March 23, 2021

Pesachim 121

Today’s daf (Pesachim 121b) – the final page of Massechet Pesachim – concludes with a discussion about Pidyon HaBen (the redemption of the firstborn), and whether it is the father of the boy, or the Kohen, who recites the Shehecheyanu bracha.

Before proceeding, I should explain that I adopt the view of a number of Acharonim that there are three categories of Shehecheyanu:  One category relates to the occasions when Shehecheyanu is recited in response to an annual, seasonal, or cyclical event in time. Another relates to events where a person is happy due to a seasonal event. And another relates to an event that is purely expressive of personal joy in the moment.

However, it is important to note that there were those who disagreed with this approach and took the view that there is just a singular category of Shehecheyanu. For example, Rav Sherira Gaon asserted that all instances of Shehecheyanu are related to an annual, seasonal, or cyclical event in time. The problem, as noted by Tosfot (on Sukkah 46a ד”ה העושה), is that we learn from our daf that Shehecheyanu should be recited at a Pidyon HaBen which is an event that does not occur from time to time (i.e. it is not an annual or seasonal event).

Admittedly, some authorities like the Semag respond by claiming that Pidyon HaBen is, in some way, an event rooted in time since it occurs 30 days after the birth of a firstborn boy. However, many do not adopt this approach, and it was due to this ‘problem’ of Pidyon HaBen that led the Rashba to widen his definition of when Shehecheyanu should be recited to include mitzvot of the Torah which do not occur from time to time. However, as mentioned, it seems that all these intellectual gymnastics are only required if one insists that there is just one category of Shehecheyanu – whereas there is ample evident to assert that Shehecheyanu is a multi-faceted bracha.

And this brings us back to today’s daf because, underpinning the debate about whether it is the father of the boy or the Kohen who recites the Shehecheyanu bracha at a Pidyon HaBen, is a broader question about why Shehecheyanu is recited. And though the Gemara’s conclusion does not provide a definitive answer to this question, the very fact that the Gemara rules that it is the father who recites the bracha is suggestive that Shehecheyanu – or at least some examples of Shehecheyanu – are not just said in response to time or mitzvot, but also, in response to moments of personal joy.

Today, as we conclude Massechet Pesachim just days away from Pesach, I look back at the time I have spent with Massechet Pesachim over the past few months, I look forward to the mitzvot of Pesach we will soon be performing on Seder night, and I am filled with joy for the privilege of having learnt, written and shared Torah wisdom – and the opportunity to continue doing so with future Massechtot!

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