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A rare event in the Jewish calendar - the celebration of Bircat Hachamah

April 8, 2009:

Bircat Hachamah affirms that this is a new beginning even though it looks and feels much the same as every other sunrise. Photo from en/

The following article was written by Rabbi David Lister, The Big Green Jewish Website.

"Bircat Hachamah is one of the rarest events in the Jewish calendar. It only happens once every twenty-eight years - and it happens this year (2009/5769) on the morning before Pesach. The rule is that when we see the sun on the morning in question, we should say the blessing,

"atta Adonai Elohenu melech haolam oseh aseh beraishit":

Blessed are You Lord our God King of the universe, who makes the work of the beginning.

The Talmud describes this as a blessing to be made by someone who "Sees the sun in its circuit". This means that the sun is beginning its circuit again The idea is that, from the point of view of an observer on earth, the sun is supposed to have been first visible at the spring equinox on a Wednesday morning, the fourth day of creation. Because the cycle of equinoxes is calculated to run over 365 days, the equinox falls a little later - one and a quarter days later - in the week every year, since each year is made of 52 weeks plus 1.25 days.

"Blessed are You Lord our God King of the universe, who makes the work of the beginning."
It emerges that the sun will only be visible at the equinox on a Wednesday morning once every twenty-eight years, since 28 is a number divisible by 7. Every time we reach this milestone event, when the sun is at the spring equinox on the same day and time as it was at the start of creation, we celebrate by saying the blessing of "oseh ma'aseh beraishit". We can understand something deeper about this by looking at it more closely. Normally the blessing of oseh ma'aseh beraishit is reserved for seeing majestic natural things such as mountains, flashes of lightning, huge rivers and the like. These things show God's handiwork in its pure state, untouched by humans.

We should only say the blessing on a mountain or river if one sees it for the first time in thirty days or more, as only then will it strike one as being a special thing worthy of a blessing. But when we see the sun at the start of this 28 year cycle, it looks no different to it any other time. The new cycle is not apparent. How then can we say this blessing? Perhaps the answer is precisely in the hidden nature of the cycle of the sun. It is only through careful calculation and observation that we can be sure that the new cycle is beginning as it did at Genesis. There is a new start here but it is barely noticeable. The special message here is that a new start can take place even when it looks like it can't.

Bircat Hachamah affirms that this is a new beginning even though it looks and feels much the same as every other sunrise. And similarly in our own lives, any old morning afternoon or evening might hold the potential for a new start and a better life if we might just recognise it as such and seize the opportunity we discover. Bearing this in mind, the text of the blessing assumes a new profundity in the context of Bircat Hachamah. We thank God for making the work of the beginning, meaning that God is constantly making new beginnings for us. Bircat Hachamah shows us a hidden beginning implanted in creation by God, and we give thanks for the myriad opportunities for renewal that God has woven into our lives."

*** Links

Link here for details of Jewish eco-festivals.

And link here for Jewish quotations about faith and nature.

External links

Link here for more details of Bircat Hachamah. And here.

Link here to see and hear Bircat Hachamah on YouTube.

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