Thursday, July 13, 2006

Fingernails and Havdalah

There is an interesting debate about the blessing said over the flame during the Saturday evening Havdalah. There is an established minhag to look at your fingernails to get benefit from the Havdalah candle. The question is: do you look at your fingernails before or after the blessing? The debate centers around exactly what type of blessing "Borei M'orei haAish" is, with some saying that it is a Birkas haShevach (a blessing of praise), while others say that it is a Birkas haNehenin (a blessing of benefit).

A Birkas haShevach is something like the blessings said over hearing thunder, seeing an exceptionally beautiful person, etc. In these cases we are praising Hashem for the creations around us. These blessings are said after the event being blessed as, obviously, it is impossible to make a blessing on thunder beforehand - as you don't know exactly when the thunder will boom. The Mishna Berurah (296:31), among others (namely, the Steipler; see Orchos Rabbeinu 3:235), holds that the blessing over the Aish is a Birkas haShevach (similar to thunder) and therefore, the blessing is said after looking at your fingernails.

On the other hand, a Birkas haNehenin is said over things that you will be benefiting from (ie food, spices, etc.). Obviously, we make blessings on the specific foods before we consume them. Other commentators, namely, Rav Moshe and the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (see also Siddur haTanya, Siddur haGra, Siddur Ya'avetz) opine that the blessing on the flame is a Birkas haNehenin, and the blessing is therefore said BEFORE looking at the fingernails.

Intuitively, at least to me, it makes more sense to say that it is a Birkas haNehenin, as in the other aforementioned examples (food and spices) you know beforehand that you are about to have these things, and can therefore make a blessing beforehand. However, in the case of a Birkas haShevach, you don't know beforehand that the event (thunder, etc.) is coming, and it is therefore impossible to say the blessing beforehand. In our case of the flame, we know beforehand that we are about to see the flame, and therefore, makes more sense that we would say the blessing beforehand. This, in fact, seems to be the prevailing minhag, presumably because Rav Moshe said so.

My minhag is evolved into doing it both before and after the blessing. However, while driving to work this morning, I realized that this doesn't make much sense as it does not satisfy both opinions. I was comforted, however, when I read this morning that this is the minhag of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein.


Post a Comment

<< Home