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BIRCHAT HACHAMAH
THE ‘SUN’DAY THAT COMES ONCE EVERY 28 YEARS


OVERVIEW

Twenty-eight years ago, early on Wednesday morning, 4th of Nisan 5741 / April 8, 1981, multitudes of Klal Yisroel all over the world assembled to recite the bracha / blessing over the sun.

This year (14 Nisan, 5769 / April 8, 2009) we will B'ezrat Hashem do it again.

What’s it all about?

What is the Bracha on the Sun?

Once every 28 years, the Sun returns to the exact position it occupied when it was created - at the beginning of the night preceding the fourth day of creation: The sun at Creation entered mazal teleh - the zodiac constellation "sheep", which is the start of tekufat Nisan (the solar year of 365 1/4 days - 52 weeks and 1 1/4 days - is divided into 4 tekufot or seasons of 13 weeks and 7 1/2 hours each).

“And Hashem made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night and the stars. And Hashem placed them in the sky of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from darkness; and Hashem saw that it was good.  And it was evening and it was morning, a fourth day.  [Bereishit / Genesis: 1:14-19]

Our Sages used this opportunity to institute a special prayer acknowledging Hashem's might and His creation of the world. This Bracha is known as The Bracha on the Sun, or Birchat HaChamah.

What is the source for reciting the Bracha?

The Talmud (Berachot 59b) states:

תנו רבנן: הרואה חמה בתקופתה לבנה בגבורתה וכוכבים במסילותם ומזלות כסדרן, אומר ברוך עושה בראשית. ואימת הוי? - אמר אביי: כל עשרים ושמונה שנין, והדר מחזור ונפלה תקופת ניסן בשבתאי באורתא דתלת נגהי ארבע

"The Rabbis taught in a Baraita: One who sees the Sun at the beginning of its cycle …….should say: "Blessed are You … Who Makes the works of Creation". 
And when does this happen (that the sun is at the beginning of its cycle)? Abaye said: "Every 28 years the (major solar) cycle begins again, and the Nisan equinox falls in (the hour of) Saturn, on the evening of Tuesday, (which is) the night before Wednesday."

 

What is the ‘cycle' mentioned in the above passage?

The sun returns to the position in the heavens which it occupied at the time of the sun’s original creation once every year. However, when the sun’s return to its exact original position takes place on the same day of the week and at the same hour of the day as the original creation, that’s when we must recite, "Baruch...'Oseh ma'aseh Bereishit - Who makes the work of Creation." - Birchat HaChamah.

The first month of the Hebrew year – Nisan - begins at the time of the spring equinox. According to tradition, the Sun was placed at the spring equinox at the beginning of the fourth day of creation i.e., Tuesday at 6:00pm. The change of season from winter into spring is the 'cycle’ or ‘turning point'. Whenever the Sun again reaches this starting point at 6:00pm on a Tuesday, then Birchat HaChamah is said, although at sunrise the following morning.

This is the sun’s anniversary, which we celebrate by making our special Birchat HaChamah.

For a more detailed technical explanation in PDF format, click here.


When will the next Birchat HaChamah take place?

When will the next Birchat HaChamah take place?

Birchat HaChamah will next be said on Erev Pesach, Wednesday morning, April 8 2009 (14 Nisan 5769).

Is there anything special about this date, 14 Nisan 5769?

The last time Birchat HaChamah was recited on Erev Pesach was in 5685 (1925).
This year, Erev Pesach will be only the third time in the last 1300 years that both the preparation of an Eruv Tavshilin and the recitation of
Birchat HaChamah will occur on the same day.  


LAWS & CUSTOMS

Announcing the Blessing

On the Tuesday night before the event, (April 7, 2009), it is customary to make an announcement in the synagogue about Birchat HaChamah that will take place the next morning. This is to encourage more people to attend. As it says “B’rov Am Hadras Melech”The glory of the King is in the multitudes of the people.” (Mishlei / Proverbs, 14:28).  We honor Hashem when a group of people perform the mitzvot together. Of course, one can say Birchat HaChamah alone, but it should ideally be said with a minyan (quorum of 10) or with at least two other people (the minimum “rov am” is three).

Because the next reciting of Birchat HaChamah will be on erev Pesach. Halachic authorities discourage making an organized gathering on erev Pesach, since people are pressed for time in ridding their homes of chametz. The importance of preparing for Pesach far outweighs the advantage of reciting Birchat HaChamah in a large gathering. (Birur Halachah 229, ot 9)

When do we say the Bracha / Blessing?

The Bracha should be said after Wednesday morning prayers, (the day after Tekufat Nisan), standing, and preferably with a minyan. The bracha should be said as early as possible after Netz HaChamah (sunrise). Many have the custom to pray shacharit at Netz that morning and then say the Bracha right afterwards.

Some authorities hold that the Bracha can be said until the end of the 3rd hour of the day. (Sof z’man K’riat Shma, according to the opinion of the Gra). Yet others hold that it can be said until chatzot (midday). If said after midday, then the appellation 'melech ha'olam' should be omitted from the Bracha.

One goes outside and quickly gazes towards the sun and says, “Baruch atah Hashem Elokainu Melech haolam oseh maaseh breishit,” – “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who re-enacts the structure of the creation. (This is the same Bracha recited upon seeing lightning, very tall mountains or the Mediterranean Sea - the Bracha recited upon seeing an ocean is different).

One may recite the Bracha through a window.

Other Tefilot

Essentially the prayer is just the one bracha, but many have the custom to add in other relevant tefilot, praising Hashem. Before the Bracha, Hallelu es Hashem min Hashamayim (Tehillim / Psalm 148) is recited.  After the Bracha, Kail Adon, (from the Shabbat morning service), Mizmor HaShamayim Mesaprim (Tehillim / Psalm 19), and Aleinu are recited. (Mishna Brura 229:8)

If there is a minyan, Kaddish (Kaddish Yatom / Mourner’s Kaddish) is recited after Aleinu.. (There are various other customs as to which pesukim and tefillot are recited before and after the Bracha).

The 'shechiyanu' blessing is not said prior to reciting Birchat Hachamah.

What if the sky is overcast?

If it is cloudy, the following halachot (rules) apply:  If one can see the lines of the sun behind the clouds, one may say Birchat Hachamah.  If it is so cloudy that the sun is not visible, one may not say Birchat Hachamah with the name of Hashem.* Rather, shortly before chatzot (or when it is obviously going to stay cloudy until chatzot) one would say, “Baruch Ata oseh maaseh breishit” without the name of Hashem.

*Mishna Brura 229:8, who quotes the Teshuvot Chasam Sofer 1:56.  Note the Panim Meirot 2:30 states that it is enough to see the light of the sun as opposed to the actual sun.  Therefore, even if it is cloudy, one may say Birchat Hachamah by going outside and seeing “sunlight”.  The Mishna Brura rejects this view.  Alternatively, one could go to a tall mountain or very large body of water and recite, “Oseh maaseh breishit,” having in mind Birchat Hachamah (see Sefer Shaarei Zmanim, Siman 3, footnote 4.  See also Siman 3, Section 3 regarding whether Birchat Hachamah can be said in countries west of Eretz Yisroel on Tuesday if the weather forecasters predict that on Wednesday it will be very cloudy).

Who may or may not recite the Bracha?

Women and children who have reached the age of understanding should recite the Bracha, as well.  Mourners who have not yet buried their relatives are exempt from saying the Bracha. A blind person should be yotzai (fulfill his obligation) through hearing someone else make the Bracha or say it by themselves without the name of Hashem.

When will Birchat HaChamah next be said?

Birchat HaChamah was last said on 8 Nisan 5741 (corresponding to 8 April 1981). This was the 205th 28-year cycle of the Sun. It will be said again on 8 April in the years 2009, 2037, 2065 and 2093. In the 22nd century, the date will advance to 9 April for the years 2121, 2149 and 2177.

(Click here to download the Birchat HaChamah prayer in English and Hebrew.)

For a very comprehensive book on Birchat HaChamah by Rabbi J. David Bleich, with overview by Rabbi Nosson Scherman, which includes the complete prayer service for Birchat  HaChamah, with translation and commentary click here then search for 'birchas hachammah or 'Bleich.'




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