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Birchas Hachamah - The Blessing of the Sun

We are used to thinking of the Creation of the Universe as a one-time event that took place 5769 years ago. And while it is true that Hashem created this universe 5769 years ago, that was only the first time. In point of fact, Hashem recreates the universe every second. Creation is a continuous process.

As we say each morning in Shacharis (the Morning Prayers), “Who renews, in His goodness, each day, constantly, the work of creation.”

The world continues to exist only because of that constant renewal. Hashem did not merely create the world and leave it at that. Hashem constantly re-creates and maintains the world, actively and with intent and close scrutiny. It is, in fact, the very first of the Thirteen Principles of Belief obligatory to all Jews: that Hashem creates and maintains the universe and all creations, and that Hashem is the only One Who has ever made, Who makes, or Who will ever make, everything.

We are required to say Ashrai (Psalm 145) three times a day, in order to impress upon ourselves and to declare our understanding that Hashem is Master of nature and that He alone does all things.

Thus, it is fitting, that when we declare Hashem blessed because of an act of Creation, we bless Him in the present tense. The blessing that we will (Hashem willing) make this year over the sun is “Who makes the work of Creation.”

Hashem placed the sun in the cosmos on the fourth day of Creation, on what we would today call a Wednesday.. Every twenty-eight years, on a specific and carefully calculated Wednesday, the sun rises in the very same place that it rose on that first Wednesday.

At that time, we say the blessing “Blessed are You Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who makes the work of Creation.”

The Purpose of the Blessing

The Sefer Sho’el Umaishiv (from the illustrious Rabbi Joseph Sha’ul Nathan son, Rabbi in Lvov / Lemberg until around 1875, author of a number of highly respected works) explains Birchas Hachamah this way:

In Koheles (Ecclesiastes 3:1) it says “There is a season for everything, and a time for everything under the sun.”

King Solomon then goes on to list 28 examples:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck plants;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break, and a time to build;
A time to cry, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
A time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones; a time to embrace, and a time to shun embracing;
A time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to discard;
A time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to be silent, and a time to speak;
A time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

All these are matters that are UNDER the sun, that is, creations of THIS world. All are things we do as part of our finite lives. All are things that have beginnings and ends. Everything that begins in this world, will have an ending in this world. (Our souls were created before the universe was created, and even still, Hashem can destroy an unworthy soul, if He would ever want to, though I don’t know if such a thing actually happens.)

Entropy is a law of nature. Hashem created the physical universe that way.

But the important thing is that whatever can end, must have been created. It must all follow Hashem’s rule and guidance.

The purpose of Birchas Hachamah is to declare that belief in the sun as an independent power or deity is false. It is HASHEM Who makes the acts of Creation, now and always.

The very fact that there is a cycle to the sun means that Someone set such a law in motion. The sun follows a law that it cannot violate. The sun is directed, and it is held in check and controlled by that Director. Hashem forces the sun to return to its original spot, to the place it began its cycle, to the place where Hashem created it in the first place, to declare to the world, “I am not master – Hashem is Master!” The sun, like everything else, is subject to time, and therefore was created by Hashem.

The Talmud tells us that each day, when the kings of the world awaken and bow to the sun, this angers Hashem. Therefore, we wake up in the morning and declare Hashem to be King.

What time do the kings do this? The Talmud says that kings who sleep late wake up no later than the end of the third hour after the beginning of the day.

So anywhere from sunrise to three hours later is the time designated by pagan kings as the time to worship the sun. Therefore, says the Sho’el Umaishiv, that is the time for us to say Birchas Hachamah, since its very purpose is to negate paganism.

Nevertheless, the Rabbis rule that this is the optimum time to say Birchas Hachamah. If you have not said it before the end of three hours, you may say it until Halachic mid-day.

About Saying the Blessing

This is the only time that we may say this brachah (blessing). We say it on the morning of April 8, when we see the sun.

Some say the brachah as early as possible in the morning, but I believe the most widespread custom is to say it after the Morning Prayers, which should be said, on that day, as early as is permissible. Make sure you know what your synagogue/community is planning on doing.

This should preferably done with as many Jewish men together as possible, because of the dictum that the greater the crowd the greater the honor shown to the King. However, if you are alone, you may nevertheless say the brachah (blessing).

Some people wear tallis and tefillin while saying the brachah.

It is customary to say various other psalms and prayers before and after, but these are not mandatory.

The brachah should be said while standing.

Unlike Kiddush Livanah (the Blessing On the Moon, which we say each month), Birchas Hachamah may be said while standing under a roof, or inside a building while seeing the sun through a window.

When to Say the Blessing

Birchas Hachamah may not be recited all day. There is a specific range of time during which it may be said.

We may not say Birchas Hachamah before sunrise. While some Rabbinic opinions hold that this means from when the top of the sun becomes visible over the horizon, others hold that we should see the entre sun overt he horizon when we make the brachah. It is best to follow the practice of your community. The difference is only about two and a half minutes.

It is preferable to say the Brachah before three Halachic hours after surnise. However, it is generally held that we may say it until Halachic noon.

Of course, like all Mitzvos, we are supposed to try to do it as early as possible. As the Torah teaches us, “Zrizin makdimin limitzvos,” those who wish to do mitzvos with the proper zeal and honor that Hashem requests, in order to honor Hashem, do mitzvos as early as possible.

We must actually see the sun before saying the Brachah. If the sun is hidden by clouds, and we cannot even see the outline of the sun, then we may not say the brachah. However, if the outline of the sun, or a part of the sun is visible, we may say the brachah.

We must see the sun itself, and not a reflection of the sun. (Remember, though, that it is not safe to gaze at the sun, so just one look should suffice.) We may also see the sun through eyeglasses, or other lenses, even binoculars (though that is probably a bad idea).

It is important to remember that the purpose and meaning of this brachah is to praise Hashem over the greatness of His creation. That is the essence of this brachah.

Who Should Say the Blessing

Women may say this brachah. It is not an “obligation based on time,” because it isn’t really an obligation at all, not even for men. The Talmud says “Whoever sees the sun [at this time] should say this brachah...” It does not say that we are required to get up early and see the sun at that time. Furthermore, the brachah does not say “Who commanded us to...” So it is not a Commandment or absolute obligation to go and see it so you can say the brachah. But doing so is meritorious for anyone who does so.

However, there is, as always, the concern that men and women may mix in the crowd. Separate sections must be arranged for the occasion. One should not go to a place where men and women mix freely in public.

Bear in mind that you may say this brachah anywhere that you can see the sun when you say it. It is merely BETTER to say it with the community, but you don’t HAVE to.

I am told that several of the leading Rabbis in Israel have instructed their communities to make special sections for the women, so that they too may say the brachah with the entire community.

An onen (a mourner during the period after his relative’s passing but before the burial) may not say the brachah before the burial.

A mourner during the shivah (first seven days of mourning) should say the brachah, but should not go to the synagogue or other gathering place for it. And he or she should say only the brachah itself, and not the other psalms and passages of Talmud that many people say with the brachah.

A blind person should not say the brachah. He should ask someone else to say it for him, and he should answer amain.

Children who are old enough to be taught these sort of things (in most children from around six or seven years old) should be taught the meaning of the brachah and should be brought along to say it.

After Birchas Hachamah we say Alainu, the final prayer after all three of the Daily Prayers, even though we already said it when we finished the Morning Prayers earlier. When bowing to Hashem in Alainu, you must turn to another direction, so that it doesn’t look like you are bowing to the sun.

May Hashem bring back to us the light of Creation that He hid away for the World to Come, and remove all the evil and bring all that is good to the world.

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