Blessing on the Trees during the Month of Nisan

by Rabbi Dr Abe Avrahami

Introduction

The blessing on the trees - Birkat Ha'ilanot - during the month of Nisan belongs to the category of the blessings we recite on seeing wondrous things, for example, the ocean, lightening, a rainbow, passing through a place where a miracle happened etc.
Birkat Ha'ilanot is accordingly recited on seeing the wondrous renewal in nature, as the fruit trees blossom, in anticipation of our benefit from these trees, while acknowledging the deeper aspects of nature's renewal, and the connection of man with the botanic kingdom.

Summary

This article covers the following points, and provides background information on the following topics:

 

  1. The origin of the blessing
  2. The connection between mankind and the botanic kingdom expressed in this blessing.
  3. The deeper, Kabbalistic meanings behind this blessing
  4. Text of the blessing
  5. Halakhot - Jewish Law rules - concerning this blessing

 

The Origin of the Blessing.

Talmud Bavli, Berakhot, 33,2
Said Rav Yehuda:
A person who goes out during the days of [the month of] Nisan* and sees the blossom of [fruit] trees recites [the following blessing]:
"Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, who did not allow anything to lack in His world and [who] created within it good creatures and good trees to give pleasure to mankind through them."
*RASHI comments:
"In the days of Nisan - as the winter days have come to pass so the earth is dry, and man sees it full of herbage, his mind is distracted, and the evil inclination enters into him."

What is the Talmud talking about, - what is RASHI telling us? Where is the connection?

The Sages taught us that spring is the renewal period in nature. It is the season of reproduction for numerous creatures and plants. This is also a time when the mind is distracted and the evil inclination (Yetzer Harah) is awakened in mankind.

Therefore, on one hand we thank and bless Hashem, the Almighty, for His wonderful creation, and its renewal, as symbolised by the fruit trees' blossom. On the other hand, we are reminded not to succumb to our evil inclination, as it awakens at the same time as Nature.
To safeguard us against the evil inclination, the Rabbis instituted reading from the Ethics of the Fathers (Pirkei Avot) during the summer months, at the end of the Shabbat afternoon prayer - Mincha - from the first Shabbat after Pesach until the Shabbat just before Rosh Hashana (for Ashkenazim) or until the Shabbat just before Shavuot (for Sepharadim).

 

The Connection between Mankind and the Botanic Kingdom in this Blessing

Blessing Hashem, in connection with seeing the blossom of at least 2 fruit trees together in blossom, is associated with the spring season and the renewal within nature, as decreed by the Almighty.
But why bless Hashem, using the symbolism of at least 2 fruit trees? Why not flowers, fish, or animals?

There are several reasons:

 

  • Man is compared to the tree of the field (Devarim - Deuteronomy 20).
  • The evil inclination manifested itself in the world only after Chava and Adam ate from Etz Hadaat - the Tree of Knowledge; good and bad. Here is the dual aspect.
  • The Tikkun - repair of the sin, as reflected by Birkat Ha'ilanot, has to be effected with the instrument with/through which the transgression was committed: fruit trees - not anything else.
  • {There are numerous examples the Sages bring to support this holistic principle. For example: Samson went after his eyes for Delila, and was subsequently blinded by the Philistines. Invasion of Eretz Yisrael began from the north, therefore the Mashiach will be revealed first in the north of the country (Zohar, Shemot). Iyov contracted boils in the storm and was subsequently healed in the storm.}
  • Without the blossom and growth of new fruit, it will be impossible to celebrate our Chagim (festivals). Without agricultural produce, how can we bring Bikkurim (the first and choicest fruit) to the Temple? Without fruit, how are we to celebrate Succoth with the Etrog and Lulav? We cannot say Shehechianu on a newly eaten fruit, if it does not grow.

As we can see, the complete yearly cycle of Judaism is very much
dependent on the botanical kingdom renewing itself regularly.

 

 

Deeper, Kabbalistic Meanings behind this Blessing

The ARIZAL (Rabbi Issac Luria, the righteous, of blessed memory) explains the reincarnation of Neshamot - souls. In his mystical writings, recorded mainly by his great disciple Rabbi Chayim Vital, in "The ARIZAL", he explains that certain souls which have not arrived to their destined resting place are trapped mainly in the kingship of trees and vegetation. Birkat Ha'ilanot helps to release these suffering souls and ease their travel to their final resting place.

Reciting this Berakha is therefore considered a very great act of Chessed - Humankindness - with the whole of Yisrael. All Yisrael are One. All our souls that were, are, and will be, come from the same place - from under the Throne of Glory of Hashem. They are inter-linked beyond the physical limits of body, time and space, as we know them. Just as the Neshamot of the departed can intercede on our behalf 'upstairs', so should we help those souls who cannot be elevated without our help. The departed souls cannot fulfil any commandment, but we can.

With the Mitzvah of Birkat Ha'ilanot - we are also rewarded and hasten the coming of the Mashiach. It is written (Isaiah - Yeshayahu, 1, 27): Zion shall be redeemed with judgement, and those who return to her, with righteousness. The redemption from Egypt, the Sages tell us, was brought about in part because our forefathers did KINDNESS with one another. The final redemption will be modelled in some aspects based on the redemption from Egypt. As the Second Temple was destroyed due to causeless hatred, the Third Temple will be built due to brotherly love, facilitated by KINDNESS.

 

Halakhot - Jewish Law - Concerning this Blessing

Birkat Ha'ilanot is a positive commandment (Mitzvat Aseh) - Gantzfrid's Kitzur Shulchan Arukh, paragraph 60,1.

Rabbi Chayim Phalagi (Mo'ed Lekhol Chai, pages 18-19) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, part 5, Mo'adim, pages 345-346) bring the following Halakhot:

 

  • Birkat Ha'ilanot should be recited once a year during the month of Nisan, but if it is not possible then it may be recited in the month of Iyar. However, the sooner it is done, from Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the better.
  • Women should also say this Berakha.
  • It is preferable to go out of town and say this Berakha, but if it is impractical, one may say it in town.
  • It is preferable to say the Berakha within a Minyan, recite Tehilim (Psalms) afterwards - as arranged in Sepharadic and Chassidic Siddurim - and finally say Kaddish Yatom (Yehe Shelama). A person is a Yotzeh (has fulfilled his/her obligation) by saying the Berakha only without extra Psalms afterwards, or without saying the Yehi Ratzon (Let it be the will of Hashem …) preface beforehand.
  • The Berakha should be recited on seeing fruit trees in blossom. It is sufficient to say it on seeing at least 2 trees of the same kind (e.g. 2 apple trees). However, if there are trees of different kinds (say an apple tree and a plum tree), this is glorifying the Mitzvah.
  • Types of trees - Murkavim (hybrid/grafted) which are not of the same kind (e.g. apple and pear) do not qualify for Birkat Ha'ilanot according to most Poskim (Rabbinical authorities).
  • It is permissible to recite the Berakha during Shabbat and Yom Tov, but only if there is an Eruv, so that one may carry the Siddur away from home or the synagogue.
  • If the fruit begin to grow and the blossom has fallen off, then it is too late to recite the Berakha.
  • On seeing fruit trees during their first 3 years (Arla period), the Berakha may be recited.
  • One should not say the Berakha on trees which are not fruit trees (Atzei Serak), or on Ashera (trees dedicated for purposes of idolatry).

 

Next of the Blesssing

Blessed are You, G-d, our Lord, King of the universe, for nothing lacking in His universe, and He created in it good creatures and good trees, to cause mankind pleasure in them.

Birkat Ha'ilanot is available in most Siddurim. However, only the Sepharadic and some Chassidic Siddurim have the extended style of the Berakha which includes the reading of Psalms, and a special prayer for the elevation of the Neshamot.

 

Conclusion

The Rabbis taught us that Hashem did not reveal the reward for each specific Mitzvah to us, so that we should try to keep all of them equally. We should therefore keep it as rigorously as we observe Biur Chametz before Pesach, eat the Afikoman, or use the Arbaah Minim during Succot.

So, if you have not fulfilled this Mitzvah yet, get out to the groves or nearby gardens in your neighbourhood, spot at least 2 fruit trees in blossom and say the Berakha.

The Sages taught us that at any moment in time the world should be considered 50% on the positive side and 50% on the other side.

Therefore, the more Mitzvot we fulfil, the quicker we tip the scale onto the side of merit, and this hastens the arrival of the Mashiach, speedily in our days.
Amen

Like a [fragrant, beautiful] apple tree among the [barren] forest trees, so is my Beloved ...(Song of Songs - Shir Hashirim, II, 3).

 

 

 

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20 Jul 2005 / 13 Tamuz 5765 0