One of the blessings we recite when lighting the menorah on the first night of Chanuka is the shehecheyanu blessing. There is some discussion as to what role the shehecheyanu blessing actually serves. It might just be that the shehecheyanu recited when lighting the Chanuka menorah is essentially associated with the holiday, similar to the shehecheyanu recited on Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot. In fact, one who forgot to recite the shehecheyanu blessing at the start of Pesach may recite it whenever he or she remembers, up until the last moments of the holiday.1
On the other hand, the shehecheyanu recited on Chanuka might be a blessing associated specifically with the lighting of the menorah and not necessarily inherent to the holiday itself.
This discussion is especially relevant for one who, for whatever reason, is unable to light a menorah on the first night of Chanuka and is also unlikely to see one.2 In such a situation, should one simply recite the shehecheyanu blessing in honor of the holiday itself, or must the blessing be deferred until one is able to light a menorah?
With minor exception, the shehecheyanu blessing that is recited on all other holidays was instituted in honor of the holiday itself and is independent of the holiday’s accompanying mitzvot.3 In some instances one recites an individual shehecheyanu upon each of the mitzvot that one performs throughout the holiday, in addition to the shehecheyanu recited at the start of the holiday. For example, on Sukkot, shehecheyanu is recited as part of the evening Kiddush in honor of the holiday, and is recited again in honor of the mitzvah of lulav and etrog when it is performed for the first time. Perhaps, then, Chanuka should be treated like most other holidays, and even if one is unable to light a menorah, one should still recite the shehecheyanu blessing simply in honor of the holiday?
It is also noted that the one honored to light the menorah in the synagogue on the first night of Chanuka recites all three blessings when doing so. However, when this person returns home to light his own menorah that night, he only recites the first two blessings, and omits shehecheyanu.4 We can derive at least two important points from this halacha. We see that even though the menorah is lit in the synagogue each night of Chanuka, the one who lights it does not discharge his personal obligation to light a menorah. He is still required to light a menorah at home. Furthermore, since the one who lit the menorah in the synagogue does not repeat the shehecheyanu blessing when lighting the menorah again at home (unless he is lighting the menorah on behalf of others), it implies that the shehecheyanu blessing is not necessarily exclusive to the mitzvah of lighting the menorah.5 If it were, he would be required to recite it again when lighting the menorah at home, which is when he truly performs the mitzvah. This suggests that the shehecheyanu blessing is related to the holiday itself rather than to the mitzvah.
Based on the above, a number of authorities rule that one who is unable to light a menorah on the first night of Chanuka is permitted to recite the shehecheyanu blessing as well as the she’asa nissim blessing in honor of the holiday, even though no mitzvah is being performed.6 Most authorities disagree, however, and argue that the role and function of the shehecheyanu on Chanukah is different from the role and function of the shehecheyanu on all other holidays. This is because all other holidays include a prohibition against performing any work, which inherently demonstrates that the day is different and holy. On Chanuka, however, work is permitted, and therefore one’s daily routine is essentially the same as on every other day. Chanuka thus does not enjoy the same distinction as most other holidays for which the shehecheyanu blessing is recited. Based on this approach, it is the holiday in conjunction with its specially designated mitzvah (lighting the menorah) that warrants the recitation of the shehecheyanu blessing on Chanuka.7
While most authorities agree that the shehecheyanu blessing should only be recited when lighting the menorah, there are some who rule that one who has not lit a Chanuka menorah by the eighth night of Chanuka is permitted to recite shehecheyanu simply in honor of the holiday.8 Here, too, most authorities disagree, and rule that shehecheyanu may not be recited even in such a situation. They hold that the shehecheyanu may only be recited when lighting the menorah, without exception, and the halacha is in accordance with this view. Therefore, even one who, for whatever reason, will not be lighting a menorah at all over the course of Chanuka should not recite the shehecheyanu blessing.9
Purim is identical to Chanuka for this purpose. Therefore, one who is unable to read or hear the Megillah on Purim does not recite the shehecheyanu blessing simply in honor of the holiday.
Based on the above discussion, we can conclude that the shehecheyanu blessing recited on holidays of Torah origin is in honor of the holiday itself, and not necessarily related to the holiday’s accompanying mitzvot. The shehecheyanu of Chanuka and Purim, however (rabbinic holidays), is an inseparable component of the mitzvot of the holiday, and not an inherent component of the holiday itself.10
- Mishna Berura 473:1.
- See OC 676:3.
- Eruvin 40b; Sukka 47b.
- Mishna Berura 671:45.
- Rivevot Ephraim 3:447:2.
- Meiri, Shabbat 23a.
- Igrot Moshe, OC 5:20; Yabia Omer 6:42. See also Shevet Halevi 4:68, Tzitz Eliezer 21:20, and B’tzel Hachochma 4:57.
- Sha’ar Hatziun 671:3.
- Pri Chadash 676:1; She’eilat Yaakov 1:21; Kol Gadol 48.
- Birkei Yosef, OC 692; Biur Halacha 692. See Rivevot Ephraim 7:193 for a lengthy discussion of this issue.