June 19, 2020

Brachot 58

Today’s daf (Brachot 58b) includes an exquisite rule about my favourite bracha – that if we are overcome with heartfelt joy upon seeing close friends (and family) whom we haven’t seen for over a month then we should recite the ‘Shehecheyanu’ (‘who has kept us alive’) bracha, and if we haven’t seen them for over a year then we should recite the ‘Mechayei HaMeitim’ (‘who resurrects the dead’) bracha. But why?

The simple answer is that the Shehecheyanu bracha acknowledges the gift of life and expresses appreciation for the gifts that God gives us which help us live a happy life. And one of the most powerful & impactful gifts that affect our lives is the gift of friendship.

In recent years, numerous studies have been comissioned to explore ‘The Loneliness Epidemic’, and specifically the relationship between having friends and family that we choose to turn to, and general quality and length of life. And notwithstanding the many strands to this research, the simple fact is that having friends and family is a gift that we should value greatly, and one that is life sustaining.

But there is a further perspective that I’d like to share, which is that just as friends enrich and extend the gift of life, friends also serve to remind us of the many different chapters that we have lived in our life.

Elyashiv Reichner writes in his ‘Foreword’ to ‘By Faith Alone: The Story of Rav Yehuda Amital’ that when R’ Amital arrived at his 80th birthday party which was attended by 1500 students, colleagues and friends, he took to the stage and recited Shehecheyanu while his voice choked with emotion. As Reichner explained, ‘in the context of Rav Amital’s life story, these words, “who has given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this time,” take on a palpable, concrete meaning. How many times was..[he] in danger during his time in a Hungarian labor camp? In those fearful moments, it certainly never crossed his mind that sixty years later he would be standing on a stage in Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel, reciting Shehecheyanu upon meeting hundreds of his nearest and dearest.’

Simply put, friends remind us of our life journey. In giving their friendship they enrich our quality of life, and as some studies suggest, the gift of friendship can even extend our length of life. No wonder we recite Shehecheyanu on seeing close friends!

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