Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Birkat Ilanot

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Every year one has the wonderful opportunity to recite a special blessing when one sees fruit trees in blossom. As the Talmud teaches: “a person who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees in bloom recites the following blessing: Blessed are You Lord our God, King of the universe, Who did not leave anything lacking in His universe, and created in it good creatures and good trees, to give pleasure to humankind with them.”[1] While it is ideal for the blessing to be recited as the tree begins to blossom before the fruit appears, it may be recited until the fruits are edible if one did not have the opportunity to do so earlier.[2] It is best not to recite the birkat ilanot on Shabbat, however, one may certainly do so if there is some concern that the deadline for reciting the blessing might pass.[3]

Click here to read moreThe narrative of the Talmudic passage which discusses birkat ilanot has led to a number of halachic discussions and controversies. Some authorities rule that since the Talmud's wording is "a person who goes out …and sees trees in bloom" one tree is insufficient to warrant reciting the blessing. According to this approach, the blessing may only be recited upon two or more trees.[4] Most other authorities, however, rule that the Talmud’s wording is only a figure of speech, and that the blessing may be recited upon even a single tree.[5]

Additionally, some authorities rule that the blessing may only be recited in the month of Nissan consistent with the instruction of "a person who goes out during the days of Nissan".[6] Nevertheless, the consensus of halachic authorities is that the blessing may actually be recited anytime during the "Nissan Season" when trees are in bloom, roughly from March to May.[7] Further substantiation that the “days of Nissan” is more of a figure of speech than an exact calendar bound regulation is that one who lives in the southern hemisphere would be forced to forgo the opportunity of ever reciting the blessing, as blooming takes place around November in these places.[8] According to kabbala, however, one should endeavor to recite the blessing specifically in the month of Nissan for mystical reasons, regardless of all other considerations.[9] One should not recite the blessing in the month of Adar, though if one had done so it need not be repeated in Nissan, or anytime again that year.[10]

So too, the wording of "a person who goes out" has led a number of authorities to rule that the blessing may only be recited outside of the city.[11] Here too, normative halacha does not require one to leave the city in order to perform birkat ilanot though doing so is cited as being considered a hiddur, an ideal, but not obligatory manner, of performing the mitzva.[12]

Some authorities suggest that the blessing be recited on sweet-smelling trees, or trees that produce appetizing fruits, but that reason alone should not delay the performance of this mitzva. One who is blind should go along with a partner to “view” the blossoming trees and have the partner recite the blessing. In this way, the blind individual participates in the mitzva by answering “amen” at the conclusion of the blessing.

It is ideal to endeavor to recite the birkat ilanot in the presence of a minyan.[13] Women should make an effort to perform this mitzva as well.[14] One should give or set aside three coins for tzedaka after performing the birkat ilanot.[15] Birkat ilanot may be recited during the day or at night.[16] It is interesting to note that God originally intended that both trees as well as their fruit would be edible by mankind. Unfortunately, the trees did not heed God’s will, and provided only edible fruit, rather than completely edible trees.[17] My wife says that perhaps the use of herbs is somewhat a fulfillment of the Divine directive for trees to be edible.

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[1] Berachot 43b.
[2] Mishna Berura 226:4
[3] Teshuvot Vhanhagot 1:191.
[4] Kaf Hachaim 226:2
[5] Rivevot Ephraim 8:77
[6] Kaf Hachaim 226:1
[7] Mishna Berura 226:1, Rivevot Ephraim 8:75:2
[8] Piskei Teshuvot 226:2, Aruch Hashulchan 226:1, Kaf Hachaim 226:1
[9] Kaf Hachaim 126:1
[10] Rivevot Ephraim 6:458:5
[11] Kaf Hachaim 226:3, Lev Chaim 2:45
[12] Rivevot V'yovlot 4:208
[13] Mo'ed Lechol Chai 6
[14] Teshuvot Vhanhagot 1:190, Rivevot Ephraim 6:106
[15] Kaf Hachaim 226:8
[16] Tzitz Eliezer 12:20, Rivevot Ephraim 6:458
[17] Rashi;Bereishit 1:11.

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