The Gemara (Berachos 43a) teaches that one who sees blossoming fruit trees during Nissan recites a special berachah: “Blessed are You… Who did not omit anything from His universe and created in it good creatures and good trees, to benefit mankind with them.”
This beracha is parallel to berachos that are recited when seeing and experiencing earthly phenomena such as mountains, oceans, earthquakes, and so on. However, extensive kabbalistic sources expound on the special nature of the blessing, and it has its own chapter in the Shulchan Aruch.
In the present article we will discuss the laws and particular details pertaining to the beracha. Is there an obligation to recite this beracha? What is the correct time for reciting it? Can the beracha be recited on Shabbos? How many trees is the beracha recited over? These questions, among others, are discussed below.
An Obligatory Beracha?
There is no obligation in halacha to go out of one’s way to see great mountains, to hear thunder or to see the ocean. The berachos recited upon seeing one of these, berachos known as birchos ha-re’iya, are circumstantial: upon seeing mountains or hearing thunder, the beracha is to be recited.
Strictly speaking, the same is true concerning fruit trees: Just as one is not required to fly to Switzerland to recite a beracha on the Alps, so there is no obligation to seek out blossoming fruit trees to recite a beracha over them.
Some Poskim mention the fact that people are not generally accustomed to recite this beracha. However, many authorities speak highly of those who make the effort to recite this special beracha, and mention that the custom of talmidei chachamim is to do so (see Levush; Aruch HaShulchan; Eishel Avraham [of Butchach], all siman 226).
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l was careful to recite this beracha, and mentioned that since his bar mitzvah he had never missed a year (Halichos Shlomo, Tefillah, Chap. 23, footnote 121).
There is a disagreement whether the beracha is recited specifically during the month of Nissan, when the trees generally begin to bloom, or if one may recite it earlier or later.
Some authorities contend that since the Gemara and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 226) both mention the month of Nissan, the beracha is limited to this month alone. This is also the opinion of some who follow Kabbalistic practices (Birkei Yosef 226:2; Kaf HaChaim 226:1; Badei HaShulchan 18).
However, others do not make the distinction, and write that when the Gemara refers to Nissan it does not mean to exclude other months. While this is the usual time when trees begin to blossom, if a person sees blossoming trees in other months of the year, the beracha is also recited. This is the opinion of all Rishonim who write on the subject (see Ritva, Rosh Hashanah 11a; Eshkol 1:29; Rokeach 342) and many Poskim (Mishnah Berurah 226:1; Badei HaShulchan ibid.; Shu’t Yechave Da’as 1:1).
Therefore, it seems that lechitchilah, one should wait until Nissan and thereby follow the stringent opinions. However, if he is afraid that he will not have a blossoming tree available in Nissan, or if it is already Iyar and he has not yet recited the beracha, he may do so during a different month.
This is certainly true for those who follow Ashkenazi custom. Since several Sephardi authorities note the month of Nissan as the proper time for the blessing, those who follow Sephardic custom should be careful if possible to recite the beracha specifically in Nissan (see Kaf HaChaim Shu’t Yechaveh Da’as, ibid.).
Of course, the discussion above relates only to the northern hemisphere—places where trees blossom in or around the month of Nissan. In the southern hemisphere where the seasons are reversed (trees blossom in Tishrei), or in areas where winter ends late (northern Europe) and blossoms only appear later, all agree that the beracha is recited during whichever month the trees blossom (Shu’t Har Tzvi, Orach Chaim 1:118; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 12:20; Aruch HaShulchan 226:1).
Reciting the Beracha on Shabbos
Another disagreement between some Sephardi and Ashkenazi authorities is whether one may recite this beracha on Shabbos. The Kaf HaChaim (226:4) states that one should not recite the beracha on Shabbos, out of concern that he might pluck a fruit blossom from the tree.
Rav Chaim Palagi notes in fact that the custom of the city of Kushta (Constantinople, today Istanbul) was to recite the beracha on Shabbos, but the custom of the city of Izmir was not to (Sefer Mo’aid l’Kol Chai 1:8).
However, other Sephardi authorities disagree with this ruling, and note that according to the Gemara (Sukkah 36b) it is permitted to smell a hadas (myrtle) on Shabbos, even when it is still attached to the ground. While it is forbidden to smell an attached esrog, for fear that he might come to pick it in order to eat it, this concern does not apply to a hadas, whose primary purpose is for scent and not for consumption since scent does not necessitate detachment, as does consumption.
This distinction is ruled by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 336:10), and it follows that for birkas ilanos, where a person only looks at the flowers, one may recite the beracha on Shabbos without concern (Shu’t Yechave Da’as 1:2).
Ashkenazi Poskim do not discuss the question of Shabbos, and it appears that there is no concern for reciting the beracha on Shabbos—just like the beracha on thunder, lightning, and so on (see Vezos Habracha p. 157; Halichos V’Hanhagos of Rav Elyashiv, quoted in Haggadah shel Pesach, Keren Re’em edition, 5766).
Where and How Many
According to Kabbalistic sources, in order to recite this beracha one should preferably leave the city and go to a place where there are many trees. This is based on the Gemara that mentions “one who goes out during the days of Nissan and sees trees,” the reference to “going out” is understood as leaving the city, while the plural “trees” indicates the need for more than one tree (Kaf HaChaim 226:2-3; Shu’t Lev Chaim 2:44).
However, these two halachic requirements are not mentioned by early commentaries and later authorities, who imply that one may recite the beracha on trees in one’s private courtyard or anywhere else (Avudraham; Chayei Adam 63:2).
Concerning the number of trees required, while some authorities rule note that one should preferably recite the beracha on at least two trees (see Moreh b’Etzbah 148; Shu’t Tzitz Eliezer 12:20 Halichos v’Hanhagos of Rav Elyashiv, ibid.), others maintain that even one tree is sufficient even lechatchelo. The use of the plural form “trees” does not indicate a need for more than one tree, as we find in other places where the plural is used as a general term, without meaning to exclude a single item.
For example, when the Mishnah (Berachos 54a) lists the phenomena upon which one recites “oseh ma’ase bereishis,” it states: “On mountains… oceans, rivers and deserts.” All there are listed in plural form, while the undisputed halacha is that one may recite the relevant beracha even on a single mountain ( See Shu’t Rivevos Efraim 8:77, who reports seeing Rav Moshe Feinstein z”l recite the beracha on one tree).
Earliest and Latest Times
Many fruits, such as nectarines, plums, apricots, cherries, oranges and pomegranates, develop from a blossoming flower. The flower first emerges from the bud. Later, after pollination, the flower falls away and the fruit, though still extremely small, can be seen. The fruit continues to grow until it ripens.
The time for reciting the beracha is from the beginning of the blossoming period, until the fruit becomes fully-grown. Once fully-grown, the beracha may no longer be recited (Mishnah Berurah 226:4)
In general, the halacha for berachos recited over phenomena is that one may only recite the blessing after seeing the phenomena for the first time, as a spontaneous expression of praising and thanking Hashem. Some apply the same logic to birkas ilanos, arguing that one may only recite the beracha annually the first time that one encounters blossoms on trees (Machtzis HaShekel 225:9; Chayei Adam 63:1; Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 60:1).
However, the Mishnah Berurah (226:5) comes to a different conclusion. He argues that even if one did not recite the beracha the first time he saw the blossoms, he may do so when seeing them later time. Because blossoming is a seasonal phenomenon, one can recite the blessing during the entire blossoming season (Piskei Teshuvos 226, footnote 54).
Women and the Beracha
Ashkenazi women may recite this brocho since they recite brochos even for mitzvos like shofar and succo even though they are time-bound. Even Sefardi women may recite Birkas Ha’Ilanos (Or LeZion Vol. 3, Chap. 6, sec. 1). The reason for this is that according to many Poskim one may recite the beracha even after Nissan (as noted above), providing there are still blossoming trees. Therefore, this is not considered a time-bound mitzvah.
Even according to the opinions that one may only recite the beracha during the month of Nissan, the time limitation does not define the mitzvah as “time-bound” mitzvah, because the time is due to the natural circumstances (Turei Even, Megillah 20b)