Once in a Rare Sun: Birkat Hachamah


Once in a Rare Sun: Birkat Hachamah

by Miriam Davids - New York

February 24, 2009

(lubavitch.com) The waxing and waning of the moon is regularly celebrated in Jewish life. The Jewish calendar is based on the lunar cycle, familiar to Jewish children even as preschoolers who learn to welcome the new moon with regular Rosh Chodesh celebrations. In a popular depiction by Jewish painters, a minyan of men stand outside the shtetl shul and bless the new moon under a dark sky.

What about the sun?

In their daily prayers, Jews offer thanks for the sunlight: “He who illuminates the earth and its inhabitants,” and are enjoined to maintain an awareness of its benefits to our ecology as a source of vital energy.

But in an unusual ritual that in Jewish tradition comes around only once in 28-years and is to take place this year, Wednesday morning, April 8, Jewish communities everywhere are preparing to formally bless the sun.

By a Talmudic calculation, this follows the spring equinox occurring the evening before, Tuesday, at precisely the hour between 6-7 p.m. Israel time, when the sun is believed to have completed a cycle and has returned to its precise position at the time of its creation.

In advance of this event, Kehot Publication Society, the Lubavitch publishing house, published Birkat Hachamah - According to Chabad Custom.

This soft cover title is a compilation of instructions and insights, along with the prayer text of Birkat Hachamah. Sections in both Hebrew and English include an analysis of the blessing, its background, and a digest that codifies its laws and customs, compiled by Rabbi Chaim Rapoport, of London, England.

In addition to the informative instruction guide, the Hebrew section contains transcribed talks by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson. The talks, delivered in 1953 and 1981—the last two Birkat Hachamah years, personally edited by the Rebbe, include inspirational ideas that relate to the blessing, the time when it is recited, and the personal messages and lessons to be learned from its experience.

The book also includes the text of the prayer in Hebrew, along with a separate text with English translation and annotation, and even a transliterated version of the prayer for those who wish to recite the prayer in its original language but cannot read Hebrew.

A concise list of directives that were edited by the Rebbe, clarifying Chabad customs relating to Birkat Hachamah precedes the Hebrew and English sections of the book.

A user-friendly guide with all the information one might want to know about Birkat Hachama, the book is available for purchase online here.

Also published for this occasion by Kehot under separate title is a booklet containing only the text of the prayer with English translation and transliteration, as well as a brief guide to the customs of Birkat Hachama. Available here for purchase.

Zalman Abraham contributed to this article.

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