Why an impersonal brocha?
Why did Chazal institute such an impersonal wording for this brocha, which makes no reference to the fact that the child is his son? I found this question in the sefer Alei Tamar, authored by Rav Yissochor Tamar, an eastern European rav who moved to Eretz Yisroel in 1933, where he became a rav in Tel Aviv. He suggests the following: The father is reciting a brocha that he is thankful that he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins (if we explain the brocha according to the Tosafos Yom Tov and the Magen Avraham). This implies that he thinks that his son will sin, certainly not something he wants to advertise in his role as father.
Why don’t we recite Boruch she’petorani when a daughter turns bas mitzvah? This question is raised by some of the later poskim, and I found two quite variant answers. The Pri Megodim explains that since min haTorah a father has the ability to marry off his daughter, in which case he would no longer be responsible for her education and not be punished for her aveiros, Chazal did not institute a brocha (Eishel Avraham 225:5). Explained in other terms, a father recites this brocha when he is no longer responsible for his son’s sins, because he has no other way of avoiding this responsibility, whereas he has a technical way to avoid responsibility for his daughter’s sins.
The Kaf Hachayim (225:15) provides a different answer to this question, which looks at the topic from almost the opposite angle. Since a daughter usually remains living in the home of her birth family until she marries, a father remains responsible for her, even after she becomes an adult. Therefore, reciting this brocha at her bas mitzvah would be premature.
One could perhaps suggest a third answer: Although a son who reads the Torah, receives an aliyah to the Torah, or leads the services has publicly demonstrated that he is now an adult, what equivalent action does a daughter perform at which we would expect her father to recite Boruch she’petorani?
And now, for our last question: Does an adoptive father recite this brocha at his son’s bar mitzvah?
Rav Yitzchok Silberstein, in his sefer Chashukei Chemed,rules that an adoptive father is not responsible for his son’s aveiros, and, therefore, does not recite the brocha of Boruch she’petorani.
The father gets up to announce that he realizes the scope of his responsibility. Delving into the details of this brocha make us realize that raising a child to be G-d fearing is a serious task, incumbent on all those who are blessed with children. There are many factors that interplay in the raising of a child, especially in our age, but this brocha reminds us of our responsibility to do our best to imbue our children with a knowledge and love of Hashem and His Torah and mitzvos.