Mechayei Hameitim after Long Separation

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: I will soon see my son-in-law after a more than two year Corona-forced separation. We have been in frequent contact and have seen each other often on Zoom. Should I say the beracha, “… mechayei hameitim” (Who brings the dead to life)?

Answer: The gemara (Berachot 58b) says that upon seeing a friend after separation, after thirty days he recites Shehecheyanu and after twelve months, … mechayei hameitim”. According to most opinions, if one recites the latter, he does not recite the former (Magen Avraham 225:2; Mishna Berura 225:4). The berachot are predicated on the assumption of significant joy over the reunion, making it logical that it is only for friends one is fond of (Tosafot 58b), and even very fond of (Shulchan Aruch, OC 225:1).

Shehecheyanu is a common, general beracha for a wide variety of happy experiences. Mechayei Hameitim is surprising for this context, as its daily usage relates to belief in Hashem literally resurrecting the dead, not reuniting with a live person. The Mishna Berura (ibid.) is among those who explain that since after twelve months, Rosh Hashana has passed, in which a person’s fate was decided, one can be happy that his friend survived. There is precedent for a celebratory beracha for another’s survival (Berachot 54b regarding Hagomel). 

Mechayei Hameitim’s unique nature may help explain why people do not commonly recite it (as reported by the Ben Ish Chai (I, Eikev 13) and many others) in this context with the full formula, including Hashem’s Name, known as shem u’malchut. (People often say “baruch mechayei hameitim” as a half-joke upon seeing someone after a long absence). The Panim Meirot (I:65) says that since it is borrowed from Shemoneh Esrei, where it lacks the full formula, it is recited without Hashem’s Name. The Ben Ish Chai explains that it is because not everyone about whom it would be said appreciates the comparison. 

Finally, in regard to your question, the Aruch Hashulchan (OC 225:2) says that since the beracha relates to resolving the doubt whether a friend is alive, if one communicated with him during the twelve months, he does not recite it. The Mishna Berura (ibid. 2) cites a machloket Acharonim about this and says not to make a beracha due to safek even regarding Shehecheyanu. However, Yechaveh Da’at (IV:17) takes issue with him because the logic (see Aruch Hashulchan ibid.) and sources (Halachot Ketanot I:120 gives a different explanation) on the matter apply only to Mechayei Hameitim

Therefore, we cannot recommend reciting Mechayei Hameitim in your case. Shehecheyanu is a much more plausible option, for the happiness of seeing someone for the first time in [well over] thirty days, as Yechaveh Da’at ibid. and Yaskil Avdi (OC 25:3) recommend. Many poskim are against even Shehecheyanu and even if the two were not in touch, as not every friendship qualifies for the beracha. This approach is augmented by the opinion that such a Shehecheyanu is not mandatory (see Yechaveh Da’at ibid.). Although you seem close, Chesed La’alafim (OC 225:15) and Nimukei Orach Chayim (225:1) say that since if the beracha were commonplace in this context, people would be embarrassed not to recite Shehecheyanu for a friend even if they are not close, the minhag developed to stop saying it for friends. Perhaps for a close relative this is not a concern (ibid.). Regarding a child-in-law, the question is interesting. On the one hand, the relationship is often very close. On the other hand, it is not as emotionally intense, and since it varies greatly from family to family, it makes sense to be concerned about embarrassment and opt for a lo plug without a beracha. Also, while Zoom is not like seeing in person, it might reduce the excitement of subsequently seeing in person and precludes the beracha (see ibid.). The stronger claim is that it does not preclude excitement in person, so that the beracha is appropriate. 

In summary, while Shehecheyanu is probably called far, those who opt for halachic caution can thank Hashem (important) informally (see Birkat Habayit 24:1).

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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