April 13, 2024
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Birkat Ha’Ilanot in the Backyard of Joyce and Carmi Mizrahi, a Shaarei Orah Tradition

For Sephardic Jews, Birkat Ha’Ilanot is not merely a beautiful bracha; it is an event! Besides reciting the bracha, the Sephardic siddur includes magnificent bakashot that enrich the experience by adding a deep, mystical component. Sephardim love to gather as a group to recite this bracha and the bakashot that are concluded with Kaddish.

Once Chodesh Nisan arrives, congregants begin to ask when we are reciting this magnificent bracha. The bracha, though, must be timed just right. It is too early to be recited when the tree has not flowered, and too late to recite if it has already borne fruit. At Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, we have recited this bracha for three consecutive years in the backyard of Joyce and Carmi Mizrahi. Interestingly, Sephardic poskim prefer at least two trees from two different varieties. Therefore, Carmi and Joyce planted a pear and plum tree specifically for the purpose of reciting Birkat Ha’Ilanot!

Carmi provides us, as the time approaches, with daily updates on his trees. Carmi this year, though, offered to make it easier on our kehillah by suggesting that we recite the bracha on the two cherry trees in front of Shaarei Orah. The trees had passed their three orlah years, making them a fine choice upon which to recite Birkat Ha’Ilanot.

We respectfully declined because we prefer trees of different varieties, and because of the value the Torah and Halacha accords to loyalty. Avraham Avinu, explains Rashi, stayed at the same lodgings upon his return from Egypt as he did during his descent there. Similarly, the Mishna in Masechet Gittin teaches that the location of the Eruv Chatzeirot, the matzah that binds the community as one unit and permits us to use the community eruv, should not be changed year to year. Thus, we wish to continue our practice of reciting the bracha at the Mizrahis.

On Friday of Chol Hamoed Pesach, Carmi informed me that the fruit trees were ready and that the kehillah can come on Shabbat to recite the bracha. Although Hacham Ovadia Yosef permits reciting Birkat Ha’Ilanot on Shabbat, the great Sephardic authorities, the Ben Ish Chai and Kaf HaChaim, object to reciting Birkat Ha’Ilanot on Shabbat. Moreover, Hacham Ovadia and leading Moroccan posek Ribi Shalom Messas both prefer that Sephardim avoid using a community eruv. Since many congregants bring their Pesach machzorim to recite the bracha and its surrounding bakashot, I thought it preferable to recite the bracha on Yom Tov to respect the stricter view regarding community eruvin.

The anticipated day finally arrived. On the seventh day of Pesach we gathered in the backyard of the Mizrahi home on Maitland Avenue in Teaneck to recite the bracha. The weather was perfect, and Joyce and Carmi served a beautiful Kiddush for the assembled (including kitniyot, with non-kitniyot options for Ashkenazic guests).

Shevi’i Shel Pesach is a perfect time for Birkat Ha’Ilanot, a shira praising Hashem for the revival of the trees. It is so appropriate to recite this precious bracha on this day of shira, of appreciating Hashem’s involvement in the world, and on the chag in which we celebrate renewal and Techiyat HaMetim (as per the haftarah of Chol Hamoed Pesach when we read of the revival of the dry bones described by the Navi Yechezkel).

Looking forward, the Mizrahis hope to expand their “orchard” to include grapes and other varieties of fruit to further enhance what is already a highlight of the Pesach season at Shaarei Orah. May Hashem send the entire Mizrahi family special brachot in the merit of their hosting this beautiful event, and may Hashem send His special blessings to the entire kehillah and am Yisrael, a special people who are thrilled to observe His mitzvot with love and joy.

By Rabbi Haim Jachter

 Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a Rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a Dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

 

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