SALT - Monday, 21 Nisan 5777 - April 17, 2017

  • Rav David Silverberg

            Yesterday, we saw the debate among the halakhic authorities as to whether birkat ha-ilanot – the berakha which one must recite over the sight of blossoming fruit trees in the spring – must be recited specifically during the month of Nissan.  The Gemara (Berakhot 43b) and the Shulchan Arukh (O.C. 226) specifically mention the month of Nissan as the time for reciting this berakha.  While many Acharonim (as noted by the Mishna Berura 226:1) understood that Nissan is mentioned here only because most trees blossom during Nissan, but in truth the berakha may be recited at any time one sees blossoming, the Halakhot Ketanot (2:28) disagreed.  In his view, the berakha must be recited during the month of Nissan.  As we saw, Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, in his Har Tzevi (O.C. 118), suggested a different reading of the Halakhot Ketanot, but the straightforward reading of the Halakhot Ketanot indicates that he established an ironclad rule that birkat ha-ilanot may be recited only during Nissan, and not at any other time of year.

            Rav Yosef Tzvi Rimon (in Sefirat Ha-omer U-virkat Ha-ilanot, pp. 31-32) proposed that the connection between birkat ha-ilanot and the month of Nissan may run deeper than the fact that the trees generally blossom during this month.  In birkat ha-ilanot, we express gratitude for the renewal of nature, for the trees that return to life in the springtime after the “death” they experienced throughout the cold, harsh winter months.  Renewal and rebirth is also one of the themes of the month of Nissan, the month when, according to Rabbi Yehoshua (Rosh Hashanah 11a), the world was created, and the month when Am Yisrael came back to life, so-to-speak, after the centuries of bondage and oppression in Egypt.  We might also add the fact that the Mishkan began operating at Sinai at the beginning of Nissan, marking the spiritual rebirth of Benei Yisrael after the devastation wrought by the sin of the golden calf.  The month of Nissan signifies the hope of renewal, that a situation can be drastically transformed from the gloomiest darkness to the brightest light, that “death” can be followed by rebirth and renewal.  This concept is most tangibly expressed by the spring blossom, when the barren trees begin once again to produce magnificent, colorful flora, as nature springs back to life from the “death” of winter.  And thus, according to the Halakhot Ketanot, an inherent connection exists between birkat ha-ilanot, the blessing of gratitude recited over nature’s springtime rebirth, and the month of Nissan, the month of renewal and resurgence, which teaches us to never despair, and to always remain hopeful about the prospects of positive change even under the darkest circumstances.