LOCAL COMMENTARY BIRCHAT HACHAMA Blessing of the sun

BY RABBI HYIM SHAFNER

For the first time in 28 years, on April 8 of this year, Jewish people all over the world will gather to make a rare and auspicious blessing. Birchat Hachamah, the “blessing on the sun,” which thanks God for creating the “wonders of the cosmos,” is recited on this day on which, according to the Talmud, the sun is in the spot at which it was first created on the fourth day of the Biblical story of the world’s creation — the spot the sun occupies on the first day of spring.

Our Rabbis taught: One who sees the sun at its turning point, the moon in its power, the planets in their orbits, and the signs of the zodiac in their orderly progress, should say: “Blessed is the One who has wrought the wonders of creation.” And when does this happen? Abaye said, “every twenty-eight years when the cycle begins again and the Spring equinox falls in Saturn on the evening of Tuesday, going into Wednesday (Talmud, Berachot 59b).”

ADVERTISEMENT
MERS Goodwill ad


The first chapter of the Torah describes the sun’s creation as being on the fourth day of the creation week and so the blessing is only said when the vernal equinox occurs on a Wednesday, the fourth day of the biblical week, every 28 years. The blessing recited upon the sun is actually the same as that recited on many cosmic phenomena which inspire us to see the power of the created world and by extension its Creator, such as lightning or a particularly impressive mountain or eclipse, but the blessing on the sun is an especially significant one in the Jewish calendar due to its rare occurrence.

I vividly remember being only 12 years old, early in the morning on a Wednesday in April 1981, standing outside of the synagogue with my father making the blessing on the sun and thinking, “the next time this happens I will be 40.”

Well, here I am, 28 years later and next time, if I am here, I guess I will be 68. “Blessed be the One who has wrought the wonders of creation” is a blessing we make often as Jews, but there is something about the occasion of blessing the sun every 28 years that is, for me, especially poignant.

Perhaps for human beings, whose time under the sun is so limited, a 28-year interval is one that causes some existential reflection. Indeed, as I recently discussed Birchat Hachamah with my own young children, they inevitably reflected on their own lives and how many blessings on the sun they might live to make — some of which I, their children’s would-be grandfather, they remarked, would inevitably not be around for anymore.

Few Jewish rituals are celebrated by all Jews in the same way. Prayer for Jews today comes laden with and shaped by one’s individual and theological attitudes toward everything from the roles of men and women to knowledge of the Hebrew language; the observance of the Sabbath is often encumbered for many Jews by the difficulties of living in consonance with the modern world and the vagaries of soccer practice; but the blessing on the sun should serve to unify all our people together, and perhaps all people.

Who among us, even the unaffiliated and disaffected, does not appreciate, especially in our age of global warming and threatening raising seas, the need to thank God for the miraculous balance of the universe, the “wonders of the cosmos,” and our fiery but sustaining sun?

Rabbi Hyim Shafner serves Congregation Bais Abraham in University City.