The Shehecheyanu Blessing On Chanuka

  • Harav Baruch Gigi

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This shiur is dedicated in memory of Israel Koschitzky zt"l, 
whose yahrzeit falls on the 19th of Kislev.  
May the world-wide dissemination of Torah through the VBM be a fitting tribute to a man whose lifetime achievements exemplified the love of Eretz Yisrael and Torat Yisrael.
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Based on a shiur by Harav Baruch Gigi

 

            On festival days, it is generally the practice to recite a shehecheyanu blessing that relates to the special quality of the day itself, even if there is no unique mitzva associated with the day, for example, on the festival of Shavuot.

            On Chanuka, it is customary to recite a shehecheyanu blessing in conjunction with the lighting of the Chanuka candles. The question, therefore, arises, whether this blessing is part of the mitzva of lighting Chanuka candles, similar to the shehecheyanu blessing recited over shofar blowing and the like, or does this blessing relate to the special quality of the day of Chanuka itself?

            There is no explicit discussion of this point in the Gemara, but the Rishonim do address the issue. The matter that must be examined is whether or not the special quality of the day of Chanuka justifies a shehecheyanu blessing.

            The Gemara in Eruvin 40b discusses a similar question regarding Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur:

What is the law about [reciting] the zeman blessing [=shehecheyanu] on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Since they [are special events that] come [only] from time to time, we should say it, or perhaps, since they are not referred to as "regalim" (festivals), we should not say it… The law is that we say the zeman blessing on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

The question here is whether the shehecheyanu blessing should be recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur because they are special events that come only from time to time, or perhaps it should not be recited, because Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are not included among the three regalim, the three pilgrim festivals. It is easy to understand why a shehecheyanu blessing should be recited. It is the second possibility which must be clarified: what special factor is present on the other festival days - so that the shehecheyanu blessing is recited - but absent on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, so that the gemara saw a possibility to say that the blessing is not recited on those days?

            It may be suggested that the shehecheyanu blessing is connected to the mitzva of rejoicing on a festival that applies only to the three regalim. That is to say, the shehecheyanu blessing is only recited on a newness that is connected to joy. It may further be suggested that there is another factor unique to the three festivals: they represent an important and essential dimension of renewal in time, from both an agricultural and an historical perspective.

            The Yerushalmi implies that this issue is the subject of a Tannaitic dispute. According to the Bavli, Rav and Shmuel maintain that the shehecheyanu blessing is recited only on the three festivals – Pesach, Shavu'ot and Sukkot – but the conclusion is that the blessing is recited even on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. It would seem that shehecheyanu is recited on these days, because they are special events that come only from time to time. The implication would seem to be that shehecheyanu should be recited over all special events that come only from time to time. (This stands in contrast to the Yerushalmi's conclusion that sheheheyanu is recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, because they too are included among the "holy gatherings" [mikra'ei kodesh].)

             It is, however, possible to suggest that, according to the Bavli's conclusion, shehecheyanu is recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, not because they are special events that come only from time to time, but rather because they too are considered, to a certain degree, as regalim. And indeed we find a discussion in the Rosh regarding the text of the amida prayer said on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. According to certain opinions, the hasi'enu passage must be included, because the amida recited on these days is like the amida of the regalim.

            In the course of its discussion, the Gemara in Eruvin 40b states:

When I came to the school of Rav Yehuda, he said: "I recite the shehecheyanu blessing even on a new gourd." He said to him: I did not ask whether one is permitted [to recite the blessing on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur]; I asked whether one is obligated to do so. What [is the law]?

This argument is difficult to understand, for one must recite the shehecheyanu blessing over a new fruit. Why then shouldn't the blessing be recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? Indeed, many authorities have concluded from this passage that the shehecheyanu blessing over fruit is optional, and the Gemara's discussion revolves around the question whether or not the blessing is obligatory. According to the Bach, when one sees a new fruit, reciting the shehecheyanu blessing is optional, but when one eats it, it is an obligation. Why shouldn't Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur be likened to eating? It may, perhaps, be suggested that the special quality of the day parallels seeing, whereas an active mitzva, such as shofar blowing, parallels eating. It may also be argued that the whole situation of eating a new fruit is regarded as optional, because nobody is obligated to eat the new fruit. The Gemara, on the other hand, discusses a situation of obligation; the question there is whether or not the special quality of the day itself obligates a blessing.

            An additional point that is relevant to our discussion is the assertion appearing in the continuation of the aforementioned passage:

For Rav Nachman said: The shehecheyanu blessing may be recited even in the marketplace… And the conclusion is that the shehecheyanu blessing may be recited even in the marketplace.

            What does Rav Nachman come to teach us? He may be teaching us that only in a place where the Rabbis prescribed the shehecheyanu blessing in connection with a certain mitzva, such as kiddush, is it possible to recite the blessing even when he is not engaged in the mitzva. But Rav Nachman may be going further. He may be saying that the shehecheyanu blessing does not necessarily relate to kiddush, but rather to the special quality of the day.

            The Meiri in Megila explicitly rejects this possibility, for he writes that when there is no cup of wine, i.e., when there is no kiddush, there is also no shehecheyanu.

            Coming now to Chanuka, it is possible to require a shehecheyanu blessing for one of the three following reasons:

  1. Based on the position of Rav Nachman, according to the second interpretation that the shehecheyanu blessing relates to the special quality of the day itself.
  2. According to the Bavli's conclusion that the shehecheyanu blessing is recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, because they are special events that come from time to time.
  3. According to the Yerushalmi's conclusion that the shehecheyanu blessing is recited on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, because they are "holy gatherings," if we assume that Chanuka can be defined as a "holy gathering," stemming from its status as a rabbinic holiday.

The Gemara in Shabbat 23a states:

Rav Chiyya bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: One who lights a Chanuka candle must recite a blessing. And Rav Yirmiya said: One who sees a [lit] Chanuka candle must recited a blessing. Rav Yehuda said: On the first day, the onlooker recites two [blessings], and the lighter recites three [blessings]. From that day on, the lighter recites two [blessings], and the onlooker recites one. Which [blessing] does he omit [on subsequent days]? He omits the zeman [=shehecheyanu] blessing. Let him omit the blessing over the miracle? Every day there was a miracle.

            The Gemara's quandary is very puzzling. What did it think when it suggested that the shehecheyanu blessing should be recited every day of Chanuka? Perhaps, it thought that the blessing is intricately related to the lighting, and there is a new lighting every day. According to this, there should be no room for a shehecheyanu blessing on the special quality of the day of Chanuka. But the question remains: what is the Gemara's conclusion when it says that after the first day we omit the shehecheyanu blessing? We may say that the shehecheyanu blessing relates to the lighting, but the lighting is regarded as new on the first day, as in the case of lulav. Or perhaps, the blessing relates to the special quality of the day of Chanuka, and therefore is recited only on the first day. There is a slight indication in Rashi that he understands that the blessing relates to the special quality of the day itself:

But as for the season which He permitted us to reach [vehigi'anu], it is the beginning of that season that he has permitted us to reach.

The Ritva and the Manhig also imply that the shehecheyanu blessing does not relate to the lighting itself, but that we recite the blessing at the time of candle lighting in compliance with the rule that blessings should be attached to acts of mitzva.

There are, however, Rishonim who disagree: Shiltei Giborim in the name of Riaz, Piskei ha-Rid, and others.

Many Acharonim rely on the Meiri in tractate Shabbat who maintains that a person may recite the shehecheyanu blessing on Chanuka even if he does not light candles. Thus, writes the Mishna Berura in Orach Chayyim 676, Sha'ar ha-Tziyon, no. 3:

It is possible that in the same way that we maintain in general that the shehecheyanu blessing may be recited even in the marketplace, because it relates to the special quality of the festival itself, so too here it relates to the special quality of Chanuka in which miracles and wonders were performed [for us], though ideally [the Rabbis] adjoined it to the time of lighting. A similar argument is found in the Meiri.

            It must be said, however, that the entire structure erected upon the Meiri is a bit shaky. There is an internal contradiction in the words of Meiri himself, for in tractate Megila he says that the shehecheyanu blessing cannot be recited without a cup of wine. And, indeed, a number of halakhic authorities, including Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, have, ruled that a person should not recite the shehecheyanu blessing on Chanuka unless he is lighting Chanuka candles, owing to the rule that in cases of uncertainty regarding blessings, we do not recite the blessing.

            The Meiri may also be explained in another way. It may be suggested that he never considered the possibility of reciting the shehecheyanu blessing over the special quality of the day of Chanuka itself. What he is saying in tractate Shabbat is that the she'asa nissim blessing is an act of thanksgiving for the miracle, and therefore it itself is a mitzva which comes from time to time. It is to that mitzva that the shehecheyanu blessing relates. And it is for that reason that the shehecheyanu blessing may be recited even by one who is not lighting Chanuka candles.

            Our question was whether there is also a shehecheyanu blessing that relates to the special quality of the day of Chanuka, but clearly there is a shehecheyanu blessing that relates to the mitzva of candle lighting. This may lead us to a new way to define the relationship between the blessing over the lighting and the blessing on the special quality of the day.

            All the other festivals have meaning even without the special mitzvot performed on those days, e.g., a prohibition on work, the name mo'ed, and the like. On Chanuka, however, there is no prohibition on work and there are no special prayers. Special character is bestowed upon the days of Chanuka only by virtue of the mitzvot performed therein, i.e., the mitzva of candle lighting defines the essence of the days of Chanuka. The Rambam also includes the mitzva of candle lighting as part of his definition of the day. It may be for this reason that women are accustomed not to do work while the Chanuka candles are burning.

            Practically speaking, the posekim have ruled that it is preferable to sit back and abstain from the blessing than to go ahead and recite the blessing. Hence, a person should not recite the shehecheyanu blessing on Chanuka if he is not lighting candles.

*This lecture was not reviewed by HaRav Gigi

(Translated by David Strauss)