Jews to offer rare blessing of the sun

April 07, 2009|By Arin Gencer | Arin Gencer,

On Wednesday, Jews will observe Passover, remembering the escape of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. But well before their Seders, many will mark a rare event: The sun's return to the position it held on the fourth day of creation, at the time that God made a light to rule the day, according to Genesis.

"It's a recognition of the creation of the world, and it's kind of a marker and a remembrance of that event," said Rabbi Dovid Heber of Khal Ahavas Yisrael Tzemach Tzedek in Northwest Baltimore.

On Wednesday morning - about sunrise, in many cases - Heber's and other congregations will participate in services celebrating that marker. They expect then to step outside to recite the blessing of the sun. Known as Birchas Hachama or Birkat HaHammah, it is performed once every 28 years.

Heber can recall the last time he recited the blessing, as a high school student home for Passover in St. Louis.

"It's just fascinating to be able to do it again," said Heber, who has written a book on Jewish time, which discusses the blessing of the sun. "There's a certain excitement about something that is every 28 years."

The blessing is not exclusively used for this occasion, Heber and other rabbis said. The words, praising the king of the universe who re-enacts the work of creation, are the same ones recited when one sees lightning or a large body of water, or experiences an earthquake - natural phenomena that speak to the awesomeness of the world, Heber said.

"It's really about the poetry and the sense of wonder," said Rabbi Jay R. Goldstein of Beth Israel Congregation in Owings Mills. "Here's an opportunity to give people to re-create a sense of wonder at something we tend to take for granted."

Some say its occurrence right before Passover adds to the rarity of the occasion.

"Passover, we celebrate the supernatural - the Jews' exodus from Egypt was not a natural thing," said Rabbi Levi Druk, director of the Chabad Lubavitch of downtown Baltimore. With the sun blessing, "We're actually thanking God ... for the miracles that are occurring constantly."

Indeed, Heber said, the combination of the two is "very special," as people will be making the blessing to their creator in the morning - then sitting down that night to talk about how "God continues to run the world, as we saw in the exodus ... as well as in the history of the Jews."

Goldstein said awareness of the event seems to have grown since he last participated, when he was finishing rabbinical college.

"Certainly I can see a big difference in terms of the excitement and knowledge," Goldstein said, recalling the numerous individuals who have asked him about plans for it.

At the Pearlstone Conference and Retreat Center in Reisterstown, a sunrise blessing will include staff and guests who have arrived early for Passover, said Dick Goldman, the general manager. The center plans to have another session in the afternoon, for people to learn about the blessing.

Druk emphasized that the blessing is not about worshiping the sun but praising God for it.

Now the weather just needs to cooperate. The blessing requires being able to see the sun, Heber and Druk said. Though it is ideally said early, people can wait until midday or so if the sun has yet to come out, they said.

"Hopefully it won't be cloudy," Heber said.

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