By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
One makes a berachah of Shehecheyanu on a mitzvah that comes at a specific time of the year. We recite the berachah of Shehecheyanu on every yom tov. Even Shemini Atzeres merits a Shehecheyanu because it is considered a new yom tov. We do not recite a Shehecheyanu at Kiddush or candle lighting on the last days of Pesach because those days are a conclusion of a yom tov on which we already recited Shehecheyanu on the first days. On the first day of Sukkos, one recites a Shehecheyanu when one takes the lulav for the first time that year. Similarly, a Shehecheyanu is recited on the mitzvah of shofar, megillah, and Chanukah lights. These mitzvos are not applicable year-round, and when we merit to fulfill them we thank Hashem for sustaining us so that we lived to ha’zeman ha’zeh, this time. Thankfully, we lived to the new season and we are able to fulfill those mitzvos.
The Gemara in Menachos says that someone recites a Shehecheyanu when bringing a minchah offering. However, the Gemara does not explicitly say who is bringing or what minchah is being brought. One explanation in the printed version of Rashi is that a kohen is reciting a Shehecheyanu when he offers the minchas ha’omer that was brought once a year, on the second day of Pesach. That would fit perfectly with the other mitzvos cited above. The kohen is thanking Hashem for allowing him to live until the second day of Pesach and fulfill this once-a-year mitzvah.
Tosfos offers a variant explanation. The kohanim were divided into groups and families, with the result being that a kohen only performed the avodah one day every half-year. The Gemara is saying that when a kohen offers the first sacrifice on his special day, for which he waited half a year, he recites Shehecheyanu. He is thanking Hashem for keeping him alive until he reached that day that was calendared in advance.
The manuscript version of Rashi offers an explanation that is categorically different. Rashi suggests that the Gemara is discussing a Yisrael who is bringing a minchah offering for the first time in his life. The mitzvah is available every day, but since the Yisrael never did that mitzvah before, he thanks Hashem for letting him live to this day when he will perform a specific mitzvah for the first time in his life. This idea can be applied elsewhere as well.
There is a mitzvah to cover the blood of fowl and non-domesticated animals after shechitah. The Rema (Y.D. 28:2) writes that the first time in a shochet’s life that he performs the mitzvah of covering the blood, he should recite a Shehecheyanu. Though this mitzvah is applicable every day, the shochet thanks Hashem on the first day he fulfills the mitzvah.
The Pri Chadash, however, disagrees. He points out that the concept of reciting a Shehecheyanu on the first time in one’s life that he does a particular mitzvah is a machlokes Rishonim. The concept is only found in the Gemara according to the explanation of the manuscript version of Rashi mentioned above. According to the other explanations, there is no source anywhere in the Gemara that one should recite a Shehecheyanu on the first time in one’s life that he does a mitzvah. Since the matter is a dispute, the rule we should follow is “safek berachos l’hakeil.” When there is a doubt, we do not recite a blessing.
The Pri Toar, though, takes the ruling of the Rema and extends it elsewhere. When a boy reaches bar mitzvah, he fulfills the mitzvah of tefillin for the first time in his life. Moreover, he has now become obligated in all the mitzvos. According to the Pri Toar, a bar mitzvah boy should recite Shehecheyanu the first time he fulfills the mitzvah of tefillin. This will cover tefillin and all the other mitzvos as well. Indeed, the Chasam Sofer says there are places where women recited Shehecheyanu the first time they lit Shabbos candles.
As a practical matter, the Mishnah Berurah writes that a bar mitzvah boy should not recite Shehechiyanu on the first time he wears tefillin. However, since there are many Rishonim who say he really should, the boy should wear a new suit, recite Shehecheyanu, and have in mind the new mitzvah of tefillin as well.
HaRav Shlomo Zalman, zt’l, offered the following advice. A father should buy tefillin for his son and let him borrow them until his bar mitzvah. On the day of his son’s bar mitzvah, the father should give his son an expensive gift: the tefillin! He should allow the boy to acquire the tefillin. The boy can recite the berachah of Shehecheyanu on the expensive gift of tefillin and have in mind to exempt the mitzvah of tefillin and all other mitzvos he will now perform as an adult.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com. Read more of Rabbi Sebrow’s articles at 5TJT.com.