Blessing the Sun, April 8, 2009

On April 8, 2009, the 28-year cycle of the Jewish ceremony of Blessing the Sun will come 'round again. Below you will find the essay on the celebration on April 8, 1981, of this extraordinary event -- one of the least-known but most joyful of Jewish ceremonies -- from my book SEASONS OF OUR JOY (Beacon Press). Let us begin to plan for 2009. -- Rabbi Arthur Waskow

Today [April 8, 1981] , as I complete this book, is perhaps the strangest of all the seasons of our joy for it will not come again for twenty eight years. It is the day of the Blessing of the Sun Birchat Ha Chamah.

On that day, according to the Talmud, the sun returns to where it was in the Heavens on the fourth day of Creation, That was when God set the sun and the moon to "serve as signs for the seasons." (Gen. 1:14). So today it is in a sense the season of the seasons, the cycle of the birth of all our cycles.

Why today? Because alongside the view that the Creation of the World occurred in Elul and Tishri, at Rosh Hashanah time, the Talmud preserves another view: that the Creation occurred in Nisan, the first of the months, in spring.

Evidently to the rabbis it felt particularly apppropriate that the birthday of the sun should be at the spring equinox, when the sun emerges from the womb of winter and crosses the Equator coming northward. The Torah teaches that the sun was created at the beginning of the fourth day -- Tuesday evening, to use our present labels. So the moment when the sun is again where it was at the beginning comes in a year when the equinox as the rabbis defined it comes on Tuesday evening in Nisan.

Then why are we celebrating today the eighth of April? Surely it is not the equinox! The rabbis' calculation of the length of the year was a few minutes off and in 2, 000 years that has added up to a few weeks.

And why only every twenty eight years? By assigning Tuesday evening as the moment, the rabbis made the moment hard to come by. For the year does not divide into four equal seasons of full days. There is a day and a¬quarter left over. So if the equinox comes on a Tuesday evening this year, it will come next year a day and a quarter later. It will take four years for it to come 'round to the evening again and then it will be five days away from Tuesday. Only after seven times four years will the moment come back to a Tuesday evening.

By working out this cycle of twenty eight years, the rabbis accomplished something else: by celebrating the sun only once a generation, they gave us a way to look ahead and look back that is worthy of the sun.

Of all the specific objects in our created world, the sun and planet Earth are the most crucial for the life and well being of the human race. So a celebration of the sun's creation is a good moment to ask ourselves: what have we done with the sun's light, warmth, energy, in this past generation? What do we intend to do in the next generation?

So this morning at 5:43 a.m., at sunrise, at the Jefferson Memorial on the shores of the Tidal Basin in Washington, under the windy, tattered cherry blossoms, several hundred Jews recited "Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu melech ha olam oseh ma aseh b'reshit. Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of time and space, Doer of the deeds of Creation." And danced in circles, sang songs like "Here Comes the Sun" and "Morning Has Broken" and psalms about the sun, rising in strength and joy and radiance like a bride¬groom coming forth to his wedding.

And we signed a scroll to be saved for the Blessing of the Sun in the year 5769 of the Creation, on April 8, 2009:

In this day that begins the 206th cycle of the sun since the Beginning,
We pledge ourselves to make a new beginning:
To hand on to the next generation an earth that is washed in sunlight,
not poisoned by waste; To see in the sun's light the light of Torah; To feel in the sun's warmth the warmth of the human community; To use through the sun's energy the strength of the One Who Creates. Blessed be the Doer of Deeds of Beginning.

And we sent greetings to Jews at the top of the Empire State Building, in front of Independence Hall, on the shores of the Atlantic in New England and in Florida, at Golden Gate Bridge and in the Redwood Forest, in the prison yard at Attica and at the Wall in Old Jerusalem, who were also joining in our prayers.

I would like to end this book with that look back and forward. When the sun was blessed twenty eight years ago, there were far fewer Jews who knew about this festive day or took joy in doing it. The renewal of our tradition has been one of the great works of this past generation. It is still beginning, still gathering strength. May the renewal of Jewish peoplehood and Torah be so strong that in 2009 this whole book needs to be rewritten: rewritten out of a deeper and broader understanding of the festivals, out of a more profound mouming for what is gone in Jewish life and a more intense joy in what is growing, out of new ceremonies and studies that grow authentically from wrestling with the old ones.


Jewish and Interfaith Topics: