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Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim 5779

Ask the Rabbi: When to Make a Beracha for Inheritance

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: The executor of my mother’s will is starting to distribute funds. I saw in P’ninei Halacha (online) that the beneficiaries should say Hatov V’hameitiv when they receive the funds. In our case, distribution will be piecemeal. When/how often should I recite the beracha?


Answer: The gemara (Berachot 59b) says that when one’s father dies and leaves an inheritance, he recites “Baruchdayan ha’emet” and then a beracha for inheriting, (Hatov V’hameitiv for multiple inheritors; Shehecheyanu for a lone inheritor). The Rashba (Shut I:245) explains the shocking idea of employing an upbeat beracha due to a loved one’s death – these berachot are not for happiness, which should not exist no matter the inheritance’s size, but for practical gain. The Ktav Sofer (Yoreh Deah 123) explains that we view the death and the financial acquisition as separate, as only “by chance” were significant funds acquired due to a death.    

While the gemara is accepted in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 223:2), its practical application has raised pertinent questions. Classical sources imply that these berachot are done right after witnessing or hearing of the death, which is usually when the son is an onen (one before his close relative’s funeral), who may not make berachot. So why does he make this beracha? The Gesher Hachayim (18:2.3) says that the beracha is indeed recited after the burial, but Rav Auerbach (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 64:(8)) is cited as disagreeing.

Another problem relates to the present minhag that people recite Dayan Ha’emet only soon before the burial. But it makes sense to recite the beracha on inheritance at the time it occurs halachically (the moment of death)! Several poskim (see ibid.; Shevet Halevi VIII:35) posit that it is unseemly for the first religious acknowledgment of a parent’s death to be upbeat; so even nowadays, Dayan Ha’emet must be first. But when? There are logic and textual indications (both beyond our present scope) that the two berachot were meant to go together, so that the inheritance beracha could be right after Dayan Ha’emet (at the funeral). But then it is not connected to any stage in inheritance (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata ibid.), and, worse, I have never heard (or heard of) anyone doing it at that time. Another alternative, with similar problems, is soon after starting aveilut at home (it is permitted during shiva – Mishna Berura 551:98).

Therefore, the P’ninei Halacha’s idea is appealing. One thereby distances the beracha from the death and pain, with emotional and maybe halachic gain (see Teshuvot V’hanhagot II:140). By waiting for a financially significant time, the beracha is linked to the inheritance.

However, while not arguing, we will point out problems with this approach. In the gemara’s time, the main inheritance, real estate (see Ketubot 91a), often took a while to be sorted out (divided up by the brothers), and yet the gemara implies that the beracha was made right away. Since according to most, Shehecheyanu of this type is not obligatory (see Mishna Berura 225:9), there is less need to say it if there is doubt. (If one makes the beracha when receiving personally, Shehecheyanu, which is anyway the safer beracha (Biur Halacha 223:5), not Hatov V’hameitiv, is correct even if he has brothers.). There is also a minority opinion (see Ba’er Heitev 223:7) that one makes the beracha only if he was surprised to find out that he was left an estate. Not always is it clear that the inheritance, especially after paying parents’ debts (see Chashukei Chemed, Ketubot 90b) bring enough happiness/benefit for a beracha. Above all, the minhag seems to be not to make the beracha. Although the minhag’s origins are not fully clear, we have seen enough reasons to consider it reasonable. While it is legitimate to follow the P’ninei Halacha’s recommendation or make the beracha earlier, one need not feel compelled to make the beracha. If he decides to make it, it is unjustified to do so on every installment. The first or largest expected installment would be the time.
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