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Here Comes the Sun

Here Comes the Sun

Mark your calendar for Judaism's once-in-28-year special event.

by

The fact that you're reading this article is a minor miracle. Think of all the things that needed to fall into place: the computer, the hard drive, the labyrinth of the Internet, the web browser -- even the electrical power driving it all.

There is incredible complexity built into the simple act of reading this article. And yet, we sit before these machines every day without giving them a moment's thought.

Until they stop working.

When that blue screen appears and the computer freezes, we hold our breath hoping that nothing has failed, that we haven't lost weeks of hard work. Only when we reset the computer and it functions properly again, do we let out a sigh of relief, return to work... and take it all for granted again.

The Talmud (Brachot 59b) teaches:

 

He who sees the sun at its season, the moon at its strength, the stars in their paths, and the constellations in their order, recites "Blessed is the One Who performs the act of creation." And when does this happen? Abaye says: Every 28 years, when the cycle returns and the season of Nissan falls in Saturn, on the fourth day of the week.

 

On April 8, 2009, the eve of Passover, Jews around the world will rise early, gaze at the sun and recite the least-frequently-recited blessing in Judaism: Birkat HaChama, the blessing on the sun. We recite this blessing once every 28 years, and it's coming to your neighborhood very soon. Assuming, of course, that the sun rises that fateful Wednesday the same way it has every day until now...

How-to

Ideally, one should recite the blessing as early as possible, and with as large a group as possible. Practically speaking, this means that people will get up early and pray Shacharit right at sunrise, and immediately after recite the blessing:

(Incidentally, this is the same blessing said upon seeing other natural phenomena such as awe-inspiring mountains, deserts, lightning, earthquakes, hurricanes, astronomical phenomena and impressive bodies of water.)

Preferably, the blessing should be said by the third hour of the day. Adjusting for daylight savings time, this time is 9:42 a.m. in New York City, and 9:30 a.m. in Jerusalem. If necessary, the blessing can still be said up until midday (12:57 p.m. in New York and 12:41 in Jerusalem).

The blessing should be said where you can see the ball of the sun, or at least the silhouette of the sun behind a cloud. If it is a cloudy day and you cannot see the sun, you should say the blessing without including God's holy name.

According to the Mishnah Berurah (229:8), there are a number of other prayers to say that morning, in the following order:

 

  1. Psalm 148
  2. The blessing of "Oseh Ma'aseh Breishit"
  3. "Kel Adone..." until "Chayot Hakodesh" (part of the first blessing of Shema on Shabbat morning)
  4. Psalm 19
  5. "Aleynu"
  6. Kaddish (in the presence of a minyan)

 

If you're going to gather a large group, be careful: In 1897, during the McKinley administration, when hundreds of Jews gathered on the streets of Manhattan's Lower East Side to bless the sun, the attending rabbi was arrested for holding a public meeting without a permit. (New York Times, "Hebrew Festival Marred," April 8, 1897)

Do the Math

On the Jewish calendar, Creation took place 5,769 years ago. Why recite this blessing now? Why only once every 28 years? And how can this blessing help us grow closer to God in our daily lives?

 

The sun resets to its original starting point once every 28 years.

 

In order to understand Birkat HaChama, a bit of astronomy is necessary. The Torah teaches that on the fourth day of creation -- that very first Wednesday of world history -- God created the sun (Genesis 1:16). A solar year is 365 1/4 days long -- i.e. 52 complete weeks, plus 1 1/4 days left over. That means each year, the sun returns to its starting point 1 1/4 days later in the week. The sun resets to its original starting point -- at the first hour of Wednesday morning -- only once every 28 years. (Do the math.)

We recite the blessing, "Who performs the act of creation," because as we watch the sun rise that morning, we're witnessing the sun aligned at precisely the same spot -- and on the same day and same hour -- where it stood at the beginning of time. This represents the completion of another cycle of creation, as the solar system resets, renews, and begins again.

Spiritual Significance

The blessing on the sun reminds us to pause and wonder at the miraculous marvel of Creation. One of the great things about the sun -- its reliability -- also presents a great spiritual problem. It rises and sets every day, like clockwork, without fail. So we begin to take it for granted, and assume that just like it's always there, it always will be.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

Every morning during Shacharit, we describe God as "He who illuminates the earth... and in His goodness renews daily, perpetually the act of Creation." While the sun rises each day, it rises because God actively causes it and all of nature to function according to His divine and infinite will. In the harried rush of our busy lives, we allow ourselves to forget God's role in the majesty of Creation. We take Him for granted, precisely because He's always there, running the world in the background.

 

The sun provides miraculous benefits, all with great precision.

 

The sun provides so many miraculous benefits: Vitamin D and warmth for our bodies, photosynthesis that supports all life, and (according to the journal, Nature) more solar energy in one hour than all of mankind uses in one year. And all with great precision: Were the sun located just a bit further away or a bit closer than its distance of 92,960,000 miles, life on planet Earth would cease to exist.

As we recite the blessing on the sun, we contemplate the majesty of God's Universal Reset, appreciating God's amazing work that allows us to serve Him, as the sun rises, each and every day.

So... Twitter your friends and mark your calendar for the morning of April 8. Twenty-eight years from now, you'll probably be sitting with your grandchildren, reminiscing about where you were when you said the blessing on the sun in 2009.

 

Published: March 21, 2009


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Visitor Comments: 21

(21) roger m pearlman cta, April 21, 2009 6:26 PM

addtional comments on birchat hachama

Comments on Birchat Hachama by Roger M. Pearlman CTA author of 'The Recent Complex Creation'. 28 yr cycle based on conception, Nissan, yr. of Tohu as year 0 so we complete cycle 206 and enter cycle 207 the day before Passover in Nissan year 5769. (5769 based on formation of Adam as year one instead of zero.) 207 =( Aleph = 1, Vav =6, Reish=200) = Ohr (light). Interesting while our two big luminaries the sun and moon appear close in size relative to distance from earth (think of total lunar and solar eclipse), the large one (sun) is 400 (rounded) times the small one (moon) based on radius of 1,392,000 and 3,476 respectively. 400 = to Tav = 4 x10 x 10. 4, 40 and 400 our common themes in Torah related to life. See word play section The Recent Complex Creation. Length of day, set day one, conceived months before, 'set' not 'fixed' as length of day can vary based on orbital motion, shape earth, rotation speed, .. Mabul catastrophic events may have impacted shape/rotation of earth, earth may have formed round not current elliptical shape. Assuming the length of year is the same, if days shorter more days fit in year and if days longer then fewer days fit in a year. If length of year not fixed should be for factors other then length of day. When defining solar year we need to know if based on earth's position to the sun or to the stars. Careful, to those who want to say years much longer pre Mabul, then to be consistent forced to say Adam lived longer then 930 current years, or no above ground vegetation outside Gan Eden for more then 3 days. Also may conflict with more exact Lunar cycle. 'The Hebrew calendar's year is longer by about 6 minutes and 25 25/57 seconds than the present-day mean solar year, so that every 224 years, the Hebrew calendar will fall a full day behind the modern fixed solar year, and about every 231 years it will fall a full day behind the Gregorian calendar year.' wikipedia. So the spring equinox creation Year of Tohu/conception was about 25 days later then the 22 Adar date if we extrapolate back, thus falling in the Nissan Tekupha after adjustment. By being assigned Nissan as our first month (as we were right before the exodus) we are testifying to this deeper understanding, this can be compared to our being assigned to keep Sabbath (as we were right after the exodus) as it testifies to 7 days of Creation. This may be why Chazal rounded solar year to 365.25 days as not fixed and difficult math beyond the capacity of average community. Another example of a non fixed but set time span is a 120 year life span. Aside from waiting 120 years till executing Mabul Hashem set life span to 120, yet was gradual process, and did not mean we were to live 120 years exact. Our calculations of time not same as the Creator, thus Moshe said 'about midnight' (re 10th plague), yet we are authorized to set the calendar, see Mishna RH 2:9 Read: 'The Recent Complex Creation' Torah/Science reconciliation available on amazon, that Torah origins account recent complex creation ex nihlo fully consistent w/ valid premise and science. Keep in mind initial inflation of universe measures at speeds vastly greater then speed of light. Additional reading published by artscroll: R' J. David Bleich, Birchat Hachama and R' David Feinstein ' the Jewish Calendar

(20) Beni-C, April 8, 2009 2:44 PM

Incredible!!

I am such a neophyte to my Jewish Orthodoxy,it did not magically transform my life, but what it do was stabilize my spirituality. This is incredible-every 28 years this happens. I found out about this in our daily newspaper yesterday but it was cloudy today-oh well. Rabbi, your article has been very helpful and I will be forwarding it on to a 16yo teen age boy who has been Bar Mitvah'd. I know he will enjoy this article. Thank you so much Aish.com!!

(19) Jay, April 8, 2009 11:49 AM

Birchas Hachama

Birchas Hachama – A Simple Explanation The Amorah (Talmudic scholar), Abaye, said that every time that “Tekufas Nissan” (the beginning of spring, as calculated by Chazal) occurs at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening (when the halachic day of Wednesday begins) one should go outside the next morning and recite the brocha, “Osei maaseh braishis.” This occurs once every 28 years. II. The Halachos On Wednesday morning (the day after Tekufas Nissan), one goes outside and quickly gazes towards the sun and says, “Baruch atah Hashem Elokainu Melech haolam oseh maaseh braishis,” – “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who re-enacts the structure of the creation. Additional tefillos praising the Ribono Shel Olam are also recited. Before the bracha Hallelu es Hashem min Hashamayim is recited. After the bracha Kail Adon, Mizmor HaShamayim Mesaprim and Aleinuare recited. If there is a minyan, Kaddish7 is recited after Aleinu. Ideally, Birchas Hachama should be recited before the third hour of the day. B’dieved, one has until chatzos (midday) to recite Birchas Hachama. It is preferably recited while standing - “b’rov am”, with a group of other people. Women and children should recite the bracha, as well. A blind person should be yotzai (fulfill his obligation) through hearing someone else make the bracha. If it is cloudy, the following halachos apply: If one can see the lines of the sun behind the clouds, one may say Birchas Hachama. If it is so cloudy that the sun is not visible, one may not say Birchas Hachama with the name of Hashem. Rather, shortly before chatzos (or when it is obviously going to stay cloudy until chatzos) one would say, “Baruch oseh maaseh braishis” without the name of Hashem. III. Why Every 28 Years? When the world was created, the sun and moon were created on the Wednesday of the week of bri'as haolam (creation of the world). On that day, the beginning of spring (known as “Tekufas Nissan”) was at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday the beginning of the halachic day Wednesday. It takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours for the Earth to completely revolve one time around the sun. This is equal to 52 weeks, 1 day and 6 hours. Therefore, in the following year (after the world was created) spring began early Thursday at midnight (midnight early Thursday is one day of the week and 6 hours after Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.). The following year it began at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, the following year at noon on Shabbos and the year after that at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Every four years, the time of the tekufa moved five days of the week later (e.g. from 6:00 p.m. Tuesday to 6:00 p.m. Sunday). After 28 years, it returned to the same time that it was at Brias Haolam, 6:00 p.m. Tuesday the beginning of “Lail Revi’i” (halachically Wednesday). So, in year 29 (counting from the creation), 57, 85, 113 and every 28th year after that, including most recently in 5713 (1953) and 5741 (1981) the tekufa was at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Birchas Hachama was recited the next day. Once again, it will be at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday this year. After this year, the next time Birchas Hachama will be recited will be in 5797 (2037) and then again in 5825 (2065). IV. The Date Birchas Hachama is always recited on a Wednesday. In the 20th and 21st Centuries, it is recited on April 8. The Hebrew date can vary. In the past 400 years, Birchas Hachama has been said as early as the 27th of Adar II (in 5461 [1701]) and as late as the 26th of Nissan (in 5545 [1785] and 5629 [1869]). Birchas Hachama can be recited on Yom Tov. It will be recited on the seventh day of Pesach (scheduled for 5881 [2121]) and was said on the second day of Pesach – Yom Tov outside of Israel (in 5601 [1841]). It cannot be recited on the first or eighth day of Pesach, as these days never occur on Wednesday. This year, 5769 (2009), Birchas Hachama will be recited on Erev Pesach and in 5797 (2037), according to the calculations of the calendar, it will be recited on Isru Chag Pesach. In 5825 (2065), it will be said on the 2nd of Nissan. Klal Yisroel is zoche (merits) to have two types of mitzvos. Some mitzvos are performed frequently, on a daily or weekly basis, other mitzvos are performed infrequently. Both types of mitzvos, are done to better serve the Ribono Shel Olam. One purpose of frequently performed mitzvos is to become more consistent in our connection to Hashem. How beautiful it is when Yidden daven “day in and day out,” or when the Nashim Tzidkaniyos (righteous women) faithfully light candles every single Erev Shabbos and Yom Tov. Infrequently performed mitzvos such as Birchas Hachama offer Klal Yisroel the opportunity to serve Hashem with special “hischadshus,” renewed anticipation and excitement in serving the Borai Olam (Creator) with a mitzvah performed by Yidden throughout the world – usually only 3 times in ones lifetime! May we merit the recitation of Birchas Hachama with Moshiach Tzidkainu who should come bimhaira b’yamainu, speedily in our days.

(18) Shmuel, April 8, 2009 9:29 AM

Moshiach on Erev Shabbos

Regarding Moshiach not being able to come on certain days - keep in mind: "Achakeh lo b'chol yom sheyavo - I await him with every passing day". See also the Chasam Sofer (Likutim, end of vol. 6, I think) who discusses if Eliyahu can come on Shabbos.

(17) Anonymous, April 6, 2009 5:28 PM

This article opened my eyes!

As always aish has such amazing articles. This one especially. Each day everyone talks about this birkas hachama, and i never really understood the spiritual side of it. Now i learned from this article to appreciate G-d and the sun for being there every day of my life. Thank you.

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