Posted by: gruvenreuven | May 7, 2009

Birkat HaChamah (Sheni)

Ok… So Birkat HaChamah happed a month ago. I know.. I know… I guess in following suit with Pesach Sheni (Which is Tomorrow!), I’ll create Birkat HaChamah Sheni so I can “have a second chance” for not posting this sooner.

One month ago today on April 8th, Erev Pesach, we had the pleasure to participate in an event that occurs once every 28 years. Birkat HaChamah.

The Lubavitch center of Philadelphia hosted this Birkat HaChamah service on top of the roof of the Franklin Institute Science Museum in center city Philadelphia. The first 200 folks got to witness/partake of the event overlooking the Philadelphia Skyline. We also had the pleasure of davening Shacharis outside in 40 degree weather on the top of the windy roof. For an event that happens once every 28 years, there were no complaints. (Even from my wife and 2 sons who I ripped out of bed at 4:30am to secure a spot in time for the 6:24 Sunrise.)

As you can see in the video, it was an overcast day, but at 6:24 an amazing thing happened. Right as we were getting ready to say the bracha (Blessing), the sun peeked out. Baruch Hashem!

As you can see from the video, this was a very memorable opportunity to perform a Mitzvah by saying a blessing that is only said once in 28 year. In 2037 I hope to be repeating this blessing with both my sons and their kids. Until then, I will fondly remember this cold April morning, erev Pesach.

Part 1

Part 2 (w/Blessing)

A Deeper dive into Birkat HaChamah
Birkat Hachama (“Blessing of the Sun”) refers to the blessing that is recited in appreciation of the Sun once every 28 years, when the vernal equinox, falls on a Tuesday at sundown. Our sages teach that when the Sun completes this cycle, it has returned to its position when the world was created.

According to Judaism, the Sun has a 28 year solar cycle known as machzor gadol (“the great cycle”). A solar year is estimated as 365.25 days and the “Blessing of the Sun”, being said at the beginning of this cycle, is therefore recited every 10,227 (28 times 365.25) days. The last time that it was recited was on April 8, 2009 (14 Nisan 5769 on the Hebrew calendar). This coincided with the day before the Jewish Holiday of Pesach (Passover).

The text of the blessing itself is as follows:

“Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe who makes the works of Creation.”

The primary source for the institution of Birkat Hachama is a Beraita mentioned in the Talmud (Berachot 59b)

“Our rabbis taught: ‘One who sees the sun at its turning point…recites the blessing of ‘the maker of works of creation.”

The middle of this clause in the beraita speaks of other astronomical phenomena, the interpretation of which is ambiguous. The Gemara clarifies when the ‘turning point’ (תקופה) mentioned in the beraita occurs:

“And when does this happen? Abaye answers: every 28 years…”

Next, the gemara explains the basis of the 28 years:

“…when the cycle renews and the ‘season of Nisan’ (i.e. vernal equinox) falls in Saturn, on the evening of Tuesday going into Wednesday.”

This explanation provided by Abaye is based on a ruling of Shmuel also mentioned in the Talmud (Eruvin 56a)

“Shmuel stated: The vernal equinox occurs only at the beginning of one of the four quarters of the day, either at the beginning of the day or at the beginning of the night, or midday or midnight. The summer solstice only occurs at either at the end of 1.5 or at the end of 7.5 hours of the day or the night. The autumnal equinox only occurs at the end of 3 or 9 hours of the day or the night. The winter solstice only occurs at the end of 4.5 or 10.5 hours of the day or the night. The duration of a season of the year is no longer than 91 days and 7.5 hours.”

Shmuel’s calculations, however, are imprecise because the earth does not travel around the sun with a constant speed. His imprecision, according to Abraham ibn Ezra, was a function of the desire of the time to avoid the necessity of manipulating fractions.

The Shulchan Aruch states that this blessing, generally said upon experiencing natural phenomena, should also be recited upon witnessing the chammah bi-tkufatah (sun at its turning point). This term, quoted from the above-mentioned Beraita, is explained by the Chofetz Chaim as referring to the point in time at which the Sun returns to the start of its cycle, similar to when it was created.

The blessing is recited on the morning after the Sun completes its cycle; ideally, it should be recited at sunrise, referred to in Jewish law as haneitz hachammah. It is preferred to recite the blessing with a multitude of people, in keeping with the principle of b’rov am hadrat melech. The Magen Avraham and the Levush insist that it be recited within the first three hours after sunrise. The Mishnah Brurah, however, states on behalf of numerous Achronim that it is permitted the blessing to be recited until halachic noon.

According to most opinions, the blessing may only be recited if the Sun can be seen. However, if the Sun is completely blocked by clouds, there is a minority view that allows the blessing to be recited nevertheless, because essentially the blessing is on the concurrence of the Sun’s physical position with the timing of the day.

According to the Babylonian Talmud, the Sun makes a 28 year cycle to return to the position that it was in when the Universe was first created at the time (Tuesday evening) it was created.

According to Jewish tradition, the Sun was created on the fourth day, yom rivi’i) of the week of Creation. Because Jewish law considers the time unit of a day to span from evening to evening, the beginning of the halachic fourth day, so to speak, is on Tuesday evening at sundown. The 28 year cycle therefore begins and ends at the point in time when the Sun was created, this being sundown on Tuesday. The Sun only returns to this exact position at sundown on a Tuesday once every 28 years.

Despite the rigorous calculations that follow, there is no synchronization of this prayer and the actual astronomical point in time when the sun crosses the celestial equator; the symbolism is no different than a situation in which the molad for Tishrei would fall out by day on a Sunday and Rosh Hashanah falls out on Monday.

As explained in the Talmud, there is a tradition that the Sun was created in its vernal equinox position at the beginning of the springtime Jewish lunar month of Nissan. The sages of the Talmud settled disputes over the halachic definition of the vernal equinox by establishing it on March 25 of the Julian calendar. Because both the Julian calendar and Jewish tradition define a solar year as exactly 365.25 days, the halachic vernal equinox historically fell out on March 25th every year. This halachic equinox now falls about 17 days after the true equinox, with the error increasing by about 3/4 of a day per century.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: