Shehecheyanu ("that we are alive") is a generic Jewish blessing said in addition to regular blessings as the Jewish people express gratitude to God for the gift of life and the miracles that occur around us in the present moment, reminding us to take nothing for granted and allow ourselves to be surprised by as well as thankful for the small, finer, sometimes overlooked things in life.
Put another way, it is a blessing of thanksgiving that we are alive in the moment and able to marvel at the beauties around us, small and large, and at God’s abundant mercy in the midst of the mundane.
The Shehecheyanu blessing originates from the short phrase "Barukh she’higiyanu la’zman ha’zeh," a phrase of gratitude that means "Thank you for allowing us to reach this moment." After the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Jewish religious scholars and teachers of the time went about standardizing the format of all Jewish blessings and prayers. This is the time in history when the wording of the Shehecheyanu expanded to its current form. Originally, the Shehecheyanu was first explicitly mentioned in the Mishnah as a blessing over a new home and also comes up in the Talmud (Pesachim 7b; Sukkah 46a; and Berakhot 37b, 44a).
Traditionally, the Shehecheyanu blessing is laid out to extend thanksgiving and gratitude to God for three different components: Shehechiyanu (given us life), v’kiyimanu (sustained us), and vihigiyanu laxman hazeh (allowed us to arrive at this moment), as illustrated below:
Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech haolam, shehecheyanu, v'kiy'manu, vhigiyanu, and laz'man hazeh
Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of all, who have kept us alive, sustained us, and brought us to this season.
The blessing is also customarily recited at the first time you do something on any given Jewish calendar year (e.g., hearing the shofar blast ring in the new year, lighting the menorah on the first night of Chanukah, reciting the Megillah on Purim, waving the lulav on Sukkot) and to mark special occasions (e.g., praising the birth of a new baby, celebrating a baby’s first steps, participating in pidyon haben, moving into a new house, starting a new job, tasting the first produce of the year from one’s garden, arriving in the country of Israel, converting to Judaism, first time wearing a new shirt, etc.).
Thus, the Shehecheyanu blessing is traditionally said at the commencement of any Jewish holiday or divinely appointed time (e.g., the first night of Passover, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Simchat Torah, and Chanukah), honoring the blessing of having arrived in the presence of this next joyful occasion. The Shehecheyanu blessing is not recited at sad events such as funerals, losing a job, or Tisha B’Av.
Some people will say the Shehecheyanu blessing for special non-mitzvot occasions, such as seeing an old friend after much time has elapsed or acquiring a new household appliance. Other people may say the blessing on any number of other special occasions throughout their lives at their discretion: weddings, bar or bat mitzvahs, a first day of college, anything that is a momentous first or the beginning of a new chapter for that individual.
Another acceptable time to say the Shehecheyanu blessing would be the first time in a given Jewish year that you eat a particular seasonal fruit, as the fruit is considered a "new fruit" and thus worthy of blessing. Examples of such seasonal fruits include strawberries, kiwi, figs, dates, pomegranates, cherries, and others. The blessing should ideally be said prior to the regular blessings bestowed upon the fruit, though sometimes one will say the Shehecheyanu blessing after the traditional blessings. The blessing is only said if the fruit is fresh and ripe; the Shehecheyanu blessing does not apply to dried fruits.
The Shehecheyanu is a beautiful testimony to the beauty of each and every day and God’s mercies in extending us life and carrying us through the seasons and cycles of our lives. It is a beautiful testimony to being present in the here and now and focusing on the blessings in front of us at the moment rather than dwelling on the past or making plans for the future, which may be the best laid plans of mice and men. God may have more beautiful plans for the future than we can imagine if we are left to our own devices or if our own visions of our futures play out without His intervention to fulfill His will for our lives rather than our own.
It is an opportunity to be thankful to God for the here and now and not be swayed by the distractions around us. It is an opportunity to awaken from our complacent slumber by extending praises of thanksgiving and expressions of contentment in all that the Lord has given us, for from Him all blessings flow. Each day is a moment of unprecedented, unguaranteed arrival—a blessing—when God’s mercies are extended. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for any of us.
The concept of thanksgiving and gratitude need not be unique to the Jewish faith. As Paul teaches in 1 Thessalonians 5:16, "Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." All circumstances do not mean simply the milestones in our lifecycles or only in the context of financial blessings; in all circumstances, good and bad, blessed be the name of the Lord forever. In contrast, ungratefulness is called out in 2 Timothy 3: "But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful." Thus, could being ungrateful arguably be considered sin?
Even Psalm 136 elaborates on the simple yet elegant message of why we should humble ourselves enough to express thanksgiving and gratitude to God—because He is good and His love indeed endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of Lords; His love endures forever.
To him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.
who, by his understanding, made the heavens. His love endures forever.
who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever.
Who made the great lights? His love endures forever.
The sun to govern the day, His love endures forever.
The moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.
To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, His love endures forever.
And brought Israel out from among them; His love endures forever.
With a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.
To him who divided the Red Sea asunder, His love endures forever.
And brought Israel through the midst of it. His love endures forever.
But swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever.
To him who led his people through the wilderness; His love endures forever.
To him who struck down great kings, His love endures forever.
And killed mighty kings—His love endures forever.
Sihon, king of the Amorites, whose love endures forever
And Og, king of Bashan—His love endures forever.
And gave their land as an inheritance. His love endures forever.
An inheritance to his servant Israel. His love endures forever.
He remembered us in our low estate; His love endures forever.
And freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever.
He gives food to every creature; His love endures forever.
Our attitude shapes so much; contentment, gratitude, and thanksgiving for the small, beautiful things interspersed with the mundane make life on earth a tiny bit better. It may be difficult to be thankful for a flat tire, for instance, but we can be thankful that God is ultimately in control of the situation and that He works for the good of all who love Him as our Protector, Provider, King, and whose Son is our Savior.
He will never leave or forsake us; He will be with us unto the end of time. When it is all over, we know we would not have it any other way because the hard things that happened helped shape our characters and sharpen our faith so that we could one day be ready for the glorious coming of the Lord.
Jew or Christian, may we all give thanks to the God of Heaven and Earth for who He is and all He has bestowed upon us. May we marvel at His handiwork and creation here on earth. His steadfast love indeed endures forever and will see you through to the end.