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עשה תורתך קבע – אמור מעט ועשה הרבה

Modern Technology and an Ancient Custom – Birkat HaHama

Posted by rabbiart on March 25, 2009

The once every twenty-eight years opportunity for pronouncing Birkat HaHama (Blessing of the Sun) is fast approaching. It will be celebrated on the day of Erev  Pesach.  There are all sorts of web resources available for reading up on this custom.  Basically – and skipping over hard-core astronomical science – our tradition has it that every twenty eight years the sun is in exactly the position it occupied when first created.

A selection of issues involving Birkat HaHama include:

  • Given the principle of performing a Mitzva with zeal and alacrity (i.e. the first opportunity), and given that the b’racha should be said as soon as one sees the sun, does one daven Shacharit first and then say Birkat HaHama, or the other way around?
  • Can you eat before saying the b’racha?  (Halacha generally forbids eating in the 30 minutes before performing a time-bound Mitzva.)
  • Since this is an “opportunity mitzvah”, should one make special efforts to see the sun?  (You’re only obligated to say the bracha if you see the sun.)
  • If the sun is covered by clouds (so you can’t say the bracha), but you are davening where you could see the sun if it appears, and it appears in the middle of reciting the Shema, should you interrupt your recitation to recite Birkat HaHama? (Normally, interrupting your recitation of the Shema – and its accompanying blessings – is a big no-no).  Turns out the answer is “Yes” you should interrupt the Shema, if necessary, because Birkat HaHama (in these circumstances) is a mitzva with a very limited window of opportunity.
  • If you are involved in a Brit Milah (which also, by tradition, should be performed as soon as possible on the eighth day), which takes precedence?  Brit Milah is a time-specific mitzvah, as is Birkat HaHama.  Brit Milah takes precedence for two reasons; it is mandated by the Torah whereas Birkat HaHama is only a “rabbinic commandment”, and it takes precedence by another rule – Tadir Ve’she’eno Tadir Tadir Kodem – (Regularly scheduled mitzvot take place over non-regularly scheduled mitzvot) .  But (don’t you love Talmudic reasoning? It’s way better than crossword puzzles or Sudoku for keeping your brain fresh and young) if it’s a cloudy day and proceeding with the bris will cause the only opportunity for Birkat HaHamah to be missed, then (you guessed it), you postpone the bris for a few moments to say Birkat HaHamah.
  • So, you’re still wondering… hey Rabbi Art… what about that modern technology you promised in the article headline?  According to Daily Halacha (which is the source for all of the above) the Satmar Rabbi was faced with a situation where heavy clouds were forecast for the day of Birkat HaHamah and there was no reason to expect even the briefest opportunity to recite Birkat HaHamah. What to do?  What to do?  He told his Hasidim to get on an airplane so they could fly above the clouds, see the sun, and say the B’rachah!!  Hmmm… wonder if the airlines have a “Birkat HaHama fare”?

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