and the Laws of the HaTov VeHaMeitiv Blessing

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Parsha Halacha – Parshat Shoftim

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The Torah portion of Shoftim teaches us the laws of warfare. Before the Jews would begin their battles in ancient times, the Kohen would announce that the following three groups of people were exempt and could go home:
·        one who had built a house but not yet lived there,
·        one who had planted a vineyard but hadn’t yet enjoyed its fruits,
·        one who had betrothed a woman but hadn’t married her.

Redeeming the Fruits

Regarding a person who had planted a vineyard but hadn’t enjoyed its fruits, the Torah[1] says, וּמִי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר נָטַע כֶּרֶם וְלֹא חִלְּלוֹ יֵלֵךְ וְיָשׁב לְבֵיתוֹ פֶּן יָמוּת בַּמִּלְחָמָה וְאִישׁ אַחֵר יְחַלְּלֶנּוּ” And what man is there who has planted a vineyard and not yet redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war, and another man redeem it.”
The above translation follows the opinion of the Talmud[2] and Rashi that the wordחִלְּלוֹ  means “redeemed it.” According to this opinion, the root of the word is חול which means mundane, i.e., redeem it and make it mundane. This refers to the fact that it is forbidden to consume the fruit of a vineyard for the first three years after it is planted. This mitzvah is called Orlah.
The fruits of the fourth year are sanctified and one must bring them to Jerusalem and eat them there or redeem them for money[3] which is then used to buy food in Jerusalem. (See Levit. 19:23 and 24.) Thus, one who planted a vineyard was exempt from going to battle for nearly four years – from the time he planted it until he redeemed the fruit of the fourth year.

Playing the Flute

Several commentaries (Ibn Ezra, Ramban, Rabeinu Bachaye, and Chizkuni) translate the word חִלְּלוֹ as “played the flute.” They explain that it was customary in Biblical times to play the flute when on the fourth year after planting one harvests his vineyard for the first time.
Why these Three?
The commentaries wonder why these three groups of people were singled out to be discharged from the army. Why were people not exempt if they had woven a garment and not yet worn it or had a first-born son and not yet redeemed him from the Kohen?
·        Special Joy
Rabbi Chaim Paltiel (a student of the Maharam of Rothenburg) cites (in his commentary on the Torah) the Talmudic teaching:[4] “Three things expand a person’s mind: a beautiful house, a beautiful wife and beautiful utensils.” He explains that since wine brings people joy, it is customary to drink it in beautiful utensils. As such, these three groups represent a person who has these three blessings. And if one dies before having these blessings, it is considered particularly tragic.
·        No Curses
The Chizkuni[5] points out that when listing the curses that will befall the Jewish people if they (G-d forbid) not fulfill the Torah, Moshe mentions these three groups, as it says (Deut. 28:30) “You will betroth a woman, but another man will lie with her. You will build a house, but you will not live in it. You will plant a vineyard, but you will not redeem its fruits.” Thus, if a soldier in one of these groups died in battle, the other soldiers might think that the curses of Moshe were being visited on them. They might become disheartened and not fight valiantly or, worse, flee the battlefield.
·        The Future House, Marriage and Vineyard
The Shela (Torah Shebichtav, end of Parhat Shoftim) explains the significance of these three groups based on the Talmudic teaching (Sotah 44a, quoted in Rashi on the verse) that the reason that these three groups were sent home was so as not to embarrass those who went home because they had sinned and were afraid of going to war. Since these three groups were sent home along with the sinners, it can be said that we are sending a message to the sinners and trying to inspire them to repent. The message is that by sinning, one damages (or delays) a house, a vineyard and a marriage. Specifically,
1)     The future house is referring to one’s portion in the World to Come (Gan Eden).
2)     The future marriage refers to the Messianic Era when our marriage with G-d will be consummated, as Isaiah (62,5) said, “As… the rejoicing of a bridegroom over a bride shall your G-d rejoice over you.”
3)     The future vineyard refers to the era of the Resurrection when G-d will make a meal that will include wine that G-d has aged since the Six Days of Creation (Brachot 34b).
The sinner is reminded to “return to his house,” i.e., to do Teshuvah and thus repair his portion in the World to Come, as well as hasten the consummation of the marriage between G-d and the Jewish people and the subsequent feast replete with the unique wine prepared by G-d.

Lessons to be Learned

Rabbi Moshe Lemberger of Makova and Kiryat Ata (who wrote many chidushei Torah while in the Theresienstadt concentration camp) explained that the following lesson can be learned from the verses written about these groups:
·        Education in the Home
The verse מי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר בָּנָה בַיִת חָדָשׁ וְלֹא חֲנָכוֹ יֵלֵךְ וְיָשׁב לְבֵיתוֹ (normally translated as “What man is there who has built a new house and has not yet inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house”) can mean that one who established a home by getting married but did not educate his family members properly (וְלֹא חֲנָכוֹ can be translated as “did not give them a proper education) must “go back home,” i.e., start focusing on the education of his children before it’s too late.
·        Holy Children
The verse וּמִי הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר נָטַע כֶּרֶם וְלֹא חִלְּלוֹ יֵלֵךְ וְיָשׁב לְבֵיתוֹ (normally translated as “What man is there who has planted a vineyard and not yet redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house”) can mean that parents must make sure their children are holy (ְלֹא חִלְּלו can be translated as “has not profaned it”)ֹ from the very moment they are planted (i.e., conceived). If one was not particular about this, they must “return home,” i.e., put in a greater effort to sanctify the character of their children.
·        Keep your Elul Commitments
The verse מִי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר אֵרַשׂ אִשָּׁה וְלֹ֣א לְקָחָהּ יֵלֵךְ וְיָשׁב לְבֵיתוֹ (normally translated as “What man is there who has betrothed a woman and not yet taken her? Let him go and return to his house”) can refer to the need to keep our Elul resolutions. The mazal (constellation) of Elul is Betula (virgo) – a young lady. Betrothing a woman (Elul) and not consummating the marriage can refer to one who in Elul commits to better his way but does not keep his commitments. Such a person is instructed to “return home” and correct this by keeping his commitments.
The rest of this article will discuss the laws of the HaTov VeHameitiv blessing that is recited over an abundance of wine.

HaTov VeHameitiv

Our sages[6] established that when one is drinking wine in a group and he opens a new barrel (or bottle) of wine to share with the group, he should recite the blessing of HaTov VeHameitiv (G-d is good and does good).
There are two reasons given as to why the sages instituted this blessing specifically for drinking a new bottle of wine.
·        Wine Is Important
The Alter Rebbe writes (Seder Birkot HaNehenin 12:13) “Because of the special importance of wine ‘which causes G-d and man to rejoice,’[7] the Rabbis instituted an additional blessing for the rejoicing that increases when another bottle is brought to drink.”[8]
Also, wine is the preferred beverage over which we recite many blessings (kiddush, Havdalah, etc). The blessing over wine is so important that one who says it need not recite the blessing over any other liquid they subsequently drink.[9]
·        Wine Can Lead to Sin
The Mishnah Berurah (175:1) quotes the following reason: “It is known that one must minimize physical pleasures. Wine can lead to joy and to acting in a lightheaded manner. Our sages therefore instituted that the blessing of HaTovVeHameitiv be recited when drinking wine in significant quantities. This is (more or less) the same blessing established in the Birkat Hamazon, giving thanks that permission was granted to bury the victims of the Beitar massacre. As such, this blessing will temper our joy (somewhat) and remind us of our final day.”

Three Conditions

According to the Alter Rebbe (Seder Birkot HaNehenin 12:13-21), there are three conditions that must be met to recite the blessing of HaTov v’HaMeitiv. These are listed below together with a brief explanation as to the reason for each of the conditions as well as the opinions of other authorities regarding these conditions.
1)     Better or Equal
In order to say this blessing, the second wine must be of equal or better quality. It can even be from the same harvest of grapes as long as it fermented in a separate barrel. If the first wine is red wine and the second bottle white, one may recite the blessing even if the second wine is of slightly lower quality. The reason for this is that white wine is healthier than red wine. If one drank white wine first, one may say the blessing on red wine only if it is a better quality.
Despite this, if at the outset one has both wines in front of him, he should recite the blessing of Borei Peri HaGafen on the better-quality wine even though this will mean that he will not be able to recite the blessing of HaTov VeHameitiv.
The Reason: Since this blessing is to thank G-d for His bounty and blessing, it is not appropriate to say it on a lesser quality wine (unless it’s healthier).
Other Opinions: Some say[10] the blessing should be said only on a betterquality wine. Also, some say that the blessing should not be recited if both bottles were on the table at the time he said the blessing of Borei Pri Hagafen. Some add that the blessing should not be said if the second bottle was in the house and one was planning to drink it from the outset.[11]
2)     Drinking in a Group
In order to recite the blessing, one must be drinking in a group of at least two people (i.e., a total of two people). In addition, the new wine must be enjoyed by (at least two members of) the group. The group must be drinking together in the same room.
The Reason: The blessing of HaTov VeHameitiv was instituted as a thanksgiving blessing for good news (or experience) that is shared by a group (HaTov indicates that G-d does good to oneself, and HaMeitiv indicates that He does good to others).
Other Opinions: Some say the group must consist of family members or of people who have a partnership in the wine. This can be accomplished by putting the wine down on the table and inviting the guests to help themselves.[12] In addition, some say[13] that the blessing can be said only during a meal which includes bread. Also, some say that the members of the group must drink (at least) a revi’it (approximately 3 ozs.) of both the first and second bottle.[14]
3)     Wine Left
One may say this blessing if, when opening the new bottle, there is still some wine left in the previous bottle.
The Reason: When one brings out a second bottle of wine because the first one is finished, it does not indicate that one is particularly blessed by G-d since he is opening it out of necessity. But if one opens a new bottle just to enjoy the distinct flavor, it is a sign that G-d has blessed him with plentiful bounty.


One does not say the blessing of HaTov VeHameitiv in the following cases:
·        One who says the birkat hamazon over a cup of wine. Since the birkathamazon includes a blessing with the words HaTov VeHameitiv (the fourth blessing of the birkat hamazon), it is not necessary to say this blessing again.
·        If one said HaTov VeHameitiv when he brought out a second bottle and at that time he was already planning to bring out more bottles, he should not recite the blessing again as that blessing covers all the additional bottles. Some say that one may say HaTov VeHameitiv on every new wine he brings out even if he was planning to do so.[15]
·        Some say that grape juice is not considered wine for the purpose of the HaTov VeHameitiv blessing since it is not a beverage that gives joy. Others disagree.[16]
·        On the night of the Pesach seder, it is best not to drink a new wine in a manner which would obligate him to say the HaTov VeHameitiv blessing as this might make it appear that one is adding to the four mandatory cups of the Seder.[17]
·        Some say that one should not recite this blessing during the Three Weeks between the 17th of Tammuz and Tisha Be’Av.[18] As such, they recommend that one not drink wine in a manner that obligates one to say this blessing during that time. Others disagree.[19] Some are strict about this only during the “Nine Days.”[20]
·        Because there are so many conditions to be able to say this blessing, some have the custom to not recite it.[21] However, it would seem that this is not (such) a concern according to the Alter Rebbe, since in his opinion, there are only three conditions that must be met in order to recite this blessing as explained above.
May Hashem bless us and all of the Jewish people with bountiful abundance!
[1] Deut. 20:6
[2] Sotah 43a. See Be’er Sheva on that page by Rabbi Yissachar Ber Eilenberg of 17th-century Poland and Italy
[3] According to halacha there was no need for a Kohen to be involved in the redemption process (see Rambam, Laws of Ma’aser Sheini, 9:1). But see Targum Yonatan on the verse who says that the redemption was done by the Kohen. Various commentaries (cited in Pardes Yosef) have struggled to explain this comment.
[4] Brachot 57b
[5] And the Pirush Riva on the Torah in the name of Rabbi Moshe of Coucy
[6] See Brachot 59b
[7] Shoftim 9:13. Causing G-d to rejoice is a reference to the wine libations which were offered on the altar in the Bait HaMikdash.
[8] Seder Birkot HaNehenin 12:13
[9] Kaf HaChayim 175:1
[10] Rav Mordechai Eliyahu quoted in VeZot HaBeracha page 361. See Kaf HaChaim 175:17 based on Pri Megadim and sources brought in Piskei Teshuvot 175, note 13
[11] Mishnah Berurah 175:4 and Lechem Chamudot cited there
[12] Ibid, 15
[13] Quoted in Kaf HaChayim 175:28
[14] Ibid, 10
[15] Elya Rabbah quoted in Mishnah Berurah 14
[16] See Vezot HaBracha, end of chapter 18 who quotes the various opinions.
[17] Mishnah Berurah 2
[18] Kaf HaChayim 11
[19] Sha’arei Teshuvah 551:22
[20] Implication of Igrot Moshe O.C. 3:80
[21] Piskei Teshuvot 175:1
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Ktiva VaChatima Tova for a good, sweet year!

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