Apr 7, 2009

Is Birkat HaChama out of proportion?

The big day is finally just about upon us. Tomorrow morning we will be saying the bracha of Birkas hachama, commemorating the return of the sun to the point it was in at the time of creation. This return happens every 28 years.

I am not going to profess to understand the debate whether our count is right or wrong - I get lost in the math and the astronomical explanations, so I am just taking it for granted that tomorrow is the day and it does not really matter to me whether it is accurate or not. Those of you who have a problem with it can take your math and science papers to the rabbonim and work out a more accurate date.

What does interest me is how this has become such a big event. I get how because it is such a rare occurrence we make a big deal out of it. But it has gotten really big and people are making a really big deal out of it. It seems way out of proportion.

Here are some examples (in no particular order) of how big it has gotten:

For the first time in at least two thousand years, there will be a group going up to the top of Masada to recite the Birkas HaChama.

In the "central" event in Netanya, in the Kiryat Sanz neighborhood of the city, they will be changing the name of the street where Birkat HaChama will be recited. The new name of the street will be "Birkat HaChama Street".

Rav Elyashiv has the bris of a great grandchild tomorrow (Mazel tov!). He paskened that despite the normal ruling of "תדיר ושאינו תדיר תדיר קודם" which would mean the bris has priority over Birkas HaChama, in this case the blessing over the sun has priority and should be done first and only then the bris. I saw no explanation for this, but I presume it is because the blessing of the sun is meant to be done in the first three hours of the day and after that the bracha can no longer be said (at least not with Hashem's name), whereas the bris can be done all day (even if the preference is for early in the day). (source: Mishpacha newspaper)

Rav Elyashiv also is going out of his way for this event in another way. Rav Elyashiv makes sure to go to the Kotel every month. he therefore never needs to "tear kriya" at the kotel. Recently he has not been feeling so well, and it seems he has not gone to the Kotel in over 2 months. That means he is required to tear kriya when he will go to the Kotel tomorrow for Birkat Hachama. Out of concern that tearing kriya, being a sign of mourning of the destruction of the Temple, would dampen the joyous occassion of Birkas HaChama, Rav Elyashiv was scheduled to go to the Kotel today to tear kriya in advance of tomorrow's visit for Birkat HaChama. What I find particularly amazing about this is that Rav Elyashiv really feels the mourning when he tears kriya. I know when I tear kriya it is kind of perfunctory and done because I have to. I don't think I know anyone who really considers it a sad, mournful moment when he tears kriya at the Kotel. Rav Elyashiv does, and he assumes everyone else would feel that way as well just from seeing him tear....

The Wall Street Journal even picked up on how big it has gotten and has written about Birkat HaChama and the twist environmentalists are putting on it.

The Old City of Jerusalem is going to be completely shut down and closed off to traffic, including buses, because of the throngs of people expected to come for the Birkat HaChama at the Kotel.

Unfortunately it looks like the weather forecast is looking bad for Birkas Hachama. They are forecasting rain for all around the country. It looks like the best bet to get a sunny day for the bracha would be for those people who have gone down to Eilat for Pesach (though according to some rabbonim, Rav Elyashiv included, they might have to keep two days Yom Tov because Eilat might have the status of Chutz La'Aretz).

Hopefully the weather will clear up enough, at least for a few minutes, and let the sun peek out so we can say our bracha and get on with our erev pesach preparations. Heck, today was supposed to be cloudy and overcast but it has so far been sunny all morning...

Neighborhoods all over are arranging central meeting points where the bracha will be said by the whole community together. In RBS the main gathering will be at Park Ayalon with most of RBS participating together at 7:05 AM. There will be musical accompaniment, with a siyum made afterwords for those who need to be fasting for the fast of the first-born.

I asked the organizer of the even what the big deal is - why can't we just go out after davening, even as a whole shul together, look up to the sky and make the bracha. Why make it so big? Why not do the same for Birkat Ha'Ilanot?

This was his response:
There are very few mitzvos that the halacha states should be done "brov Am". Hakhel comes to mind, which we do not have without the Beis HaMikdash. The Mishna Brerua specifically states that this mitzva - due to its unique structure and timing - is best done Brov Am. There is nothing more significant in the world than giving testimony to G-d's ultimate authority over the cosmos, and the Birchas HaChama bracha gives testimony to this reality. Additionally, it has been the practice for generations for the communities to come together in a public fashion to make the bracha.

We felt that such a special event, coinciding with Erev Pesach, was such a significant milestone that it would be highlighted by the cooperation and participation of all the different kehillos in Ramat Bet Shemesh. In many cities, each shul or community holds their own event. However, in our unique city with a multitude of backgrounds, minhagim and nusachot, it would be the highest level of testimony to our subservience to Hashem by all coming together to make this significant bracha.

(there will be another location in RBS for the Birkat HaChama at the plaza of the Merkaz Mischari at the bottom of the neighborhood for those who can't or don't want to go up to the top of Park Ayalon)


  1. Rabbi H Schachter also wonders why the big deal.
    Joel Rich

  2. Rafi - has the "program" in park ayalon been posted anywhere? I mean, is the plan for one person (Rabbi?) to make the bracha and everyone is supposed to say amen? How will that work? With a mega/microphone? That will get into halachic problems over whether one can be yotzei through such means, won't it? Or is everyone supposed to say his own bracha? But my understanding is that that would not be considered berov am hadras melech, rather it would be just a lot of people saying the same bracha in the same location...

  3. I have not seen a program posted anywhere...

  4. Kriat megilla should be done berov am. Ask the organizer if he's planning a grand reading in the park for Purim.


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