A blessing of renewal

The custom of saying Birkat Hahama derives from the Talmud.

The memory is as vivid today as the moment it happened - nearly three decades ago. I was NCSY youth director in Dallas, Texas. Blessed with an eager and active cadre of several dozen spiritually-mobile young people, we spent the night together studying, singing and sharing ideas about Torah and Jewish life. And then, at dawn's first light, we greeted the sun by reciting the blessing that comes around just once each 28 years - Birkat Hahama. Jewish life is about renewal. We start each day by praising God who "renews daily the act of Creation:" We say a prayer (Kiddush Levana) celebrating the renewal of the moon each month; and we close our year by atoning for the past and praying for a new "lease on life" in the year ahead. The blessing of the sun - recited when the sun returns to the same place in the Heavens as it was at the time of Creation - is a unique example of this renewal. The custom of saying Birkat Hahama derives from the Talmud (Berachot 59b): "The rabbis taught: On seeing the sun at its tekufa, the moon at its strength, the stars in their paths and the Zodiac constellations in their order, one says the blessing, Blessed is He, the Lord our God, the Maker of Creation‚ Abaye said, This occurs every 28 years when the cycle begins again and the Nisan equinox falls into Saturn, on a Wednesday." This year, the precise time for reciting Birkat Hahama falls on Wednesday morning, Erev Pessah (14 Nisan, April 8). Sunrise in Jerusalem is 6:19 a.m. - that would be the first time the blessing could be said; it should ideally be recited by 9:30 a.m. (though some authorities permit it until midday). Saying the blessing with a large gathering is preferred. Men, women and children should say their own blessing, and numerous prayers can be recited both before and after the blessing, depending on one's particular custom (Psalm 150 prior to the blessing and Psalms 19 and 121 following are one such custom). According to computer experts, this is the 11th time that Birkat Hahama has fallen out on an erev Pessah. (The last time was in 1925; it won't happen again for 500 years!). Taken together with Wednesday's Fast of the First-Born and the burning of the hametz, it makes for a very, very busy morning! Try not to miss the moment this year. If you do, your next chance at reciting Birkat Hahama will not come until 23 Nisan, 5797 - April 17, 2037! The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra'anana