Thursday, 26 March 2009

Birchat HaChamah - The Blessing Over the Sun: 8 April 2009

8 APRIL 2009

This year we are fortunate to be able to fulfil a unique Mitzvah. While there are those who put tremendous efforts into fulfilling their favourite Mitzvot such as Shabbat, Kashrut, Mezuzot, Tefillin and Tzizit etc. – rare is the person who runs around in absolute excitement each day as he thinks of his opportunity to make a blessing over the sun!

What's the excitement really all about?!

We are taught in Brachot 59b that one who sees the sun at its turning point should say a blessing "Blessed is He who makes the works of creation." The Gemara asks, "When is this?" Abaye answers, "Every 28 years."

Once in 28 years most Jews are privileged to make a blessing over the sun. Some Jews may merit to say this blessing over the sun twice in their lives. The privileged few – may even merit to say it three times in their lives!

The sun returns to its original point that it was at, at the time of creation. How does this work? Although G-d created light and darkness on the first day of creation, it was actually on the fourth day of creation that G-d placed the luminaries into the sky. The original light created on that first day – was not really the sun. It was a light stored away for the Tzaddikim, a powerful light that only those who are truly righteous are able to use. Such a light would have been a danger for those not worthy of it, and so G-d hid this light away. The sun, however, was placed as the main luminary to give light to the world – on the fourth day of the week – Wednesday.

Because there are 365 and one quarter days in a year, this means that every 4 years, an additional day is added in order to make up for the four quarters, giving us an extra day every 4 years. As a result of this, the sun shifts it's position one day ahead from where it began it's original journey at the time of creation. It was created on a Wednesday. Every 4 years, it moves ahead one day, and finds itself therefore on a Thursday – 4 years later! Because there are seven days in the week, we require 7 multiplied by 4 (ie. 28) years to allow for the sun to return back to its exact original position that it was in creation. It will then find itself once again at its position on a Wednesday. Therefore every 28 years we make a blessing over the sun as it returns back to its original position. The blessing will always be said on a Wednesday, because this is the day when the sun was placed in its position in the sky.

Because of the uniqueness of this Mitzvah, people will gather together to say this blessing, praising G-d for His beautiful works of creation – together. Perhaps this is truly one of those totally unique occasions when we will look around us and see just how united the Jewish people are.

So much for the formalities. Let's think upon some of the lessons we can learn from the sun, ideas that will help us realise just what the sun is, what makes it special, and how we can meditate already on some of its deeper significance in our lives. When we make that blessing this year, let us take a deep breath and consider what we can learn from this globe of fire. After all, the sun also shares some of the characteristics of people. She too burns herself out at the best of times.

Because the sun travels a set route over 28 years – below are 28 thoughts to think about.

1. From the moment the sun was placed in her position, it continues to do her job – circling around the world, again and again (see "The Wager" for more info about this.) The sun has never stopped revolving around the earth. She continues to fulfil her duties to the creator. Likewise, each of us should realise that G-d has placed us in this world to do a job. And even when it seems monotonous (Tefillin every day, Tzitzit every day, Davening three times a day, Pesach… again?! Yom Kippur – again?!) – still, this is what we must do faithfully – knowing that the Creator of the world wishes for us to fulfil His commandments.

2. The sun is filled with heat. She bestows of her fire to keep the world just warm enough to continue. Should it come too close to the earth, it will burn us out. Should it be too far, life would expire from the cold. So too should we be filled with warmth to all we come into contact with. Not coming too close so as to burn others out – and not to stay too far from others so as to let them shiver unable to continue life.

3. The sun brings light to the world. So too should each person realise that his duty is to bring light to the world. His duty is not to fight the darkness, because even a little light dispels a lot of darkness. A Jew's duty is to shine to all (and to himself!)

4. The sun brings warmth everywhere, but when it is on one side of the world, the other side sees darkness. We too are finite. We too are truly filled with warmth. We too give of ourselves. Yet, many times we will find that as we give to some, others think we are cold. We should know that just because others disagree with us – when we are truly giving warmth – this is not a rejection, but rather a lack on their part to see the warmth we are actually giving.

5. The sun "limits" itself to one side of the world at a time, and so brings goodness to that side. Because people are finite, they too can only offer their goodness to certain people at certain times. Were the sun to offer her goodness to the entire world at once, the world would be unable to exist. So too, if a person tries to make everyone happy, they will only fail. (To quote the well known comedian – Bill Cosby, "I don't know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.")

6. The sun is the cause for all growth in the world. Her warmth and light even attract plants and flowers to turn themselves towards her when she appears to them. So too, should every Jew be a source for helping and causing others to grow. They should be a light – so that all who see them, naturally incline towards them, knowing that being close to them will not inhibit their growth, but rather hasten it!

7. The sun disappears to allow for night. So too should every Jew know that sometimes, it is a time to stay away from another – to give them space when they need it. There is no need to have to always feel we have to tell another what to do and how to do it. Give others space too.

8. The sun never complains or shows jealousy. She accepts herself for who she is. When the sun and moon were created, it was the moon who complained to G‑d, "How can You create two luminaries the same size?! Surely one should be greater?!" Said G‑d to the moon, "Then you go and diminish yourself!" Likewise, no matter how great or small you are (whether materially, spiritually or mentally) know that this is just the right size for you. G-d wishes you to fulfil your role in life at just the "size" you are. A complaint against your "size" is really simply showing a lack of appreciation for the warmth you can actually give! If so, it would be better to simply be smaller, and hover around during the night.

9. The sun is patient. She gives herself 24 hours a day to do what she needs to. You too have 24 hours in a day to do everything you'd like.

10. The sun is VERY patient! Even though the sun orbits around the earth over 24 hour periods, and even over the entire year, she knows she will have to wait a full 28 years before she can come back to her original position that she was in when G-d created her at the time of creation. Likewise, every Jew should know that the body is not what counts… it is the soul, which came from G-d above many many years ago that has real value. It was sent into this world to attend to G-d's wishes right here. It will go through a variety of orbits and movements, doing some things again and again, thinking that it is getting nowhere. In truth, when the right time comes for its own complete orbit, it will return back to its original source. Perhaps there will be "others" who will make a blessing for it when it "arrives" back again?!

11. The sun is very patient! (sic) She waits 28 years before reaching her goal of return. It knows that the Jewish people will then say a blessing over her. Some goals take longer than others. There's no hurry… the main thing is to work towards them – even if they take 28 years to get there! There is nothing to worry about, because when that goal is reached, there will be those who will say a blessing for your having achieved it.

12. The sun uses her time well! The sun moves around the earth every 24 hours to complete one cycle. It continues to move, never stopping – even if it seems to be taking it's time getting there. Likewise, every person should see each moment of time as an opportunity of movement, an opportunity to do something new, no matter how long it's taking to get to the final goal.

13. The sun believes in the power of strength. The numerical value of the word "strength" in Hebrew "Koach" is 28. She uses her "Koach" to reach her goal. Each Jew should likewise use the strengths G-d has given them in order to serve Him best!

14. The sun knows what real power is… The first sentence of the Torah contains 28 (Hebrew) letters. "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth." When one reaches a goal, one should likewise know that it is as if one was becoming a partner with G-d – in creating the heavens and the earth.

15. It takes two "hands" to make a full sun cycle. The numerical value of the word "hand" in Hebrew is 14. The sun works by the number 28 – 2x14. When doing something – use both your hands (use all your abilities) as you strive to fulfil whatever you can fulfil.

16. The sun does not quit! After 28 years of hard work and finally returning to her home, she does not simply stop cycling. She continues onwards. Likewise, no matter how great the goal you may have achieved – or how long it has taken you – don't quit. Start your next project – immediately!

17. The sun is not afraid of new beginnings. When the sun begins her new cycle, she does not consider that it will be another 28 years before returning "home". Instead, she is happy to start again, as if she had never done so before. Starting any task can be daunting, especially if one thinks of the many years one may need to invest in it (think of a family which is for life…!) but it all begins with a single step. There is never a need to feel embarrassed just because one is only at the first point of the journey. There's no rush.

18. The sun circles around. It has no points that make it think of itself as being more important, higher or lower. It operates by the "circle" principle – where everything is equal. Likewise, in life, we should view others as moving along their own paths, achieving their own goals. Why the need to make one seem greater than the other?! Why the need to think one is any less than another?! In a circle, everything is equal. And so it will be that in the future, everybody will dance – in a circle – with the final redemption. They will dance in a circle to show that in the eyes of G-d, there are none who are greater and none who are less, all are equal.

19. The new day begins when the sun awakens most people from their sleep. Be a "sun" to others. They may be fast asleep, not even realising it. Wake them up from their deep sleep and show them what daylight really is. And there is no light – except for Torah.

20. The sun gives light to all. The sun does not judge which person or plant in the world should receive her light. She gives liberally to all. Be a "sun" and give to all you come into contact with – even it seems they're simply not deserving of it. If their seed is in need of light – they will grow and mature. If their seed has rotten, you will have lost nothing by trying to restore it to a state of good health.

21. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west. It travels in a westerly direction. The Torah teaches that the Shechinah – G-d's indwelling Divine Presence is in the west. The suns entire focus is upon serving G-d and moving towards Him. Likewise, every Jew should begin his day with no other thought – than to strive in all his actions to move towards G-d.

22. The sun rules only by day. It lets the moon rule by night – together with the stars. Each person is likewise given a dominion in the world of some kind. There is nobody who has dominion over everything. Share your dominion with others so as to give them warmth in whatever G-d has blessed you with, and then give way to others, so that they may share with you their own blessings. Acknowledge them for their "dominion". Thank them for their "dominion" and deal honestly with them when it comes time for them to provide the "dominion" they have been given to rule over.

23. The sun is only a creation of G-d, and yet it is impossible for anyone to look directly at it. She is a sign for us all to know that if this is just G-d's creation, imagine the awesome splendour, strength, and "brightness" of G-d Himself.

24. The sun has seen everything "under the sun". She knows the hidden secrets of what every person has done, yet she does not announce anything to anyone. She simply continues on her own mission. Although she may be aware of the defects of every human being, she continues her mission without saying a word… Speaking negatively of others is not our business – even when we clearly know what they have done. Our duty is to do what we are required to do. Our duty is still to continue providing warmth and light to others.

25. The sun is filled with self-sacrifice. Although filled with immense heat, she continues to burn herself out for the sake of the existence of the world – and for the sake of her Creator. Every Jew should know that they too are filled with "immense heat" that continues to be spent in the activities he chooses to do in this world. There is never a need to feel exhausted in helping others. It's just that sometimes – a little self-sacrifice is needed.

26. The sun does everything it needs to in the present. Even though she knows that she will surely circle again, she concentrates only on what her task is then. Likewise, although we all have a future, our job is not to constantly think about what will be tomorrow. Our task is to focus on today – as if this is all that counts. Our task is to do what is required of us today so that we will be ready for tomorrow.

27. The sun rises to the highest parts of the sky, but lowers itself to the earth – as it rises and sets every single day. Life is not about the heavens and it is also not about the earth. It is a combination. Although in essence a G-dly soul, every Jew possesses an animal soul too. He is grounded into this world as much as his essence is above. There is no need to live a heavenly life only. There is no need to feel he is confined to earth. There are times to rise to the heavens, and times to "come back to earth."

28. The sun *knows* the future. She knows she will cycle again. There will be more ups, and more downs. But she does not give up. The future will yet be and at times, we may even know what it will be, still, it is not for us to give up. It is for us to continue – no matter if we are rising or if we see ourselves as setting. Another day is still coming, and it is guaranteed that at the start of a new day, the direction is one that only goes upwards!

If you wish to learn more about this beautiful Mitzvah and take part, here are a couple of links you can click on to find out more:

A bloggers guide to Birkas HaChama

Thank G-d for the Sun. The Once in 28 Years Mitzvah

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