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Shabbat Parashat Vayeira 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Delayed Chanukat Habayit

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: We moved into a new house four months ago. Are we still obligated to make a chanukat habayit, or have we missed the opportunity? What does the obligation entail?

 

Answer: Besides house-related mitzvot like mezuza and ma’akeh (fence for roof), there are two practices regarding a new house.

The mishna (Berachot 54a) says that one who builds a new house or buys new clothes should recite Shehecheyanu (see also Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 223:3). The same is true for purchasing an existing house (Mishna Berura 223:11). Yet, as we know and as has been reported for centuries, many people do not recite Shehecheyanu on a new house. It is hard to know to which halachic factor(s) to attribute this phenomenon (assuming it is not just lack of awareness), but we will mention a few.

Tosafot (Sukka 46a) cites (and is among many who argue on) Rav Shrira Gaon, who says we do not follow the mishna due to the rule that Shehecheyanu is only for cyclical events. Some suggest that worries about financing take away from the necessary simcha (see opinions in Yalkut Yosef, Sova Semachot I, p. 487). Timing may be an issue, as the mishna talks about reciting at the time of buying, but the house may then be unfit for inhabitance, either for pragmatic reasons or possibly if it is missing mezuzot (see R. Akiva Eiger, on Shulchan Aruch, ibid.). However, one should still be able to recite Shehecheyanu at the time he enters the house. The proper beracha is not clear, as there is a machloket whether Shehecheyanu or Hatov V’hameitiv (a variation, when there are multiple beneficiaries) is appropriate when a family unit acquires the house (see Be’ur Halacha ad loc.). However, when in doubt between the two, Shehecheyanu works (ibid. 4).

There are also significant opinions that Shehecheyanu is a mitzva but not an obligatory beracha (see Magen Avraham 225:6). Therefore, one should not feel he is sinning if he follows the many who do not recite Shehecheyanu over their new home. Certainly, when several months have passed since moving in, it might even be too late for Shehecheyanu (although this is not certain – see Halichot Shlomo I:23:13). However, you can “cover your bases” by using the idea of making Shehecheyanu on a new garment with intention for the house as well (see Be’ur Halacha to OC 22:1).

You are apparently asking about the seudat hodaya (thanksgiving meal) in honor of the occasion, which we call a “chanukat habayit.” This is clearly a minhag rather than a halachic obligation, and it does not have explicit classical halachic sources. Yet, many sources give it basis and significance, including the following. The Torah (Devarim 20:5) instructs to send home from battle one who built a house and did not “inaugurate it.” We see that beginning to live in the house is a very significant event, and therefore many poskim consider it fitting enough for celebration for it to be a seudat mitzva. There are strong sources that both the war-time halacha (see Yerushalmi, Sota 8:4) and the importance of the seuda (see Magen Avraham 568:5) are only on houses in Israel. Indeed, among Ashkenazim, such seudot are far more prevalent in Israel than outside it. The more focus there is on Torah and thanks to Hashem, the more meaningful the seuda is (see Yam Shel Shlomo, Bava Kama 7:37), but there there is no specific necessary structure. If the main thing is to thank Hashem and no berachot are made at that time, there is no statute of limitations on the celebration. Although generally, diligence is a virtue, it is natural to wait for things to settle down and perhaps wait for key people to be around, and four months is not unusual.

There is a more Kabbalisitically-oriented approach, which is more prevalent for Sephardim. One makes the seuda on the day he moves into the house. While also having an element of thanksgiving, this is more focused on the right spiritual start to enhance the family’s success in the house. Some great rabbis, such as the Chida, composed set orders of things to do, learn, recite (see Chanukat Habayit (Mark)).

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