Today is an auspicious day to be a Jew. It's the last day before Passover
, which gives us total license to consume the last of our chametz, or leavened bread, which will be forbidden for the next eight days. It is also the day to say Birkat Hachama
, that most exceedingly rare of blessings, said only once every 28 years to thank God for the sun.
(Also, happy birthday, Dad!)
I'm still not entirely clear why we say Birkat Hachama only once every 28 years. It has something to do with the vagaries of the lunar calendar and the sun returning to the same position it was at Creation. The spring equinox also figures in there somehow, but I'll be damned if I know how.
But it seemed appropriate to take advantage of the rare opportunity to say this rare blessing, so this morning I joined the students of Washington University Chabad on the steps of Brookings Hall.
Led by Rabbi Hershey Novack
, the students and various bystanders recited psalms in English and in Hebrew. The blessing came right in the middle. Technically, it only praises God for the glory of creation, but since we were facing the sun, I think our message was pretty clear.
"It's not a pagan prayer," Novack took pains to explain to me later. "That would be violating the second commandment."
photo by Aimee Levitt
We praise God for the creation of the sun, funky shades and Nilla Wafers.
This would also seem to be an excellent time of year to petition God for the success of various baseball teams, but maybe that would be too confusing. (Although one thing is certain: God does not favor the Cubs. Or maybe this is just another example of how God's ways are beyond our simple human comprehension.)
The solemnity of the service was marred somewhat by a work crew at the bottom of the Brookings steps who were preparing for the spring carnival. Novack's infant son began to cry.
Afterwards, the students ate kumquats -- like miniature suns! -- and Chips Ahoy and Nilla Wafers rescued from the Chabad kitchen. God seemed pleased. The sun continued to shine.
P.S. Because of its rarity, Birkat Hachama was never covered during
Holidays class at my Hebrew School. Or maybe there just wasn't time,
what with our teacher's preoccupation with drawing naked women on the
board and passing around pictures of himself and his girlfriend in
skimpy bathing suits on the beach at Eilat. I'm sure this had some
pedagogical value but again, I'll be damned if I know what it is.