Written by: Erin Parfet

Birkat Ha’Ilanot

For now, the winter has passed, and the rains are over and gone. The blossoms have appeared on the land. The time for pruning has come. Song of Songs 2:11

Often in Jewish communities, a special blessing will be recited once a year, on or after the first day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, to commemorate the blessing of the fruit trees upon seeing the first blossoming tree of the springtime season. This blessing, Birkat Ha’Ilanot, which fits into the broader category of blessings related to seeing different things, such as rainbows, lightning, oceans, etc.), reads: Blessed are You Adonai, Sovereign of the Universe, Who did not leave anything lacking in the universe and created goodly creatures and beautiful trees to give pleasure.

This is based on a teaching in the Talmud as well as the Code of Jewish Law that the “world was created in the month of Nissan,” and therefore, contrary to the Gregorian calendar or even Rosh Hashanah being designated as the “head” and the Jewish civil new year, or fiscal calendars, which may have different dates, the Jewish calendar actually starts in Nissan. The rabbis describe it as a season to give praise: “You are bountiful, Holy One our God, Majesty of space and time, whose world lacks nothing, and Who created goodly creatures and trees in order that humans might enjoy them.”

The kabbalists’ explanation for this apparent conundrum of when the calendar is to begin is that the world may have been physically created in the fall during the time of Rosh Hashanah (the month of Tishrei), but the idea for the world was born in Nissan, in the springtime. However, if the trees in your area do not blossom until later, the blessing does not need to be in Nissan, but anytime during the springtime, so long as the fruits of the tree remain unripe (Shulchan Aruch 226:1, Mishnah Berurah 4).

A blessing does not necessarily need to be said if a fruit tree is considered orlah, meaning that the tree is less than three years old, according to some rabbis. One does not automatically recite the blessing on the first day of Nissan unless one has actually seen a tree in bloom on that day. Rather, the first time on Nissan 1 or anytime after that one sees a tree in bloom, then the blessing is to be said. If winter is lasting longer and the trees are blooming later in a given year, then the first opportunity after Nissan 1 to sight a tree in bloom is the appropriate time to recite Birkat Ha’Ilanot. Some rabbis, however, will debate whether it is valid to say Birkat Ha’Ilanot if a tree is a crossbreed of two different species or if two types of trees have otherwise been grafted into one.

One is not supposed to go out looking for a tree in which to say the blessing, but the blessing is to be said when one is going about their day and happens to notice the first fruit tree blossoming in Nissan (or later in the springtime if applicable to your geographical area; obviously there may be differences with the southern hemisphere versus the northern hemisphere as well).

Ideally, though, Birkat Ha’Ilanot should be said on a weekday, not the Shabbat (Kaf Hachayim 226:4). The rationale behind this point is that some might become so excited about the first blossoms of the springtime season that they might want to go shake the tree or remove a branch to bring the flowers into their homes, and both of these activities are considered violations of the Shabbat.

If a tree has blossomed during Nissan, but one was preoccupied with life or did not happen to notice that the tree was blossoming until some time later, one can still say Birkat Ha’Ilanot, but only if the fruit of the tree has not ripened. This is stipulated in Mishna Berurah 226:4. If one did notice that a tree was bearing fruit or blossom during Nissan but forgot to say the Birkat Ha’Ilanot for any reason, one may still recite the Birkat Ha’Ilanot at a later time when he or she remembers, but only up until the point where the fruit starts to mature and grow.

As part of honoring the blossoms starting to emerge, many congregations will also take the opportunity to share a special reading from Exodus that reviews all the rules for the upcoming Passover.

This special reading would be conducted in conjunction with the regular Torah portion for the week. The recitation of Birkat Ha’Ilanot is considered a mitzvot, but because it can technically only be recited after one actually sees blossoming flowers or fruits, one must be actually looking for blossoming flowers or fruits in nature. It may be something as prolific as the cherry blossoms blooming in Washington, D.C., in the springtime, or as seemingly mundane as a citrus tree bearing fruit in California or a lilac bush bearing flowers at your neighbor’s house. Any example is fine for the sake of saying the blessing.

Because it is a mitzvot for all, it is inadequate to hear another person recite the Birkat Ha’Ilanot; one is expected to see the fruit-bearing tree (bearing edible fruit specifically) or themselves, and each one recites the blessing.

The Birkat Ha’Ilanot embodies a deep connection between faith, nature, and the ever-renewing cycles of life and is a poignant reminder to appreciate the beauty of the changing seasons. There are many simple things and simple beauties in life that we often overlook in the rat race of life, especially on the non-Shabbat days of the week. May we take this opportunity to acknowledge the Creator’s hand in this blossoming world. May we marvel at this beautiful Jewish tradition of stopping to smell the roses, or at least admire them from afar, and to offer a berakhah (blessing) of gratitude to the Lord. 

Let us take a moment to recognize how our lives have blossomed in fulfillment of the Lord’s plans for each of us, even if we have not fully ripened, matured, blossomed, or completed our journey yet. May we delight in and give thanks for all of God’s creation whether it be the amber waves of grain, the oceans white with foam, the majestic redwood forests, the birds sweetly singing in the forest, the snow-capped mountain peaks, or simply the nature that surrounds you right in your own neighborhood.

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