Each week we discuss one familiar halakhic practice and try to show its beauty and meaning. The columns are based on the commentary "Meaning in Mitzvot" on the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, which is serialized on Yeshivat Har Etzion's "Virtual Beit Midrash", www.vbm-torah.org. Subscribers are currently learning about Shabbat.
Blessing on Fruit Trees
"One who goes out in the days of Nisan and sees trees blossoming, recites: "Blessed is He who did not omit anything from His world, and created in it good creatures and good trees with which to delight people" (Berakhot 43b, SA OC 226).
The "delight" which people receive through these good trees is the delight of eating, and the Rishonim agreed that this blessing is recited only on fruit trees. However, the blessing is not said on the fruit. On the contrary, the Shulchan Arukh writes that once the fruit has ripened, we can no longer say this berakha. Then it is time to say "shehechyanu" on viewing the newly ripened fruit. Let us examine the significance of this timing.
The blossom which elicits the blessing on the trees will be included in three different benedictions over the course of the year:
1. The blessing on fruit trees is said at the time of blossoming, and the one berakha includes all kinds of trees.
2. When the blossom becomes a ripe fruit, then we say the shehechyanu blessing on the arrival of a new fruit. This blessing is said on each species individually. (SA- OC 225:3; nowadays the custom is to say shehechyanu only when we eat the fruit.)
3. Finally, whoever eats the fruit will say borei pri haetz and the appropriate closing benediction, and this is said each time the fruits are eaten.
The berakha on eating is said on the actual pleasure of tasting the fruit. This is the most concrete enjoyment, and the most specific berakha.
The shehechyanu blessing is said when we have the definite ability to enjoy the fruit. Even so, this ability is not yet realized, so the berakha is more general - once for each kind of fruit.
But the berakha we say on the flowering is made on the mere promise of future enjoyment. As soon as we see the trees blossoming in spring, we see that the natural world has awakened from its winter slumber. We are filled with hope and confidence that nature will fulfill its promise to provide us with fruit. The very first fruit blossom of the year embodies the longing and anticipation of the entire new year, and so this blessing is said only once for the entire year.
In springtime, the sense of expectation seems to fill the air like the smell of the blossoming trees; and there is even an opinion which says that the blessing may be said only on blossoms which have a scent. (Sefer HaParnas.)
The Blessing of Hope
We could say that the blessing on fruit trees is the blessing on hope. HaShem did not omit anything from His world. He created not only good things which give us enjoyment, but also the signs which harbinger their arrival. Indeed, it is this sense of hope, more than our actual enjoyments, which gives us the feeling that life is worth living. A world without hope, even if filled with material plenty, would be a lacking world, an olam chaser.
The Blossoms and the Avot
The gemara notes that the spring is known as the time of "ziv", meaning splendor or radiance, and gives two explanations for this appellation. One explanation is that it refers to the splendor of the blossoming trees, commemorated in the blessing on the fruit trees. But the first explanation is that it refers to the Avot, who were "the splendor of the world". (Rosh HaShana 11a.)
Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov did not bring about the concrete redemption of the world. Even today, thousands of years after they lived, we encounter cruelty and suffering, denial and immorality. But they were the splendor of the world, its blossoms.
When we look at the Avot, we see that the winter of mankind's progressive alienation from holiness, which began with the sin of Adam and Chava, has been reversed, and righteousness has begun to ripen. The fragrance of their momentous actions fills the world's moral atmosphere with optimism. Ever since the Avot made their covenant with God, the world is filled with hope and anticipation.
Rabbi Asher Meir is in the process of writing a monumental companion to Kitzur Shulchan Aruch which beautifully presents the meanings in our mitzvot and halacha. Rabbi Meir - who had given a series on Business Halacha at the Center, and has taught a series on the Meaning in Mitzvot. We hope to have him back at the Center some time in the future.