This year, 5779, Rosh Chodesh Nissan falls out on this coming Shabbat. Since many individuals try to recite the Blessing of the Trees immediately on Rosh Chodesh Nissan, let us discuss whether this blessing may be recited on Shabbat or perhaps it is better to postpone reciting it until Sunday.
“Lest One Detach”
The first issue we must deal with is the words of the Gemara (Sukkah 37b): “Rabba said: One may smell a myrtle branch still attached to the ground on Shabbat but one may not smell an Etrog (citron) still attached to the tree on Shabbat.” The Gemara explains that the distinction between a myrtle branch and an Etrog is that since a myrtle branch is used solely for smelling, there is no concern that one will detach it from the ground (since one can smell it while it is still attached); however, regarding an Etrog which is a fruit whose primary purpose is eating, we are concerned that by smelling it while it is still attached to the tree, one will come to detach it. All of the Poskim rule in accordance with this Gemara. Based on this, reciting the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat certainly does not pose any concern that one will detach the blossoms on the tree, for there are no fruits on the tree yet. Furthermore, even if there were fruits on the tree, one is neither touching them nor smelling them and there is therefore absolutely no concern that one will detach them from the tree.
The Opinion of Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi
Nevertheless, Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi zt”l writes in his Mo’ed Le’Kol Hai (Chapter 1, Section 8): “In the city of Istanbul, they customarily recite the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat and Yom Tov as well. However, in our city of Izmir, I have never seen or heard anyone reciting the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat or Yom Tov. If we claim that the reason for this is because of the concern that one will detach some of the blossoms from the tree, even in Istanbul, they should be concerned with this as well and abstain from reciting the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat.”
On the other hand, based on the words of the Poskim that there is no concern of detaching anything from the tree when there are no fruits present and since one is not smelling anything, there is therefore no room to be concerned with the issue that Hagaon Harav Chaim Palagi raises. Thus, the custom in Istanbul where they would recite this blessing even on Shabbat was the halachically correct custom. Many Acharonim rule likewise.
We can explain the reason behind the custom in Izmir and other places where it was customary not to recite the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat based on the Responsa Simchat Kohen (Chapter 142) authored by Hagaon Harav Rahamim Hai Hwita Ha’Kohen zt”l (about whom Maran zt”l exclaimed that there was no one like him in our generation and that he was an astounding halachic genius and whom Maran would speak admiringly about his greatness in Torah and exemplary character traits) who writes that it seems that it is customary to abstain from this because Siddurim must be carried from the synagogue to the orchards in order to recite the blessing and the appropriate texts recited along with it. Since many places outside of Israel did not have an Eruv and it was forbidden to carry anything outside of the synagogue, they abstained from reciting this blessing on Shabbat. However, in places where carrying is permissible on Shabbat or if Siddurim are not necessary, the Blessing of the Trees may certainly be recited on Shabbat.
The Opinion of the Kaf Ha’Chaim
Nevertheless, Hagaon Harav Yaakov Chaim Sofer zt”l writes in his Kaf Ha’Chaim (Chapter 226, Subsection 4), as follows: “The Blessing of the Trees should not be recited on Shabbat. It seems that according to the words of the Mekubalim that by reciting the Blessing of the Trees one separates the holy sparks from growing things (vegetation), this likewise constitutes an additional prohibition of selecting on Shabbat. It is therefore forbidden to recite the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat and Yom Tov.”
This means that since there is a Kabbalistic concept that there are “sparks of holiness” hidden within growing things and by reciting this blessing, one separates these sparks and they are able to ascend to their appropriate place in Heaven, this constitutes the prohibition of selecting on Shabbat. In the manuscripts of his Responsa Be’er Mayim Chaim, Hagaon Harav Sofer writes that he was asked that any blessings and prayers one recites likewise separate holy sparks so how is it that we can pray on Shabbat, to which he replied that this is necessary for that very moment and regarding the laws of selecting on Shabbat, the law is that selecting for immediate use is permissible.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l (in his Responsa Yechave Da’at, Volume 1, Chapter 2) wonders where the Kaf Ha’Chaim derived this law from that selecting on Shabbat applies to spiritual matters? Maran zt”l then writes somewhat lengthily to completely rebuff the opinion of the Kaf Ha’Chaim on this issue and writes that one should not rule on matters of Halacha based on such Kabbalistic concepts. He concludes that one may, in fact, recite the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat.
Halachically speaking, Maran zt”l writes in his Chazon Ovadia-Pesach (page 23) that the proper custom is to indeed recite the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat. He adds that he had actually done so in the year 5755 (1995) when Rosh Chodesh Nissan coincided with Shabbat. (Nevertheless, several years ago shortly before his passing, Maran zt”l did not go and recite the Blessing of the Trees on Shabbat which coincided with Rosh Chodesh Nissan; perhaps this was because he did not wish to carry the Siddur or for some other reason. Nonetheless, the Halacha clearly follows the ruling stated in Maran’s works.)
Summary: The Blessing of the Trees may be recited on Shabbat. This is especially true since the entire congregation attends the synagogue on Shabbat and there is concern that if they postpone reciting this blessing until after Shabbat, many individuals may not recite this blessing at all or that some will recite this blessing alone (without the presence of a Minyan) when it is actually preferable to recite this blessing along with a large congregation.