Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Shehechianu on New Fruits

"On the second night [of Rosh Hashana] the new fruit should be eaten [immediately after Kiddush and] before the washing of hands for the meal." Kaploun, Uri (Ed.). (1994) Sefer HaMinhagim (English). Brooklyn, NY: Kehot Publication Society, p. 118.

On Rosh Hashana this year I was surprised to hear the rabbi instructing people that, as a rule, we don't say shehechianu on adamah produce (which would exclude strawberries, watermelon, and cantaloupe, to name a few). This instruction troubled me so much that I took out the Shulchan Aruch HaRav and showed the rabbi the section on shehechianu in Seder Birchos haNehenin (11:12) where it says : "[H]e should bless 'shehechianu' first and afterwards 'borei pri ha etz' or 'borei pri ha adamah' etc"*. I showed the rabbi and asked him if he knew a source other than Shulchan Aruch that said you can't say shehechianu on adamah produce. He told me that he was mistaken and then announced that he had been mistaken.

A similar situation happened again just last week. A friend of mine questioned me when I made a shehechianu on Jerusalem artichokes, which are potato-like tubers in the sunflower family, whose harvest season just began (which I was very excited about!). He was doubtful whether you can say shehechianu on adamah produce.

Now, it seems to me that
the idea that "we don't say shehechianu on adamah produce" shows a vast disparity between one way of seeing the world, and the way Chazal expect us to see the world. It shows me how far we are removed from intimacy with our sources of food, and, in some ways, from intimacy with the Source of Life.

Why is it such a big deal?
Shehechianu on seasonal foods grown from the earth was instituted as an expression of the immense joy and gratitude a person feels after going six months, nine months, or maybe even eleven months without enjoying a certain food, and now it has grown back, and he's so excited that he must use shem u'malchus to thank G-d for it ("A person is obligated to bless [shehechianu] for every joy of the heart which comes at infrequent intervals to him from the good of this world." Luach Birchos Hanehenin, (11:1)). Why is there an assumption that I'm allowed to be joyous and thankful for a bland, imported dragon fruit on Rosh Hashana, but not on a sweet, flavorful Junebearer strawberry in June?

The idea of saying "Blessed are You... Who kept us alive, and sustained us, and caused us to arrive to this very time" is meant to be an outburst of excitement, of joy, of gratitude. It's the opposite of rote, of the status quo.

Chazal expected us to be so excited, they established the saying of shehechianu upon SEEING a new item of produce in its season ("One who sees a new item of produce that recurs from year to year, or even twice in a year, and he delights in seeing it, he blesses shehechianu even if he sees it in his friend's hand or on a tree; and if he doesn't delight in seeing it, then he doesn't bless until he eats it" (ibid 11:2)). The fact that we say it when tasting the fruit is only an extension of that principle, which is why the Alte Rebbe paskins that, if you are about to eat this new item, you say shehechianu before the bp"e or bp"a (Seder Birchos HaNehenin 11:12).

Can you imagine that? Can you imagine feeling so excited by the absence for nine months of tomatoes or watermelon (both adamah) that when you see the first ripe one, you burst out with gratefulness to G-d for bringing you to this moment in time?

Even more telling, is you can say shehechianu on different VARIETIES of the same species, even if they taste the same but look different. ("A type of produce that has many varieties, you bless shehechianu on each variety" ibid. 11:14) An example: If you already said shehechianu on granny smith apples but not winesaps, you may say it on the winesaps.

Foods associated with the changes of the year are so central to the Jewish understanding of time, that our seasons are named after the foods which are harvested during each season. Cases in point: Aviv, spring, literally means "ears of barley;" it is the time of the barley harvest.
Kayitz, summer, according to Rashi is the name of ripe figs gathered for drying during the summer months (Breishis 8:22). Choref, fall-winter, according to Rashi, is named for the barley and legumes which are planted during that time "hacharifin lehisbashel maher" ("which are quick to ripen in a short time") (ibid.).

Now, what I'm saying here is not innovative. Lehavdil, it's like Ruth Stout's crusade for mulch and the no-till method of gardening. She didn't invent mulching, but she showed how such a simple method could have such vast effects in a garden. She took a really prosaic idea and showed how it is a foundation of sustainable gardening.

So here, everything I'm saying is printed very clearly in Shulchan Aruch, it's not a secret or even a diyuk on my part. But living with the seasons and having the awareness that G-d designated different foods for different times of the year, and rejoicing with those seasons and rejoicing in the diversity of that produce, that is the way a Yid is supposed to see the world.

That is the foundation of sustainable Torah ("Im ein kemach, ein Torah. Im ein Torah, ein kemach (Pikei Avos 3:21)," and--notice how the kemach comes first--wheat is an adamah species mentioned explicitly as requiring shehechianu when it is new in season ("If the new season's produce is easily recognizable by its taste and also by its appearance, we bless shehechianu on it, for example ha'rifos (bulgur) which they make from new grains which are easily recognizable as new by sight and also by their taste that they are better ("she'hu le'shevach") (Luach Birchos HaNehenin 11:5).

Now, all that being said, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch does mention (59:17) that "We have the custom that we don't bless shehechianu on yerakos and types of turnips [presumably including other types of root crops] since they remain for a long time [in storage] through burying them in soil and sand, and they're also available, and also there's not so much joy associated with them." That could be the source for people mistakenly assuming that we don't make shehechianu on any adamah produce even though it is clear from the sources above that there is no innate distinction between etz produce and adamah produce with regard to shehechianu. Additionally, we have an explicit instruction from the Lubavitcher Rebbe zt"l who wrote that, "By us, it is our custom to bless shehechianu also on yerek." (Sefer Hasichos 5749 p. 754)

*All translations in this post are my own, adapted for readability.