Taken from Shiurim by Rabbi Michael Rosensweig.


We are all familiar with the blessing of Shehecheyanu both from various occasions in the calendar year as well as events in the Jewish life cycle. Our goal over the next two weeks will be to investigate the true nature of this blessing. Is it possible to construct a rigid definition as to what type of blessing it is and, by extension, a mechanism that will dictate when it should be said? Do we say it only on the occasions dictated to us by the Sages?

Our focus this week will be to provide an overview of the sources in the gemara as well as in the Yad Chazakah of Rambam (and several immediate commentaries) that deal with Shehecheyanu. Through this, we will attempt to provide a basic model that will carry us through a more intensive look at the views of the Rishonim and Poskim next week.


The ninth chapter of Berachot deals with various blessings that do not fit neatly into the categories of prayer or blessings made on food (as discussed in the earlier chapters). The mishna on 54a states that one who buys a new house or purchases new clothes should say Shehecheyanu. The gemara on this mishna (58b) extends the usage of this blessing, citing Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi, who rules that one who sees a friend for the first time in thirty days should say Shehecheyanu, while one who see a friend for the first time in twelve months says the blessing of "mechayeh meitim" ("who brings the dead back to life"). Tosafot and Rosh both note that this law only applies if the friend in question is one that the individual particularly likes and thus derives joy from the meeting.

The gemara on 59b provides a few qualifications for the law already stated. First it claims that if a person buys a house or clothing in partnership with another individual he would say "ha-tov v'ha-meitiv" instead of Shehecheyanu. The gemara then formulates this idea as a rule, that a person recites Shehecheyanu on something that applies to him alone, while he recites ha-tov v'ha-meitiv on something that applies to him as well as to others. The gemara then goes on to note a debate regarding saying Shehecheyanu on a new house or clothing. According to Rav Huna, it is said only if the individual does not already possess such an object, but if the new purchase is merely another addition to his stockpile, there is no blessing made. By contrast, Rav Yochanan reasons that the purchase itself is the key (as Rashi explains), and thus one would always say a Shehecheyanu, even if they were buying their fiftieth suit. Tosafot further limit this law. The first note that Shehecheyanu is said only on "important" articles of clothing (thus justifying their juxtaposition to a new house in the mishna), but shoes and other accessories do not mandate such a blessing. Going a step further, they bring down a Yerushalmi in the name of Rav Yaakov that rules that one says Shehecheyanu only upon buying a new objects, but if one receives the same they would say ha-tov v'ha-meitiv.

The next main category of situations in which Shehecheyanu is said is the performance of mitzvot. Several sources present themselves in this context. The very end of Pesachim (121b) , speaking about the mitzva of pidyon ha-ben (the redeeming of first-born sons on the thirtieth day after their birth; see Shemot 13) , states the father of the child makes two blessings - one on the performance of the commandment itself, and Shehecheyanu. The gemara in Succah 46a provides us with two other occasions when Shehecheyanu is said. If one assembles either a lulav or a succah for himself, he must say Shehecheyanu during the assembly, and says the blessing on the mitzva itself only when the time comes to actually fulfill the commandment (i.e. on the holiday itself). Tosafot here stress the fact that one only says Shehecheyanu when they are making a lulav or succah for themselves, but if they are doing it for someone else, they would not say Shehecheyanu (or any other blessing). Menachot 85b and Berachot 37b give us our final instance of Shehecheyanu being said on a mitzva: if one is offering menachot (meal-offerings) he must say Shehecheyanu. There is a debate between Rashi and Tosafot whether thus refers to a kohein who has yet to do such an offering in the Temple or if it refers to an experienced kohein who has not made such an offering for a substantial period of time (Rambam offers a third view, as we will see).

The third category of times for which Shehecheyanu is said is calendar-based events. Eruvin 40b asks if we say Shehecheyanu on Rosh HaShana or Yom HaKippurim. The real question here is whether this blessing is said on only the three main festivals (Pesach, Shavuot, Succot), or if it is said on any occasion that occurs periodically. In answer to this question, Rabi Yehuda states that he would say Shehecheyanu even when eating a new gourd, seemingly implying a rather broad application of the scope of Shehecheyanu, an application that in this context would appear to include Rosh HaShana and Yom HaKippurim as well. Nevertheless, both Rav and Shmuel claim that it is said only on the three main festivals.

Tosafot in Succah 46b provide us with a mini-overview that is extremely crucial to our analysis. They state that there are some mitzvot for which the recitation of Shehecheyanu was mandated, while there are others for which it was not. They list lulav, succah, pidyon ha-ben, and reading the Megilla on Purim as occasions when it would be recited, and the making of tzitzit or tefillin, brit mila, and the recitation of Hallel as times when it would not be said (it should be notes that Tosafot in Menachot 42b cite Tosefta Berachot 6:10 which claims that Shehecheyanu is said when one makes tzitzit). Thus, they conclude that any mitzva that has "simcha" (literally, happiness) connected to it engenders the saying of Shehecheyanu. So what about the gemara in Berachot that lists non-mitzva related cases when a Shehecheyanu is said? Tosafot deal with this question by citing a fantastical view of Rav Sherira Gaon, who completely discounts this mishna and gemara, proving from Eruvin 40b that Shehecheyanu is said only on things that occur from time to time. Tosafot conclude by noting that pidyon ha-ben is difficult for them to fit into their system.

Let us briefly summarize what we have seen thus far. There are three possible motivations to say Shehecheyanu. Either one makes a significant purchase, one performs a mitzva that brings him joy (what type of joy will be discussed as we proceed), or one celebrates a holiday that has not been celebrated in a year. Are all of these categories connected? How tight of a definition can we give to Shehecheyanu? Might it have to be characterized in a very loose sense so as to allow for all of these situations? This question will evolve further as we develop some of the particular details of each of these cases.


The second part of this preliminary analysis will focus on Rambam's codification of the various cases discussed. From a basic methodological standpoint, focusing on Rambam is instructive in at least two ways. First, since his work is a code, which laws he chooses to codify and which he does not is revealing as to his view about each individual case. Second, as Rambam was very meticulous in his categorization, where he chooses to place a particular law will also contribute to the greater picture of his approach to a given law.

The first slew of cases of Shehecheyanu comes in Hilchot Berachot (chapter 10). There, Rambam introduces the chapter as being one about "other blessings" that were instituted as praise and thanksgiving to Hashem. Under that heading, he lists the cases of buying a new house, buying new clothes (whether or not he already has), seeing a friend after thirty days, seeing the first blossomings of a fruit tree in a given season, a landowner whose field has just received ample rainfall, and a person who stands to be the lone inheritor of a recently deceased parent. The Kesef Mishne notes that in these cases, the Shehecheyanu functions as a "tefilla," a prayer, and not as a blessing said upon receiving benefit (such as the blessings said before eating). We will expand on that idea more next week.

Regarding our aforementioned category of saying Shehecheyanu on mitzvot, Rambam differs from the gemara in at least one case. In Hilchot Mila 3:3 he rules that the father of a baby boy who is being circumcised says Shehecheyanu, counter to the overview given by Tosafot. Again, we will hold off on the analysis given to this ruling until next week. Citing further cases not explicitly mentioned by Tosafot, in Hilchot Shofar 3:10 he rules that Shehecheyanu is said before blowing Shofar, in Hilchot Megilla 3:1 he states that it is said when reading the megilla at night but not during the day, and in Hilchot Chanukah 3:4 he says that Shehecheyanu is said when lighting candles on the first night, but not after that. Reverting back to cases that we have already seen, he also mandates the recitation of Shehecheyanu for pidyon ha-ben (Hilchot Bikkurim 11:5) and for bringing a meal-offering from the new grain (Hilchot Temidim U'Mussafim 7:18; against the view of both Rashi and Tosafot).


Finally, in Hilchot Shabbat 29:22-23, Rambam lays down his general principle regarding saying Shehecheyanu for holidays. He states that it is said by all festivals and Yom HaKippurim. The only exceptions is the seventh day of Pesach, which is merely an extension of the first day, and thus does not require a new Shehecheyanu.


Go to Part II

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