Sun rises on ancient ritual
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Sun rises on ancient ritual

Here comes the sun and the Rabbinical Council of Bergen County has convened a community-wide welcome.

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday in Teaneck’s Votee Park, area residents will join millions of Jews around the world to mark a momentous convergence: For the first time in 28 years, the sun and the Earth will be in the same positions they were in, according to tradition, when the sun was formed on the fourth day of creation, 5,769 years ago.

The event, in which most people are able to take part only twice in a lifetime, will be celebrated with a blessing called Birkat HaChamah, which is generally recited together with several psalms and Torah verses.

Rabbi Laurence Rothwachs, vice president of the RCBC and spiritual leader of Cong. Beth Aaron, said, “The infrequency of this mitzvah, in addition to the extraordinarily rare timing with erev Pesach, should compel us to jump additional hurdles to unite as a community, making this moment even more meaningful and memorable.”

The prayer, whose origins lie in the Talmud, is the same blessing Jews are supposed to recite when they encounter other rare natural phenomena such as a meteor or majestic mountains: “Blessed are You who makes the work of creation.”

But what defines Birkat HaChamah as extraordinary is not the blessing but its rarity.

“In truth,” said Rothwachs, “the actual bracha itself is recited at other moments in one’s life, but the infrequency of this particular event generates an anticipation and excitement that is (unfortunately) not typically felt at other moments of religious expression. “I believe that such a unique moment should arouse personal and communal introspection and ultimately inspire a greater commitment in the way in which we relate to and recite blessings in general.”

Rabbi J. David Bleich, professor of law and ethics at Yeshiva University, whose 1981 book “Birchas HaChamah” (recently revised) is an exhaustive English-language treatment of the subject, says the blessing is about seeing the wondrous work of the Almighty. The event is an occasion for reflection on the miracle of the universe, he said.

Unlike most Jewish rituals, this one is based on the solar rather than the lunar calendar.

Jewish sages calculated the proper day according to the vernal equinox, when the sun is vertically above a point on the equator. But they were slightly off in calculating the length of the true solar year. As a result, the spring equinox took place on March 20, not April 8.

Aryeh Weiner of Teaneck has a clear recollection of the last time he blessed the sun. He was a sixth-grader at the HAFTR Day School in Long Island. He is now a 40-year-old family man and a creative director at a digital advertising agency.

The last time around, Weiner dutifully recited the blessing from a photocopy distributed by his teacher. He tried to focus on the miracle of the sun but then he became distracted. “I started calculating how old I would be at the next one,” he said. “I wondered where I would be, or if I might not make it – maybe I would catch some terrible diseases.”

This time, he plans to do better: “I am going to meditate upon the incalculable vastness of God’s universe and its ponderous but efficient functionality.”

Rabbi Kenneth Schiowitz, rabbi of Cong. Shaare Tefillah of Teaneck and a member of the RCBC, said he will encourage people to take the opportunity to “appreciate nature and the incredible universe in which we live.”

“Through the blessing we will acknowledge the fact the God is the cause for the existence of the entire world,” said Schiowitz. “I believe that coming together as a community will make the experience more meaningful and memorable to everyone who participates. In addition, the communal gathering will enable the message of the blessing to resonate more clearly and resolutely to everyone who hears it.”

Birkat HaChamah is supposed to be said as early in the day as possible, said Rothwachs. Some synagogues have even organized services at dawn.

Rothwachs says he will never forget the last Birkat HaChamah, when he was a child, gathering with others outside his school in Far Rockaway, N.Y., to recite the blessing.

“I am thrilled that we will be able to come together and offer the children of our community an extraordinary experience, thereby enabling them to develop a positive religious memory that will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”

Stay tuned for plans for the next Birkat HaChamah event. It will take place in 2037.

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