Shabbat Parashat Bereshit | 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I recently became bar mitzva, and no one told me to make the beracha of Shehecheyanu the first time I put on tefillin as a bar mitzva. Was that correct and, if so, why?
Answer: That is a very astute question for a bar mitzva, one which shows that already at your age, the study of Torah is not a new mitzva for you. There are two possible reasons to make Shehecheyanu when beginning to put on tefillin. One is that the performance of the mitzva is new, as you imply. The other is that he received a new, important commodity (like a new suit), which brings joy even to one who has put on other tefillin for years. According to both reasons, the time to make the beracha would not be the day of the bar mitzva, but the first time one puts on the tefillin. This is usually before the bar mitzva, each young man according to his minhag.
The Rama (Yoreh Deah 28:2) says that one makes Shehecheyanu the first time he does shechita (ritual slaughtering) not on the shechita itself, which causes damage to a living thing, but on the mitzva to subsequently cover the blood. Based on this, the Taz (Orach Chayim 22:1) says that every time one does a mitzva for the first time he should make Shehecheyanu. However, many poskim take issue on the Rama and/or the Taz (Shach, YD 28:5; Ba’er Heitev ad loc. in the name of the Pri Chadash; see Beit Yosef, OC 22). The main rationale is that, with the stress of the beracha being on our meriting being alive at this time, that the mitzva must be one which is linked to a certain time of the year, and thus be cyclical. This actually may depend on our understanding of the beraita cited in Menachot (75b) (see Yechave Da’at II, 31 in the name of the Rokeach). The beraita relates that the kohanim who came to Yerushalayim to bring the mincha (meal offering) would recite Shehecheyanu. Rashi explains that this is talking about the first time the kohen ever brought the mincha, and this would seem to support the Rama and Taz. However, Tosafot (ad loc.) says that kohanim made the beracha each time, because the kohen had the privilege to do soonlytwice a year, making it a cyclical mitzva. As we have a rule that safek berachot l’hakel (when in doubt whether to make a beracha or not, do not utter Hashem’s name in possible vain), we do not make Shehecheyanu on first-time mitzvot.
However, there is room to say that there is special justification for reciting Shehecheyanu on tefillin. The tosefta (Berachot 6:10) says that when one makes tzitzit or tefillin, he makes Shehecheyanu, and this is brought as halachain the Rambam (Berachot 11:9). (There is discussion as to when the beracha is made, and we usually make berachot later on than the classical sources indicate; see ibid. and Rama, OC 225:3, and more). The Tur, though, brings this tosefta only in regard to tzitzit,but not in regard to tefillin. The explanation appears to be that according to the Rambam, the fact that tefillin and tzitzit are mitzvot makes their acquisition significant enough to warrant Shehecheyanu. The Tur disagrees, because only cyclical mitzvot get the beracha. He agrees that tzitzit warrants Shehecheyanu, because it is at least an article of clothing (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 22:1). But since tefillin is not an article of clothing (see Beit Yosef, ad loc. and Har Tzvi, OC 21), its acquisition is not of material significance.
The Shulchan Aruch sides with the Tur, and the accepted minhag among both Ashkenazim and Sefardim is to not make Shehecheyanu the first time one puts on tefillin or on the bar mitzva. However, the Mishna Berura (Biur Halacha 22:1) and Kaf Hachayim (OC 22:2) both suggest to put on an important new garment with Shehecheyanu right before putting on the tefillin for the first time, while having in mind for the tefillin, as well, to cover the safek.
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