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Thought for the Day: Making the Bracha of שהחיינו on a New Fruit Nowadays

I had a friend in graduate school who was getting his masters in orchestral conducting.  He told me that the music theorists say that Beethoven's 5th Symphony is essentially defined by the first five notes.  I asked (I was a physicist, after all) if that meant I could give him any five notes and he could give me back a symphony.  Of course the answer was "no"; what he really meant was that one can hear the theme defined by those first five notes throughout the entire symphony.

Understanding Chazal is something like that.  We know, for example, that Chazal instituted brachos before benefiting from this world.  However, not all pleasures have an associated bracha.  That doesn't mean there are no rules.  It only means that we sometimes have to "reverse engineer" the intent before we can understand how to apply they bracha when technology affects how do things.

Some time ago, the general rules of saying שהחיינו on a new fruit was discussed in a TftD.  The question of what to do nowadays was left open; partly because I ran out of space/reader interest, but mostly because I didn't have clarity.  I have more clarity now, so let's try.

First, look at the wording of the bracha: who kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this season.  The words in bold mean that this bracha cannot possibly apply to something that does not have a season.  To be brought to a season, there must be a season to which I can be brought.  If the fruit has no season, therefore, one would never be able to make a שהחיינו on eating that fruit.  Cucumbers, for example.  Plant cucumbers any day you want, and you'll have cucumbers 50 to 70 days later.  (Of course you need appropriate temperature, humidity, soil, etc conditions.)  Cucumbers don't have a season.  Citrus fruits have a season.  The last couple of years, we have gone to a citrus grove in Florida around Pesach.  We are allowed to pick grapefruit and valencia oranges, because those are in season.  It's not a matter of temperature and humidity; it's a matter of the season.

That, however, is only if you let it ripen on the tree.  If I pick the oranges while green, I can store them and then ripen them manually with calcium carbide.  That, says R' Moshe, means that oranges treated that way are not eligible to שהחיינו.  It doesn't matter whether they ripen on the tree, or if I intervene and either delay or accelerate the ripening... both it's epoch on the tree and it's epoch during my intervention are considered in halacha (according to R' Moshe) as part of the growth process.  Since I can now have ripe oranges any time I want, they are not longer seasonal.

Please note well that the reason these fruits are exempt from שהחיינו is because they have no season, not because they are available all year.  If I had a fruit that was ripened on the tree and then I could keep them around for weeks or months without rotting, then they would still be eligible for שהחיינו.  Wheat, for example, is seasonal and so bread should get a שהחיינו, but since it is impossible to discern the difference between bread made with fresh wheat and bread made with last year's harvest, Chazal were afraid of us making a mistake so instituted that שהחיינו should not be said on bread.

It is really impossible to summarize a t'shuva from R' Moshe; every word is necessary.  The bottom line, though is that if you know the fruit was ripened on the tree, there is no reason -- in principle --that you can't make a שהחיינו.  That's because we Ashkenazim follow the p'sak of the Rema.  However, there are acharonim who say not to make the bracha of שהחיינו even if the fruit is seasonal, but you've seen other fruits of the same variety that were available all year.  And the שהחיינו is optional, anyway.  Therefore, R' Moshe recommends, that the שהחיינו on a new fruit should only be said when you have other considerations pushing you, such as second day of Rosh HaShana.  Then you should be careful to get a tree ripened fruit that you have not experienced that year.  Just to be safe.

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