"She-assa Nissim La-avoteinu"
Special Holiday Shiur
Yeshivat Har Etzion
She-assa Nissim La-avoteinu
by Rav Yair Kahn
I. One Who Sees Chanuka Candles
The gemara in Shabbat (23a) establishes that when lighting the Chanuka candles, one is required to recite two berakhot: "le-hadlik ner shel Chanuka" and "she-assa nissim la-avoteinu." However, if one merely sees candles which are lit, he is only obligated to recite one berakha - "she-assa nissim."
There is a debate among the commentaries regarding the exact circumstances under which one who sees Chanuka lights should recite "she-assa nissim." After all, it seems clear that if he has already recited the berakha during his own lighting, it would be unnecessary to repeat the berakha.
Rashi explains that the berakha is only recited by one who has not yet lit his own candles. The impression created by this position is that one should recite the berakha "she- assa nissim" upon seeing lit candles, even though he intends to eventually light himself (also see Rashi Sukka 46a and Or Zarua 325).
The Rashba argues, maintaining that one recites the berakha upon seeing lit candles only if he does not intend to light candles himself. However, if he does plan on eventually lighting, then he should not recite the berakha until his personal lighting.
The Ritva quotes two additional options. The first opinion is startling insofar as it requires that the berakha be recited when one sees lit candles, and later repeated when one lights his own. The second opinion claims that the individual has the option of reciting the berakha either upon seeing the candles, or later when he lights. In order to appreciate the rationale of this argument, let us first analyze the nature of the berakha "she-assa nissim la- avoteinu." [Regarding the pesak, see OC 676:3, Mishna Berura 6.]
II. The Berakha "She-assa Nissim La-avoteinu"
The fact that we recite "she-assa nissim" when seeing the Chanuka candles and not only when lighting would seem to indicate that the berakha is not necessarily related to the act of the mitzva per se. In other words, we can seemingly conclude that we are not dealing with a birkat ha-mitzva. Rather, "she-assa nissim" appears to be a birkat ha-shevach - a berakha of praise. We are required to praise Hashem for the miracles which our fathers experienced. The object which generates this obligation, in our case, is the Chanuka candle, which commemorates the miracle. Therefore, the berakha is recited when we encounter the Chanuka candles, either while lighting or upon seeing them.
This understanding is consistent with the opinion that when lighting the berakha of "she-assa nissim" is recited following the act of the mitzva. However, both the Ritva and the Meiri cite opinions which require that "she-assa nissim" be recited before the lighting ("oveir la-asiyatan"). [See OC 676:2, Mishna Berura 4.] Apparently, these opinions view "she-assa nissim" as a birkat ha-mitzva, which therefore must be recited before the act of the mitzva. If, "she-assa nissim" were to be considered a birkat ha-shevach, it would constitute an illegitimate break (hefsek) between the birkat ha-mitzva (le-hadlik) and the mitzva of lighting.
To resolve the problem, we may suggest that "she-assa nissim" has a dual nature. When recited upon seeing the candles, it functions only as a birkat ha-shevach. However, when recited within the context of the act of the mitzva of lighting, it functions as a birkat mitzva as well, and must therefore be recited "oveir la-asiyatan" - before the performance of the mitzva.
An alternate approach is to maintain that "she-assa nissim" is indeed a birkat ha-mitzva, however, the mitzva at hand is not the lighting as such, but rather the mitzva of publicizing the miracle (pirsumei nissa), which is accomplished through the lighting. Even one who does not actually light, but sees the Chanuka candles, participates in the mitzva of pirsumei nissa.
At this juncture, we can return to the controversy regarding the berakha upon seeing the candles. If we categorize "she-assa nissim" as a birkat ha-shevach, which is generated by an encounter with the Chanuka candles, then there is no clear preference in lighting as opposed to viewing. Rashi's opinion that one can recite the blessing even before he has lit his own candles can therefore be understood. Likewise, we can thus explain the position quoted by the Ritva, that one has the option to recite the berakha immediately upon seeing the candles or to wait for the actual lighting. The second opinion quoted by the Ritva which maintains that one should recite the berakha immediately upon seeing the candles, and then repeat the berakha when lighting, apparently understood that "she-assa nissim" has a dual nature. In other words, it is both a birkat ha-mitzva as well as a birkat ha-shevach. Therefore, when one recites the berakha upon seeing the candles, he has only fulfilled the component of shevach. Consequently, when he lights his own candles, he repeats the berakha in order to fulfill the additional aspect of birkat ha-mitzva.
The Rashba, as cited above, argued that if one plans to light personally, one should not recite the berakha upon seeing the candles at all. We can explain this position in one of two ways. The Rashba may agree that the berakha is a birkat ha-shevach. However, it may be preferable, if possible, to recite this shevach in the primary way which was legislated by the Rabbis, i.e., within the context of lighting. Alternately, the Rashba may perceive "she-assa nissim" as a birkat ha-mitzva of pirsumei nissa. Although, through seeing the candles one may have some limited fulfillment of this mitzva, nevertheless, since the mitzva of pirsumei nissa actually obligates one to light one's own candles, it would thereby be preferable to recite this berakha within the context of one's own lighting.
III. Where there are no Chanuka candles to be seen
A person traveling on Chanuka may find himself in a situation where there are no Chanuka candles to be seen. In a case where the individual has fulfilled the mitzva of lighting (for instance his wife lit for him at home), what should he do regarding the berakha of "she-assa nissim?"
The Rashba maintains that there is no necessity to recite "she-assa nissim," since he already fulfilled his requirement. Apparently, the Rashba views "she-assa nissim" as a birkat ha- mitzva on the mitzva of pirsumei nissa. Since he already fulfilled the mitzva (through the lighting that was done for him), there is no added significance in subsequently seeing lit candles. Therefore, there is no reason to recite the berakha. If, on the other hand, "she-assa nissim" is to be viewed as a birkat ha-shevach, then one should be obligated to personally praise Hashem, even after he fulfilled the obligation of lighting.
There are those who argue that one should recite the berakha upon seeing lit candles, even if he already fulfilled his lighting requirement by proxy. However, in our case, where there are no candles to be seen, he may be exempt from the berakha of "she-assa nissim" due to the extenuating circumstances (there are no Chanuka candles to be found).
Nevertheless, some (see Riaz) actually rule that although he has already fulfilled his obligation of lighting, he is nonetheless obligated to light his own candles, thereby artificially creating Chanuka candles which he can then view. According to this opinion, which maintains that one must light candles for the sole purpose of seeing them, it is reasonable that he would not be obligated to recite the berakha "le- hadlik." After all, he already fulfilled his obligation to light the candles. Rather, he should light the candles without a berakha, and then upon seeing these candles recite "she-assa nissim." However, from the Mordechai (267) it would appear that he is required to recite "le-hadlik" as we. A quick look at a Ramban in Pesachim may help clarify this somewhat puzzling opinion.
There is a discussion at the beginning of Pesachim (7b) regarding the exact wording of birkot ha-mitzva. According to the Ramban, the gemara concludes that on mitzvot which can be fulfilled via a shaliach (agent), the term "al" should be used. Therefore, the berakha to be recited before the mitzva of circumcision is "al ha-mila," since the father can fulfill his obligation through the mohel. For mitzvot which must be fulfilled personally, such as tefillin, the prefix "le" ("le- haniach tefillin") is used. The Ramban therefore questions the use of the prefix "le" regarding the berakha of Chanuka candles. After all, one can fulfill the mitzva by proxy!
The Ramban suggests the following answer: Since one who merely sees Chanuka candles is also obligated to recite the berakha, and one has an obligation to see (the candles) because of pirsumei nissa, Chazal chose the format of "le."
At first glance this argument of the Ramban is nonsensical. The berakha one recites when seeing the candles is "she-assa nissim." Therefore, the obligation to see the candles should have no relevance with regard to the berakha recited when lighting, which can be accomplished by proxy (see the note of Rav Isser Zalman Melzer).
Apparently, the Ramban felt that the obligation to light candles is a complex one. It contains both the independent act of lighting, as well as the obligation to see the candles. This second aspect of lighting obligates one to light the candles purely for the purpose of seeing them. In other words, enabling the viewing of the candles is a component of the mitzva to light. Since this obligation to see the candles is a personal one which cannot be accomplished through a shaliach, therefore, the lighting itself contains a personal element. Consequently, Chazal chose the format "le" for the berakha of lighting.
In our case, one already fulfilled his independent obligation to light (via proxy). Nevertheless, according to our understanding of the Ramban, he is still obligated to "light" in order to see. This obligation to light generates the birkat ha-mitzva "le-hadlik."
IV. An Independent Berakha on the Day
Let us return to our case, where one fulfilled the mitzva of lighting but found no Chanuka candles to enable the berakha of "she-assa nissim." The Rashba maintains that there is no need to recite the berakha, since he has fulfilled his requirement through the lighting at home. The Mordechai and Ramban argue that there remains a personal requirement to see the candles. [See OC 677:3 which seems to contradict the halakha in 676:3, the Chafetz Chaim raises this issue, M.B. 14.]
The Meiri raises a third possibility. He rules that if no candles are to be seen, then the person should independently recite the berakha without seeing the candles. Apparently, he feels that a person is not obligated to see the candles, but rather to recite the berakha. Seeing the candles is merely the context within which the berakha is normally recited.
This notion is supported by the She'iltot. Rav Achai Gaon discusses the obligation to recite "she-assa nissim" within the context of the general obligation to praise Hashem (generally through Hallel) at points in time when the Jewish people were saved through miracles. He also discusses the obligation to recite a berakha when one encounters a place in which a miracle took place. Finally, he concludes that we are therefore required to recite "she-assa nissim" on Chanuka and Purim. The impression created by the Ba'al Ha-She'iltot, is that there is an independent obligation generated by the day, to praise Hashem by reciting the berakha of "she-assa nissim." True, this requirement is normally fulfilled within the context of the Chanuka candles, either while lighting or seeing. Nevertheless, it is essentially an independent obligation to praise Hashem, not to see the candles.
As for one who heard the berakha of "she-assa nissim" but did not actually see candles, the Ra'a maintains that he is still required to see the candles and recite she-assa nissim" (see Chidushei Ha-Ran). The Orchot Chaim, on the other hand, argues that since he heard the berakha, he has already fulfilled this requirement.
If we maintain that the obligation is the berakha itself, then the position of the Orchot Chaim can be understood. Since he heard the berakha, he has fulfilled his requirement. However, if one is required to actually see the candles in order to fulfill his personal obligation of pirsumei nissa, then it is reasonable to demand that one actually see the candles despite having already heard the berakha.
The gemara rules that one who sees the Chanuka candles should recite the berakha "she-assa nissim." We offered three interpretations of this halakha: 1. "She-assa nissim" is a berakha on the mitzva of pirsum ha- nes. One who views the Chanuka candles participates in this mitzva, and therefore recites the berakha. 2. "She-assa nissim" is a birkat ha-shevach generated by involvement in the Chanuka candles (lighting or seeing), and the miracle they commemorate. 3. The days of Chanuka themselves demand shevach. The berakha "she-assa nissim" is a fulfillment of this obligation. Although normally recited within the context of the Chanuka candles, in the absence of the candles it should be recited nonetheless.
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