Blessings Over Joy

Blessings Over Joy
Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Thanking God for Both the Good and the Bad

The objective of pronouncing blessings is to cause us to always
remember the Creator, Who watches over all of His creatures at every
moment. By blessing we are repeatedly reminded that God does not
reside in some detached and lofty abode, but rather that every thing
which exists in our world does so by virtue of a divine inner spark.
Every single event which takes place in the world has spiritual
significance and a divine objective which beckons to be understood.
Hence, when a person experiences a certain joyous incident, he must
praise and thank the Creator, and pronounce the blessing
“Shehecheyanu.” On the other hand, if, Heaven forbid, one experiences
a tragedy, one must realize that this too is the result of God’s
providence, and though we do not always understand what sort of logic
lies behind such an event, we must all the same have faith and know
that God is a fair judge and that all of his decisions are just. In
such circumstances one therefore blesses, “Barukh Dayan
HaEment” (Blessed is the fair judge).
The knowledge that God runs the world, and that whatever occurs
happens as a result of His providence, gives meaning to every event in
life. When a person merits a joyous occasion, his joy is deepened by
his awareness of the fact that this was not the result of coincidence,
but of the hidden hand of God. And even if, Heaven forbid, a person
experiences a tragedy, he is better equipped to accept it when he
knows that it has meaning. The conviction that God watches over
creation adds light to the world even during difficult hours, for the
believer knows that even if at present he is not aware of what good
can possibly come out of this tragedy, he at any rate knows that
whatever God does in the world is, when all is said and done, for the
best. One, though, who does not possess faith, is faced with nothing
more that hardships, and the pain penetrates his heart, providing no
remedy or meaning.

“Shehecheyanu” and “HaTov VeHaMetiv”

The Sages introduced two blessings for the purchase of new and
gladdening items: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the
Universe, who has granted us life and sustenance and permitted us to
reach this festive occasion,” and “Blessed are You…the beneficent
One, Who bestows good.” The difference between them is that so long as
the joy belongs exclusively to one individual, he must bless
“Sheyecheyanu.” Yet, when the joy is shared by two or more
individuals, it is collective, and they therefore bless, “the
beneficent One, Who bestows good.” Hence, if a couple buys, for
example, a heating furnace, cooking stove, table, chairs, beds, or
anything else connected to the needs of the home, because the joy is
shared by the two of them, they must bless, “the beneficent One, Who
bestows good.” But a single individual who buys the same items for
himself will bless, “Shehecheyanu.” The same goes for a new garment: a
dress, pants, skirt, or any other item which makes a person happy.
Over such things, one blesses “Shehecheyanu.” And even if the husband
is happy because his wife has a new garment, all the same, the real
and actual joy belongs to the woman, and therefore she alone
pronounces the blessing.

Winning the Lottery and Receiving an Inheritance

A person who wins the lottery must, of course, thank God and pronounce
a blessing. This is true not only for large amounts, but for small
amounts as well. Even a person who wins a few hundred shekels, and is
happy about this, must pronounce a blessing. The question is, though,
should he bless “Shehecheyanu or “the beneficent One…” If the winner
is single, or married yet each of the spouses has his or her own bank
account, since the money is really the winner’s alone, he or she must
pronounce the blessing. If, though, the money enters their joint
account, because it brings happiness to both of them, “the beneficent
One” must be pronounced.
The same is true regarding one who inherits money or property – he
must pronounce a blessing. And even though he would prefer to forgo
the inheritance and have his relative remain alive, all the same, the
blessing is pronounced for the benefit derived from the inheritance
which, nevertheless, causes happiness in its own right. Therefore,
when a close relative dies, one blesses: “Blessed be the True Judge”.
Afterwards, when the bereaved inheritor receives his inheritance, he
must thank God and pronounce the “Shehecheyanu” blessing. Here, too,
if he is a sole inheritor, he blesses, “Shehecheyanu,” but if a number
of individuals divide the inheritance between them, they must bless
“the beneficent One…” And if there is one inheritor, yet he is
married and a father of children, it would appear that if the money
enters into his and his wife’s joint account, they must bless “the
beneficient One…” for she too shares in the joy. If, though, the
inheritance goes into the benefactor’s own personal account, and is
not divided with the spouse, even though she will no doubt derive
indirect benefit from the inheritance, all the same, he pronounces the
“Shehecheyanu” blessing. This is because in principal the money
belongs to him, and theoretically she may end up deriving absolutely
no benefit from it whatsoever (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 223:2;
Mishnah Berurah 9; Biyur Halakhah, Dibbur Hamatchil: “Ein”).

A Gift

We have already mentioned the difference between the “Shehecheyanu”
and “the beneficent One…” blessings. i.e., so long as the joy is
shared by two or more individuals “the beneficent One” is pronounced;
when the joy is the sole possession of a single individual
“Shehecheyanu” is pronounced. For example, if a woman buys a new dress
for herself, she blesses “Shehecheyanu.” And despite the fact that it
also makes her husband happy, the actual tangible enjoyment is the
woman’s. Interestingly, though, when a husband buys his wife a dress
as a gift, even though the woman is the one who wears the dress, the
Shulchan Arukh says (Orach Chaim 223:5) that she blesses “the
beneficent One…” The reason for this is that by giving the gift to
his wife the husband became an active participant in the joy. The same
is true regarding any gift that a person gives to his fellow. The one
who receives the gift must bless “the beneficient One…”
There are, though, authorities who disagree and hold that because the
one who gives the gift receives no actual tangible pleasure, he is not
to a true partner in the pleasure, and therefore the one who receives
must pronounce the “Shehecheyanu” blessing (Mishnah Beruruah 223, 21).
In such a situation, then, the one who receives the gift may chose how
to bless, for either of the two blessings is acceptable.

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