Though the sun is some 400 times larger than the moon, a blessing over the latter is made nearly 350 times more often than over the former. This coming month will see that rare occasion when the Blessing Over the Sun is recited.
Jewish Law stipulates that a special blessing is to be recited when we see the sun at the same place, on the same day of the week, and the same time of day as when it was created. The first chapter in Genesis, which tells the story of Creation, tells us that the sun was created on a Wednesday. Precisely one solar year, or 365.25 days (52 weeks and 1.25 days) later, the sun was in the same place – but not on the same day of the week, nor at the same time of day; it was rather but rather a quarter of a day later.
The “quarter-day” problem is solved every four years, and the “same day of the week” issue is resolved every seven years – and both problems are solved simultaneously only once every 28 (4x7) years.
This year marks the culmination of a 28-year-cycle since Creation (5769-1= 5768 = 28x206). Thus, four weeks from now, on Wednesday, April. 8, the vernal equinox, the sun will be in the same position, on the same day of the week and the same approximate hour, as it was when it was created. This “starting position” actually occurs the previous evening, but we recite the blessing over the sun to mark this anniversary only when it is visible – that is, the next morning.
The special blessing - – “Blessed are You… Who fashions the work of Creation” - commemorates the vast greatness of G-d’s Creation.
The last time this special blessing was recited, April 8,1981, special gatherings were held in various locations for the public recital of the prayer – including atop one of the Twin Towers of the no-longer-extant World Trade Center in New York.
As with all prayers and commandments that must be performed in the morning hours, the ideal time to do it is as early as possible after sunrise. The actual moment of sunrise is already “occupied” by the requirement to recite the daily Kriat Shma, which is immediately followed by the Amidah prayer and the conclusion of the morning Shacharit prayers – such that the Blessing Over the Sun should ideally be recited approximately a half-hour afterwards. Sunrise in Jerusalem on April 8 will be at 6:19. In New York, it will be 6:28; 7:13 in Paris, 6:39 in Melbourne, 5:42 in Moscow, and 6:31 in Los Angeles.
After the blessing is recited – the same one said when seeing lightning, a falling star, an earthquake, and special works of nature – other prayers are recited as well, including chapters of Psalms. Pamphlets with the appropriate selections are likely to be distributed wherever observant Jews gather, and the service is likely to be posted on many internet sites as well.
The Blessing Over the Sun is complicated this year by the fact that April 8 is also the day before Passover, already one of the busiest mornings in the Jewish calendar. All chametz (leaven) must be burned or otherwise gotten rid of, first-born males must either fast or take part in a festive lesson concluding the study of a Talmudic tractate, and physical and spiritual preparations must be made for the upcoming Passover Seder meal.
Preparations for the once-every-28-years event are beginning to be made throughout the Jewish world. Various publications on the topic are beginning to see light, including “Birkat Hachamah - According to Chabad Custom” (Kehot Publication Society), an expanded Artscroll edition of “Bircas HaChamah” by Rabbi J. David Bleich, and more. A children’s book on the topic, entitled “The Sun's Special Blessing” (Pitspopany Press), has even been published this month. It tells the story of a 3rd-grade class learning about the occasion – and digging up a time capsule buried in their schoolyard the last time the blessing was recited.