Question: Why does the chazzan reciting Shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur night?
Answer: This practice is, indeed, unusual since there is no other prayer service during which the chazzan says this berachah.
The Tur and Mechaber (Orach Chayim 619) both note that the chazzan recites Shehecheyanu following Kol Nidrei. The Mechaber, elsewhere (Orach Chayim 225), discusses in detail the blessing of Shehecheyanu and when one is required to recite it. He writes that one says it after constructing (or acquiring) a new house, acquiring a new garment, and eating a new fruit (basically any matter that renews itself year to year).
In other sections of his work, the Mechaber requires that Shehecheyanu be said for such matters as Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, shofar, sukkah, lulav, Chanukah candles, and Megillat Esther, but he makes no mention of these in his earlier and more detailed discussion of Shehecheyanu in siman 225 – probably because the Talmud (in its discussion of Shehecheyanu in Perek Haroeh in Berachot, which is the basis of the Mechaber’s discussion) doesn’t mention them either. (The Talmud does mention them in other places, including Tractates Eruvin, Pesachim, Sukkah, and Shabbos.)
It should be noted that all the above examples involve a cheftza shel mitzvah – an object used for the performance of a mitzvah. For example, Chanukah candles, a shofar, a sukkah, a lulav, a megillah, etc. On a regular Yom Tov, we also make Shehecheyanu on an object: wine. But on what object do we make Shehecheyanu on Yom Kippur when wine obviously cannot be used?
Women make Shehecheyanu on the candles they light for Yom Kippur. But what about the Shehecheyanu said in shul?
On regular Friday and festival nights, Kiddush is recited in many synagogues to discharge the Kiddush obligation of the destitute. (The first two nights of Passover are exceptions to this rule since, as the Mechaber notes, even the most destitute person has wine for Kiddush at the seder. Also exceptions are the nights of Sukkot because Kiddush cannot be made in shul. Some synagogues, though, will make a public Kiddush in the synagogue sukkah.)
So we have two reasons to recite Shehecheyanu in shul on Yom Kippur night. First, it is connected to the basic Kiddush requirement. Second, it is connected to the synagogue Kiddush requirement.
Of note is the Mishnah Berurah’s statement (Orach Chayim 619:sk3) that the congregation should recite Shehecheyanu along with the chazzan, quietly, and hurriedly so that they can answer amen to the chazzan’s blessing.
Shulchan Aruch Harav (Orach Chayim 619:8) notes that, according to the letter of the law, the entire congregation should be discharged of their Shehecheyanu obligation via the chazzan’s blessing with no need for them to say it themselves because of the rule (based on Mishlei 14:28) of “b’rov am hadrat melech – in the midst of the multitude of His people is the king’s glory” in accord with Beit Hillel’s interpretation (Berachot 43a) that an entire assemblage responding to the chazzan’s blessing accords Hashem the greatest glory.
Yet, nowadays for the most part, the chazzan does not intend to discharge the obligation of others; therefore, everyone should say Shehecheyanu for themselves in a hushed tone and take care to conclude before the chazzan completes his blessing so that they can respond amen to his blessing. This same rule applies to the blessing before Hallel and the blessing said on the lulav that the chazzan recites in shul.
(To be continued)