Monday, April 6, 2009

Where Were You When the Lights Went On?

This post is directed to the 30-plus crowd.

Birkas Hachama is 2 days away and we are all planning on how to make this once-in-a-quarter-plus-century event the most meaningful and memorable it can be. Of course, this got me thinking: how many of us remember if and how we proclaimed the bracha 28 years ago; or even 56 years ago for whom it applies (not me, for sure). How memorable was it for us 28 years ago?

I know that Eretz Yisroel is teeming with observant Jews and there are, ken yirbu, more than ever, who would like to recite the bracha at the center of the world - the Kotel HaMaaravi. I expect that there will be so many people there that it won't pay to brag about it.

"Oh, I said Birkas HaChama at the Kosel."
"Big deal, same here."

28 years ago there were much fewer observant Jews in Eretz Yisroel in general. Aside from that, Birkas Hachama was recited on 4 Nissan, not 14 Nissan so most of those myriads of precious Jews who came to E"Y special for Pesach hadn't yet arrived. So I can assume that the number of Jews who were actually at the Kosel last cycle can't compare with the number who will be there this year.

So, now I can brag.
I was there.

The funny thing is that it wasn't my first choice of spots. I actually wrote a bit about my previous Birkas HaChama experience in the autobiography chapter that I wrote for my book. Only, it's not in the book because I only printed pieces of the autobiography and this part didn't make the final cut. Still, loyal readers of mine were able to see it since it was part of the Menachem Begin exerpt that I posted to the blog on Feb. 9. For those who haven't seen it, I will repost the part about Birkat HaChama now. The section in the narrative was discussing a number of unusual events that took place in the one year that I came to study in Eretz Yisrael before I married; among them was Birkas HaChama. This is what I wrote:

Birkat HaChama (occurs once every 28 years). This is a special blessing that is to be recited when the sun returns to the original position in the firmament that it occupied when it was first created on Wednesday the 4th of Nissan.* This is not much of an event as it entails reciting a blessing that is all of nine words. Yet, since it occurs so rarely, there is a tremendous amount of hype that is generated as the date approaches. As this was shortly after the Camp David peace accords, the border to Egypt was newly opened and I and a few others planned to make a quick tourist pilgrimage to the land of de-Nile so that we could see those big pointy things and experience a true exodus from Egypt by the upcoming Passover. The only problem was that we could only designate the first week of Nissan for the excursion and the nine-word Birkat HaChama was to be recited on Wednesday and who did not want to utter this rare blessing at the Western Wall? As things developed, our initial group of about seven began to dwindle. The first fellow dropped out because he was a Kohen and then another for some other unrelated cause. Then a few others backed out so as not to miss Birkat HaChama in Jerusalem. I was the lone holdout because I had my heart set on the trip and I rationalized that it would be unique if we could tell our grandchildren (and whoever is reading this book) that we recited the Birkat HaChama in Cairo. On this I was completely outvoted, and so, I reluctantly remained in Jerusalem and recited the blessing at the Kotel. As presumed, I never did get another opportunity to go to Egypt.

Like I said, I really wanted to make the event a memorable one. Of course, it was nice to be at the Kosel. I remember that there was one fellow, I believe from the Eidah Chareidis, who was MC-ing the event. There were large scattered clouds and the sun was initially playing hide and seek. We couldn't say the bracha at the scheduled time because of the clouds, so the MC fellow was saying some inspiring words while we were watching the clouds move. Then, it suddenly looked like the sun was coming out so the fellow quickly said, "Luh mehr machen shoin der brucha: Baruch atoh..." And I made the bracha with him as the sun dived back for cover and I must say that I felt somewhat cheated. So much for being memorable! A few minutes later it made a grand appearance and those who held off at the beginning were able to say it with gusto.

With this, I am a bit curious who else has some anecdote to tell related to the previous occurrence of Birkas HaChama. I would be happy to see stories submitted to my email at or in the comments section of this post.

As for this Wednesday's great event, I am certainly not going to Egypt. The question is whether I will try to go to the Kosel. I no longer am situated at Yeshivas Mir which is walking distance and it will be impossible to drive there. I was told that there are supposed to be some #2 buses going non-stop from Har Nof to the Kosel (with separated seating, I hope) but I have a bunch of little kids now (didn't have any then) and after the Bedikas Chametz marathon, I don't know if I will have the strength to get up that much earlier and brave the crowds.

It is a bit tedious saying Birkas Chama at the kosel because the wall itself blocks the sun, so the people there have to wait a bit until the sun is high enough in the sky to see it and l'chatchila, you need to wait until the entire sun is unblocked to say the bracha. This means just standing there and watching it slow-w-wly emerge and muttering to yourself, "Is it all the way out, yet?" From what I heard, this won't be before 7:15 and it depends on how close to the wall you are standing (the further the better!).

All this on erev yom tov!

Oh, and one other thing. They are predicting rain!

Not again!!

*The Birkas HaChama event came out on 4 of Nissan that year and I was led to believe that the date of 4 Nissan is the set date whenever it is said every 28 years. This certainly makes sense since we hold that the Creation took place in Nissan so that if the 4th day of Creation was the 4th day of Nissan that is certainly the Jewish date that the sun was created. I lived with this misconception until the discussion of the current cycle when, after almost 28 years, I first discovered that this is not the case!


Hamasig said...

I don't think it could have been the Eida at the kossel. They generally have nothing to do with the place. This year as well, they're organizing their event somewhere else.

Jay Draiman said...

Birchas Hachama – A Simple Explanation
The Amorah (Talmudic scholar), Abaye, said that every time that “Tekufas Nissan” (the beginning of spring, as calculated by Chazal) occurs at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday evening (when the halachic day of Wednesday begins) one should go outside the next morning and recite the brocha, “Osei maaseh braishis.” This occurs once every 28 years.
II. The Halachos
On Wednesday morning (the day after Tekufas Nissan), one goes outside and quickly gazes towards the sun and says, “Baruch atah Hashem Elokainu Melech haolam oseh maaseh braishis,” – “Blessed are You, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who re-enacts the structure of the creation. Additional tefillos praising the Ribono Shel Olam are also recited. Before the bracha Hallelu es Hashem min Hashamayim is recited. After the bracha Kail Adon, Mizmor HaShamayim Mesaprim and Aleinuare recited. If there is a minyan, Kaddish7 is recited after Aleinu.
Ideally, Birchas Hachama should be recited before the third hour of the day. B’dieved, one has until chatzos (midday) to recite Birchas Hachama. It is preferably recited while standing - “b’rov am”, with a group of other people. Women and children should recite the bracha, as well. A blind person should be yotzai (fulfill his obligation) through hearing someone else make the bracha.
If it is cloudy, the following halachos apply: If one can see the lines of the sun behind the clouds, one may say Birchas Hachama. If it is so cloudy that the sun is not visible, one may not say Birchas Hachama with the name of Hashem. Rather, shortly before chatzos (or when it is obviously going to stay cloudy until chatzos) one would say, “Baruch oseh maaseh braishis” without the name of Hashem.
III. Why Every 28 Years?
When the world was created, the sun and moon were created on the Wednesday of the week of bri'as haolam (creation of the world). On that day, the beginning of spring (known as “Tekufas Nissan”) was at 6:00 p.m., on Tuesday the beginning of the halachic day Wednesday.
It takes approximately 365 days and 6 hours for the Earth to completely revolve one time around the sun. This is equal to 52 weeks, 1 day and 6 hours. Therefore, in the following year (after the world was created) spring began early Thursday at midnight (midnight early Thursday is one day of the week and 6 hours after Tuesday at 6:00 p.m.). The following year it began at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, the following year at noon on Shabbos and the year after that at 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. Every four years, the time of the tekufa moved five days of the week later (e.g. from 6:00 p.m. Tuesday to 6:00 p.m. Sunday). After 28 years, it returned to the same time that it was at Brias Haolam, 6:00 p.m. Tuesday the beginning of “Lail Revi’i” (halachically Wednesday). So, in year 29 (counting from the creation), 57, 85, 113 and every 28th year after that, including most recently in 5713 (1953) and 5741 (1981) the tekufa was at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday and Birchas Hachama was recited the next day. Once again, it will be at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday this year. After this year, the next time Birchas Hachama will be recited will be in 5797 (2037) and then again in 5825 (2065).
IV. The Date
Birchas Hachama is always recited on a Wednesday. In the 20th and 21st Centuries, it is recited on April 8. The Hebrew date can vary. In the past 400 years, Birchas Hachama has been said as early as the 27th of Adar II (in 5461 [1701]) and as late as the 26th of Nissan (in 5545 [1785] and 5629 [1869]).
Birchas Hachama can be recited on Yom Tov. It will be recited on the seventh day of Pesach (scheduled for 5881 [2121]) and was said on the second day of Pesach – Yom Tov outside of Israel (in 5601 [1841]). It cannot be recited on the first or eighth day of Pesach, as these days never occur on Wednesday. This year, 5769 (2009), Birchas Hachama will be recited on Erev Pesach and in 5797 (2037), according to the calculations of the calendar, it will be recited on Isru Chag Pesach. In 5825 (2065), it will be said on the 2nd of Nissan.
Klal Yisroel is zoche (merits) to have two types of mitzvos. Some mitzvos are performed frequently, on a daily or weekly basis; other mitzvos are performed infrequently. Both types of mitzvos, are done to better serve the Ribono Shel Olam. One purpose of frequently performed mitzvos is to become more consistent in our connection to Hashem. How beautiful it is when Yidden daven “day in and day out,” or when the Nashim Tzidkaniyos (righteous women) faithfully light candles every single Erev Shabbos and Yom Tov.
Infrequently performed mitzvos such as Birchas Hachama offer Klal Yisroel the opportunity to serve Hashem with special “hischadshus,” renewed anticipation and excitement in serving the Borai Olam (Creator) with a mitzvah performed by Yidden throughout the world – usually only 3 times in ones lifetime! May we merit the recitation of Birchas Hachama with Moshiach Tzidkainu who should come bimhaira b’yamainu, speedily in our days.