The Flowering Fruit Tree – A Sign of Redemption
The month of Nissan carries the promise that redemption is on its way. Rosh Chodesh Nissan marks the beginning of the season for Birkat ha-Ilanot – the blessing we recite upon seeing fruit trees in bloom. The name Nissan is related to the Hebrew word Nitzan (bud), since this is the month in which everything buds. We have the opportunity to recite this blessing, which praises Hashem's ongoing renewal of creation, only once a year, during the month of Nissan, (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 226:1). Women too have the special Mitzvah to say a bracha (blessing) on a flowering fruit tree, since it is not considered a "time-related mitzvah" from which women are exempt (Har Tzvi O.C. 118). We praise G‑d for the flowers that herald the promise of the fruits sanctified as bikurim (the first fruit sacrifice) on Shavuot. Just as the redemption from Egypt leads to the giving of the Torah, the flowering tree testifies that the fruits are yet to come.
The Words of the Blessing for the Flowering Fruit Tree
The different blessings that we say when we witness various phenomena of creation help us to draw closer to Hashem by deepening our appreciation for the wonders of His creation. Upon seeing the blossoms of fruit trees in the month of Nissan – the first month of spring – we recite the following annual blessing of thanksgiving to Hashem:
בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה ה' אֱלקֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם שֶׁלֹּא חִסַּר בְּעוֹלָמוֹ כלום (דָבָר), וּבָרָא בוֹ בְּרִיוֹת טוֹבוֹת וְאִילָנוֹת טוֹבִים לְהַנּוֹת בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם: (סדור תפלה - נוסח ספרד - סדר תפילת הדרך)
Baruch ata Hashem Elokeinu melech haolam shelo chisar baolamo klum, uvara vo beriyot tovot v'ilanot tovim lehanot bahem benei adam
Blessed are You, Hashem, our God, Sovereign of the universe, Whose world lacks nothing, and Who created within it good creatures and good trees to bring pleasure to human beings.
A Tikun (Rectification) for Reincarnated Souls
According to kabbalah, the blessing on the flowering fruit trees has special significance. It is important to be very careful to have a strong kavanah (intention) when reciting the blessing as it is a tikun for the souls that are reincarnated in the trees and herbs at this time, bear in mind to request mercy for them. About he who is careful to recite this blessing it states," See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which Hashem has blessed: Therefore may Hashem give you of the dew of heaven and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of grain and wine" (Bereishit 27:27). Before reciting the blessing it is good to recite Vayehi Noam – Tehillim 90, followed by Tehillim 148. It is good to say this blessing in a group, and afterwards collect tzedakka (donations to a worthy cause) from everyone. A minimum of 3 perutot (the smallest amount of currency – such as a penny or a 5 agurot coin) is recommended corresponding to the three levels of the soul, (nefesh, ruach, neshama). If ten men are present they may recite kaddish at the end of the tree-blessing ceremony, as this is a great tikun for the souls who are reincarnated in the rocks, plants, trees, birds and other living beings (Kaf HaChaim, O"C 226:6-7).
When is the Optimal Time to Recite Birkat Ha-Ilanot?
The preferred time to recite this blessing is immediately when we first see a fruit tree blossom during the month of Nissan. It is recommended to make a special effort to look for flowering fruit trees to recite the blessing on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, unless it falls on Shabbat or it is raining. It is the minhag (custom) especially among Sephardim to visit the country on Rosh Chodesh Nissan in order to recite this blessing. Although the fruit trees in our garden began to flower more than a month ago, Rav Daniel of Bat Ayin holds that we still need to wait until the month of Nissan – the month of our redemption – to recite this special blessing. During the month of Adar we watch the blooming trees and look forward to Nissan when we finally can praise Hashem for these flowers that reflect our own yearning for redemption, which flowers during the month of Nissan.
When May We Still Recite this Blessing?
If you don't live in an area with fruit trees, and only saw the flowers on the tree after the month of Nissan had passed, you may still recite the blessing the first time you see the tree, as long as the fruit of the tree has not yet ripened. Once the fruit has ripened, it is too late to recite this blessing (Mishnah Berurah 226:4). If you saw the trees in bloom during Nissan, but forgot to recite the blessing, you may still say the blessing later, but only until the time that the fruit of the tree has begun to grow (Ibid.5). It is important, however, to be careful with reciting the blessing at our first opportunity, since several poskim (halachic authorities) maintain that the blessing may not be recited if we failed to say it the first time. For this reason it is important to know the text of the blessing by heart so that we can say the blessing as soon as we see the blossoms. There is a difference of opinion whether we can say the blessing on Shabbat and holidays. According to Kabbalah, this blessing may not be said on Shabbat and Yom Tov. In addition, the blessing may lead to shaking or breaking a branch off the tree (Kaf HaChaim 226:4).
Which Trees Require the Blessing Birkat HaIlanot?
We do not recite the blessing on trees that are orlah. (A tree is considered orlah for the first three years after it is planted). The poskim debate whether one is allowed to say the blessing on a tree which has been grafted from two species, since the halacha does not permit such grafting. It is therefore preferable not to make the blessing on such a tree. According to some Rabbis, we are required to say the blessing near more than one flowering fruit tree (Chida Moreh b'Etzba 198, Chazon Ovadiyah, p. 9-10) It is a hidur mitzvah (beatification of the mitzvah) to recite the blessing on as many trees as possible. The more trees the better (Teshuvot Halachot Ketanot 2:28).Indeed, it is preferred to recite the blessing on trees in an orchard that is planted outside the city limits (Teshuvot Lev Chayim 45 quoted in Kaf HaChaim 226:3 and in Chazon Ovadiyah, p. 8). In the city you will sometimes find a single fruit tree, but never an orchard. In this way the mitzvah of reciting the blessing on the flowering fruit tree insures that people from the city come out to the country during Nissan, in order to experience the processes of renewal of nature that is reflected in our own souls during the month of our redemption. Being in touch with nature especially during the month of Nissan thus helps prepare us for our ultimate renewal and freedom during Pesach.