Shehechiyanu on Being Drafted into Tzahal

[Sefer Al Diglo pp. 162-164 and Sefer Me-Chayil El Chayil vol. 1, pp. 320-322]

Question: When a person is drafted to serve in Tzahal, and is exceedingly joyful, is he obligated or permitted to recite the blessing Shehechiyanu (which is recited at a joyous occasion)?
Answer: The Gemara in Berachot (37b) and Menachot (75b) states that if one is standing in Jerusalem in the Temple and offers menachot (meal-offerings), he recites Shehechiyanu. Rashi explained that this refers to an experienced cohain who has not offered this sacrifice for a substantial period of time. Tosafot wrote that this refers to a cohain who serves in the Temple only twice a year, and therefore performs this mitzvah at specific times. The Rambam (Hilkhot Temidim U-Musafim 7:18), however, is convinced that the same passage is talking about a cohain who has yet to offer such a sacrifice in the Temple and Shehechiyanu is thus recited on a mitzvah that is performed for the first time. Similarly, the Rokeach (#371) maintained that any mitzvah performed for the first time is accompanied with a Shehechiyanu. While there are some who disagree with the Rambam and Rokeach, the Rama in the Shulhan Arukh (Yoreh Deah 28:2) ruled that one recites Shehechiyanu when one fulfills the mitzvah of covering the blood of a sacrifice for the first time, and the Yavetz (in his siddur) ruled that it should be said when lighting the Chanukah menorah for the first time.

When the Gerrer Rebbe (Ha-Rav Avraham Mordechai Alter known as the Imrei Emet) visited Israel, he purchased wheat for Pesach for Shemurah Matzah, and merited fulfilling the mitzvah of separating Terumah and Ma’aser (different types of tithes). Maran Ha-Rav Kook, who at the time was Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim, pointed out to him that since this was the first time he was fulfilling this mitzvah, he should recite Shehechiyanu. He further reasoned that the joy of coming to Eretz Yisrael adds to the joy of fulfilling this mitzvah for the first time, making it certain that he can recite Shehechiyanu. After a discussion, the Gerrer Rebbe followed Maran Ha-Rav Kook’s instruction and recited Shehechiyanu, since Ha-Rav Kook was the "the Chief Rabbi of Yerushalayim" and the leading authority on the Laws regarding the Land of Israel ("Chayei Ha-Re'eiyah" pp. 117-119, "Moadei Ha-Re'eiyah" pp.215-217 and "Likutei Ha-Re'eiyah" vol. 2, p. 140). In Shut Orach Mishpat (pp. 268-269), our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, discussed his father’s ruling, and enumerated the many authorities who hold that Shehechiyanu is recited the first time a mitzvah is performed. Thus, the great mitzvah of being draft into Tzahal, which protects the Land of Israel and the People of Israel, is certainly worthy of a Shehechiyanu.

Furthermore, the Tosafot (Sukkah 46a) wrote that when a person fulfills a mitzvah which has an aspect of "simcha - joy," he recites Shechehiyanu (the Tur, Orach Chaim 223, also brings this ruling). The Rambam (Hilkhot Berachot 11:9) limited this to dwelling in the sukkah, lifting the lulav, reading the megillah and lighting the Chanukhah menorah since these are mitzvot which are performed periodically. But Rav David Abudraham (Hilchot Berachot, sha’ar 3) disagreed with the Rambam and wrote, in the name of the Geonim, that one recites Shehechiyanu for any mitzvah that contains both joy and a physical benefit. And we see this idea in the Tosefta that Shehechiyanu is recited by one who separates Terumot and Ma’asrot (different types of tithes) since he is joyful over gathering the fruits (Berachot, chap.7 and see Talmudic Encyclopedia vol. 4, p. 442 note 131), as does one who celebrates on Purim and Chanukah since there is the joy of salvation, one who lifts up the Lulav since there is joy and a physical benefit from its pleasant smell, and one who blows the shofar since our remembrance ascends before Hashem. Similarly, in our case, there is great joy since we have a country, independence and an army to protect our people and our Land.

Rav Chaim Palagi (19th-20th c., Izmir, Shut Lev Chaim vol. 3, #33) was asked whether one should recite Shehechiyanu upon making aliyah, and he concluded that one should not recite the blessing for two reasons: we do not recite a blessing over a mitzvah which is not performed at specific times and one only recites this blessing when there is joy. However Jews in the Land of Israel are overcome with grief even more so than outside of Israel. For example, when they pray musaf [on holidays] at the Kotel and say, "Because of our sins we were exiled from our Land," they burst out weeping. But this reason no longer applies in a rebuilt and flourishing Israel, a reunited city of Yerushalayim, and with the Kotel and Temple Mount under Jewish sovereignty. Moreover, the first reason (as we saw) is a dispute. Therefore, Rav Mordechai Fogelman, former Rav in Kiryat Motzkin, Haifa (Shut Beit Mordechai, siman #28) ruled that one should recite Shehechiyanu upon making aliyah, and similarly (ibid. siman 23), the first time one visits the Kotel after its liberation. This is also true in our case of being drafted into Tzahal.

Further proof can be brought from the fact that Shehechiyanu is recited over new clothes, and the soldiers, after being drafted, receive their Tzahal uniforms. While most of the clothing is lent to the soldier, there are some which are given permanently, such as towels, shoes and, sometimes, extra uniforms. While these are given solely for military use, they are under the ownership of the soldier. Even though towels and shoes are not especially important (and would therefore not merit the blessing of Shehechiyanu for new clothing), one could say that the fact that they are part of a Tzahal uniform gives them importance. Also, perhaps they are considered important since they are given to the soldier for a lengthy period of time. A similar idea is seen in the halachah that one who rents are apartment in the Land of Israel is required to affix a mezuzah immediately because of the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael - settling the Land of Israel (Menachot 44a - unlike in exile where one has thirty days to affix it when renting) (this does not follow Rashi’s explanation). Similarly, in the Pesachim (105a), the students of Rav were eating a meal on Friday afternoon and they asked Rav Hamnuna Saba to check whether nightfall had come. If it had, they would recite Bircat Ha-Mazon, remove the tables (to indicate the change from the weekday to Shabbat), and recite Kiddush in order to start the Shabbat meal. Rav Hamnuna Saba replied that there was no need to check if nightfall had come, because the very onset of Shabbat makes the meal designated for Shabbat (and nothing need be done). The Rashbam explained that because of delight of eating on Shabbat, even a light meal is designated for Shabbat (See Beitzah 34b in which this same idea is used in designating foods for tithing on Shabbat). Thus, the importance of Shabbat can transform the temporary nature to something of permanence, i.e. a snack being considered a full meal. The importance of serving in Tzahal can therefore transform the temporary lending of a Tzahal uniform into a more permanent possession.

Finally, the Bach (Orach Chaim #29) wrote that there is a major difference between the blessing of Shehechiyanu and all others blessings: since the Shehechiyanu is recited over joy, one does not violate taking Hashem's name in vain by reciting it, even in a case where it is not certain that it should be recited. And even though there are those who disagree (Pri Megadim, chap. 225), it is possible to rely on the Bach’s opinion.

Therefore, a soldier who is drafted into Tzahal, and receives a uniform, and is exceedingly joyful is permitted to recite the blessing of Shehechiyanu.