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.
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.'