Cars, Covid, and Sefirah

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By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

In 2019, car sales were at 17.1 million.  During COVID of 2020, sales went down to 14.5 million.  And forecasters say that sales in 2021 will just be one million more than 2020 – totaling 15.5 million.

All this talk of cars, however, brings up the following question:  May one plan to buy a new car during Sefira?

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The Shulchan Aruch (OC 493:1) tells us that during this period it is our custom not to conduct weddings.  The Mishna Brurah explains that one should not partake in matters of great joy.  “Nonetheless,” he writes, “if it happens that one has the occasion to recite a Shehecheyanu, then he may do so.”

WHAT DID THE CHOFETZ CHAIM MEAN?

This sentence written by the Chofetz Chaim in the early twentieth century has developed a surprising amount of halachic literature over the years.  What exactly did he mean by the term “if it happens?”

RAV KARELITZ ZT”L

Rav Nissim Karelitz zt”l, in his Chut HaShani halachic work, explains that the Chofetz Chaim means that one should not plan one’s happy purchases to occur during this time.  In applying his reasoning to our case, one should not, at the outset, plan to purchase a car during the Sefirah period.  If, however, one’s previous car has developed problems and a new car purchase is necessary, then, of course, one may make the purchase.

RAV CHAIM KANIEVSKY

Rav Chaim Kanievsky of Bnei Brak disagrees.  He explains that the language utilized by the Chofetz Chaim here is “lav davka” not precisely worded.  He writes that there is no problem at all in reciting Shehecheyanu blessings during the Sefira period.  Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l also agreed with this reading of the Mishna Brurah.

ALTERNATIVE VIEW

Not everyone, however agrees with the Mishna Brurah.  Rabbi Malkiel Tzvi Tenenboim (1847-1910) author of the Divrei Malkiel, as well as numerous other Poskim, write that one should avoid reciting a shehecheyanu during this time.  The custom of Klal Yisroel, however is to be lenient and follow the ruling of the Mishna Brurah.

THE BRACHA

There is another issue too.  Whenever we make a new and exciting purchase there are two possible brachos that may be recited.  At times, we recite a “Shehecheyanu” and, at times, we recite a “Baruch HaTov veHamaitiv.”  The Shulchan Aruch (OC 222:1; 175:4 and elsewhere) tells us that “Baruch HaTov VeHamaitiv” is recited when someone else also benefits from the item.  A “Shehecheyanu” is recited when only one person benefits from the item.

WHEN TWO OR MORE BENEFIT

Thus, if two or more people are benefiting, which is usually the case when purchasing a family car, then the Baruch haTov veHameitiv is recited instead of a shehecheyanu.

WOULD IT MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

Would this make a difference to the followers of either Rav Nissin Karelitz zt”l or those who have the stringent view?

Perhaps it might.

THE MOGAIN AVROHOM

The reason is that the words of the bracha of Shehecheyanu indicate an expression of thanks for having allowed us to reach this “special” time.  The problem is that the tragic loss of the time may make this time period not so “special.”  Regarding the Three Weeks, the Mogain Avrohom (551:42) explains that the idea of not reciting a shehecheyanu is because of the wording, and not because of the idea of mourning.

He writes, “However, the reason is not on account of mourning, for we do not find that a mourner is forbidden in reciting a shehecheyanu.”  Presumably, the same logic and may apply to the Shehecheyanu.  Thus, according to the Mogain Avrohom one may be permitted to plan to purchase a family car even at the outset.

THE MAAMAR MORDECHAI’S VIEW

Not everyone agrees with the Mogain Avrohom’s contention that it is the Shehecheyanu that is the issue rather than the underlying purchase.  The Maamar Mordechai, in fact, (also discussing the three weeks in 551:12) rules that the reason the blessing is not recited is, in fact, because of our mourning and pain.

Rav Moshe Feinstein Zatzal discusses the purchase of cars during the Three Weeks in his Igros Moshe (OC III #80) and rules in accordance with the aforementioned Mogain Avrohom and not the Maamar Mordechai.

LEASING

One final thought.  Even for those who wish to follow the more stringent view of Rav Nissin Karelitz zt”l that the purchase cannot be planned at the outset, one may, however, decide to lease a car.  After a lease one does not end up owning the car and, therefore, there would be no Shehecheyanu recited.  The very low interest rates that are available now for new car purchases are currently a deterrent to the idea of leasing.

CONCLUSION

So, who do we follow? What is the bottom line halacha? It would seem that the majority of Poskim understand the Chofetz Chaim’s words as permitting the purchase of a Shehecheyanu during this time and even permit the planning of making such a purchase during this time as well.  It may, however, be too late to bake the keys to the new car purchase in the Schlissel Challah.

The author may be reached at [email protected]

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