Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 6 April 2009

On Birkat HaChamah

As some of you may know, this Wednesday morning marks a special opportunity to make a bracha that comes only one in 28 years. The Talmud tells us that someone who sees the sun in its equinox says the blessing "Oseh maaseh bereshis". Through various stages of analysis, it is now generally explained that on this morning of April 8 the Sun is in exactly the same position vis a vis the Earth as it was when God first placed it in the sky on Day 4 of Creation.
Now, given that this opportunity only comes every 28 years there seems to be a lot of hoopla assocaited with it. Just like Daf Yomi was once upon a time an exclusive club limtied to a very few scholars and now increases its adherents with every new cycle, so too the phenomenon that is Birkat HaChamah is growing each time. This time through even the ignorant secular groups, the ones that think tikun olam is about environmentalism and fair employment standards, are getting in on the act.
But like an Jewish ritual which, over time, has grown far from its founders' original intents, it's important to clear up a few things:
1) There's this urban myth that this year is the third time that Birkat HaChamah has occured on Erev Pesach. The first time was the yeaer of yetzias Mitzraim, the second was the year Purim happened. However, this is not true. It's the fourth time since the calender was fixed by Hillel the Younger 1600 years ago. As well, neither of those two events happened in a Birkat HaChamah year.
2) You do not have to be outside to say the blessing. Seeing the Sun through a window is completely acceptable. The reason for going out during Birkat Halevanah is for the specific reason that we are greeting the Shechinah as it were. This is not the case on Wednesday where we are acknowledging an astronomical event.
3) The mitzvah is fulfilled by saying the blessing. Period. The other stuff, the various tehillim and prayers that have been added on over the centuries are nice, inspirational and great if you have the time to do that. If you don't, because you have to get to that last chometz breakfast to gorge yourself because, Heaven knows, you aren't going to have enough to eat over the next eight days (seven, for my Israeli reader(s)), then don't lose sweat. You got the mitzvah. But the bottom line is: You see the sun, you say the blessing.
May we all merit that this be the last time we say this blessing in exile and that the words LeShanah HaBa'ah Biyerushalayim that we will say at the seder in a couple of days be fulfilled in this coming year.
A Chag Kasher v'Sameach to all of you.


David said...

Amusingly enough, birkat hakhama will not (at least not this year) fall on the vernal equinox, which was a few weeks ago. It seems a bit silly to claim to know what position the planets were in when they were created, when one can't actually figure out the point when the sun crosses the equator in this particular year.

I may well attend my shul's version of this (largely from anthropological curiousity), but, frankly, I think it smacks of paganism.

Garnel Ironheart said...

In the Artscroll Birkas HaChamah Rav JD Bleich goes through several pages of calculations showing how the calender indeed is off from what you might think but shows how the gemara and the poskim dealt with it. There is an actual answer.
As for the paganism, I used to have that trouble with kiddush halavanah too but when I do it now I try very hard to remind myself of the posuk "What hath God wrought!" to remind myself that I'm not praying to the moon but using its appearance to remind me of the greatness of God. It'll be the same thing on Wednesday.

Have a chag kasher v'sameach David.

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

You mean Artscroll cites a Y.U. scholar who is a law professor in its law school??

onionsoupmix said...

why is this in nissan if the world was supposedly created in tishrei?

David said...

It seems to me that, in the case of kiddush levanah, if we weren't praying to the moon, then we wouldn't be addressing our remarks to the moon.

In any case, Happy Pesach to you as well!

Freelance Kiruv Maniac said...

It seems to me that, in the case of kiddush levanah, if we weren't praying to the moon, then we wouldn't be addressing our remarks to the moon.

I don't see why that follows at all logically.

David said...


If you don't see why that follows, then you're being intentionally obtuse. "Blessed is your maker..." "You" is the moon. Therefore, the bracha is addressed to the moon. The subject may be God, but the target of the communication is the one addressed.

Thus, if I say, "Hey, FKM, your sister is hot!," I'm talking about your sister, but I'm talking to you. Understand?

And if you're merely a large object that just goes around in circles without reasoning or thinking, it seems pointless to address any remarks to you.