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Baruch Sheptarani: Released from Punishment

The primary source for the blessing of baruch sheptarani, in which a father expresses his gratitude to Hashem for releasing him from the punishment of his son, is found in the Midrash on this week’s parashah, Parashah Toldos.

The present article is thus dedicated to the blessing of baruch sheptarani. Is this a full berachah like all others? Is the blessing made over boys alone, or even on girls? When is the correct time to recite the blessing? We will seek to address these and other questions by investigating the nature and laws of the blessing.

Source of the Blessing

As noted, the primary source for the blessing of baruch sheptarani is found in the Midrash.

Having reached the age of thirteen, The Torah describes Yaakov and Eisav as possessing clearly distinguishable character traits (Bereishis 25:27 and Rashi). It was at this age that Yaakov turned to the path of Torah and Eisav turned to the path of idolatry.

The Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 63:10) thus derives from the pasuk that a father is to recite the blessing of baruch sheptarani at his son’s Bar Mitzvah: From this time and on, a child independently pursues the path of his choice, and a father is no longer responsible for his misdeeds.

The wording of the Midrash is as follows: “For thirteen years, a person must manage his son; from here on, he must say: “Blessed is He who released me from the punishment of this one.” The wording itself does not imply conclusively that an actual blessing must be recited. It is possible that the intention is that a person ought to feel gratitude to Hashem for his son’s coming of age, without actually reciting a blessing over the event. However, a number of rishonim interpret the words as referring to a concrete berachah.

An early source for this is the Orchos chayim (Rav Aharon of Lunil, Berachos no. 58), who writes that the blessing should be made at the first time that the son is called up to read from the Torah. He also mentions that this was the practice of Rabbi Yehudai, who recited the berachah when his son was first called up. Rabbi Yechiel of Paris (no. 23) cites the same halachic ruling in the name of Rabbi Yehudah ben Baruch (of the eleventh century; it is possible that this is the same ‘Rabbi Yehudai’ to whom the Orchos Chaim refers), adding that “this blessing is obligatory.”

Beyond the primary source of the Midrash, it thus appears that the custom of reciting the blessing reflects an ancient minhag ashkenaz. Although the blessing is not mentioned by major medieval poskim (such as the Rif, Rambam, Rosh, Tur, and Shulchan Aruch), it is mentioned by the Rema (Orach Chaim 225:2).

Mentioning the Name of Hashem

The halachic sources mentioned above suggest that the berachah of baruch sheptarani is recited as all other berachos, including Shem (the name of Hashem) and Malchus (mentioning the kingship of Hashem). This likewise emerges from the wording of Minhagei Maharil, who includes Shem and Malchus in the blessing. Another important source that mentions the blessing is the Tashbatz (no. 390), though no clarification is offered concerning the mention of Shem and Malchus.

The inclusion of Shem and Malchus in the blessing appears to contravene a halachic principle whereby only blessings originating in the Talmud are deemed official and authoritative (see Rosh, Kiddushin 1:41). Due to this principle, the Leket Yosher (customs of the Terumas Hadeshen, p. 90) mentions the blessing in Aramaic, whereby the Name of Hashem is not mentioned in its Torah form (see also Divrei Chamudos on the Rosh, Berachos 9:5, no. 30).

The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chaim 225) mentions the halachah of the blessing in the name of the Maharil, and, based on the above principle, questions how Shem and Malchus are mentioned for a berachah that does not appear in the Gemara. In keeping with the observation, the Rema (225:2) rules that the berachah should be recited without the mention of Shem and Malchus.

The Mishnah Berurah (225:8) cites from the Vilna Gaon (also mentioning the Maharil) that contrary to the ruling of the Rema, the blessing should be recited as a full berachah, with Shem and Malchus. The berachah, as the Mishnah Berurah mentions, does have a source in the teachings of Chazal—albeit not in the Gemara.

Although the implication of the Mishnah Berurah is that this is the principle halachic ruling, and many authorities agree to recite the blessing in full (see Chayei Adam 65:3; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 61:5; Aruch Hashulchan 225:4; Siddur Baal Hatanya), the common custom is to recite the berachah without mentioning the name of Hashem.

Interpretation of the Blessing

The Magen Avraham (225:5) offers two different interpretations for the blessing of baruch sheptarani.

The first explanation he gives is that until his Bar Mitzvah the father was responsible for the misdeeds of his son, because he is charged with his upbringing. After his Bar Mitzvah, the father is no longer liable for punishment on account of his son, because “he [the son] is obligated to strengthen his own self in Torah and mitzvos” (Mishnah Berurah 7). Upon his release from responsibility, the father makes the blessing of baruch sheptarani.

The Mishnah Berurah adds that the father retains a degree of responsibility for his son: “Know, that although he is no longer responsible for his chinuch, the father remains obligated to chastise his son whenever necessary, and if he fails to do this he is held responsible.” Yet, this responsibility is not special to a person’s children, and the blessing of baruch sheptarani is therefore made upon a father’s release from the special responsibility towards his children.

A second interpretation, which the Magen Avraham cites from the Levush, is that until now the son was liable to be punished for the misdeeds of his father. After his Bar Mitzvah he becomes an independent entity, and is no longer punished on his father’s account.

According to this second interpretation, it would appear that the son, rather than the father, should be the one to make the berachah. Indeed, Shul Shoalim Vedorshim (no. 5) cites from the Shach (a disciple of the Arizal, Parashas Lech Lecha) that upon reaching his Bar Mitzvah, the son himself recites the berachah.

However, based on the Midrash and the above authorities, it is clear that the father, and not the son, recites the blessing, raising the difficulty of how the able interpretation can apply. The Divrei Chamudos (commentary to Rosh, Berachos 9:5, no. 30) explains that if the son is punished on account of his father’s sins, it follows that the punishment will ‘rebound’ onto the father, too, and the father is therefore fitting for the father to recite the blessing. He concludes that this interpretation is somewhat strained.

Reciting the Blessing for a Daughter

Based on the two interpretations mentioned by the Magen Avraham, there is room to investigate whether the berachah is recited even for a daughter who reaches the age of twelve (Bas Mitzvah), or whether it is limited, as the wording of the Midrash suggests, to sons alone.

The discussion of this question opens with the words of the Peri Megadim (225, Eishel Avraham 5), who explains that the question of reciting the berachah for daughters is contingent on the two above interpretations above.

If the rationale behind the blessing is that the father is no longer responsible for the upbringing of his son, it can be argued that the blessing does not apply to daughters. This reasoning is based on a source cited by the Magen Avraham (343:1), according to which a father is not obligated in the upbringing of daughters. If, however, the rationale is that the son is no longer punished for his father’s sins, the same idea will seemingly apply to daughters.

Based on the wording of the Midrash, the Radal (Glosses to the Midrash) explains that the blessing is recited for sons alone because it is specifically related to the obligation of teaching a child Torah. For daughters, the obligation of teaching Torah is limited to the parts of Torah of practical relevance for them, and the full responsibility of teaching a child Torah applies specifically to boys.

The Kaf Hachayim (225:15) upholds the ruling that the blessing is recited for sons alone, explaining how this is true according to both interpretations of the Magen Avraham.

Yet, after citing the analysis of the Magen Avraham, Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yabia Omer, Orach Chaim, Vol. 6, no. 29) writes that most rishonim opine that a person is obligated in the upbringing of his daughters, and it therefore follows that the blessing should be made even for daughters who reach Bas Mitzvah. Based on this approach it emerges that both interpretations of the Magen Avraham will sanction the recitation of the blessing for daughters.

Shut Yavia Omer concludes that the blessing should be recited for daughters without Shem and Malchus. However, the custom among Ashkenaz communities is not to recite the blessing at all for a girl who becomes Bas Mitzvah. A reason for this practice is given in a responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein, as cited below.

Is a Bas Mitzvah Celebrated?

Based on his foregoing analysis, Rav Yosef adds that there is room to argue in favor of celebrating the event of a Bas Mitzvah. A father experiences joy when upon being released from responsibility for his daughter, and this is sufficient cause for a seudas mitzvah. He continues to support this stance from Shut Yaskil Avdi, and even from the Ben Ish Chai.

Yet, many authorities do not concur. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:104, 2:97) writes emphatically that the seudah does not possess the status of a seudas mitzvah, and strongly criticizes the practice of holding the festive meal in shul. He concludes that “if a father wishes to have a celebratory meal at home, he can do so, but there is no reason whatsoever to consider this meal a seudas mitzvah, and it is no more than a birthday celebration.”

Rav Moshe adds an explanation for why girls should be different from boys: surely girls enter the yoke of mitzvos at twelve, just as boys do so at thirteen?

The explanation he offers is that there is no superficial expression of a girl becoming Bas Mitzvah—whereas for a boy there are significant superficial expressions in his ability to join a minyan, a group of three men, and so on. The celebration of a Bar Mitzvah comes on account of the practical demonstrations of the boy’s coming of age, and there is therefore no corresponding celebration of a Bat Mitzvah.

Does a Mother Recite the Blessing?

Based on the first interpretation offered by the Magen Avraham, the blessing of baruch sheptarani is related to the obligation of chinuch (upbringing) of a parent vis-à-vis his children. The question of a mother’s obligation to bring up her children is a subject of dispute among rishonim (Nazir 29b) and poskim, as cited by the Magen Avraham (343:1) and the Mishnah Berurah (616:5; 640:5). Apparently, the halachah of a mother’s recitation of the blessing will depend on these opinions.

However, even according to those opinions who uphold an obligation of chinuch on mothers, there is room to argue that mothers should not recite the blessing. One possible reason for this is that the father recites the blessing on behalf of himself and his wife, in a similar manner to the blessing of hatov veha-meitiv recited upon the birth of a baby boy. After the father has recited the blessing, there is no longer cause for the mother to recite her own blessing.

Another possible reason why mothers do not recite the blessing is because of the basic form of the berachah, which is related to the child’s being called up to the Torah (as noted above from rishnonim, who write that the blessing is made upon the son’s being called up for the first time). The connection with being called up is explained by Shut Divrei Malkiel (Orach Chaim no. 4), who writes that the blessing was instituted in a manner resembling birchas ha-gomel, which requires the presence of ten men, and which is recited in conjunction with the reading of the Torah.

The Divrei Malkiel concludes by stating that the blessing of baruch sheptarani “must therefore be recited at the time of the Torah reading” (see also Zeh Hashulchan vol. 2, 225, who disputes the assertion that the blessing of baruch sheptarani requires a minyan, and Shut Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 7, no. 23 who upholds it). Based on this ruling, we can understand why mothers, who are not practically involved in the Torah reading, do not recite the blessing, whose form involves being called up to the Torah.

A similar principle is outlined by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim Vol. 5, no. 14) concerning the blessing of baruch sheptarani for daughters. Rav Moshe relates to birchas ha-gomel, explaining that the berachah is preferably recited upon being called up to the Torah, and after the Torah reading where this is not possible. He then adds that the same principles apply to the blessing of baruch sheptarani, explaining that the berachah is not recited upon a girl’s coming of age, because she is not called up to the Torah.

This explanation will aid us in understanding both why the berachah is not made for girls, and why mothers do not recite the berachah.

Summary and Further Halachos

  • The blessing of baruch sheptarani is made when a son reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah. The blessing is recited in shul, in front of ten men, on the occasion of the child’s first calling up to the Torah. If the first opportunity is missed, the blessing can be recited up to thirty days later (these halachos are based on the comparison with birchas ha-gomel).
  • Some recite the berachah with Shem (the Name of Hashem) and Malchus. However, the common custom is to recite the berachah without Shem and Malchus.
  • Two interpretations are given for the blessing: 1. The father is released from responsibility for his son’s misdeeds; 2. The son is no longer punished for his father’s sins.
  • Some deduce from the wording “this one’s punishment” that one must recite the blessing in the presence of the son (when he is called up to the Torah; see Shaarei Efraim 4:25; Shut Yad Yitzchak 3:303; Chasan Sofer, end of birkos ha-shachar). However, if this is not possible, the blessing can be recited in the absence of the son (Shut Betzel Hachochman 5:132), as the rulings of other poskim imply.
  • The blessing of baruch sheptarani is not recited for daughters (some write that it is recited without Shem and Malchus). Likewise, mothers do not recite the blessing.

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