There are many customs in the Jewish religion – customs for how to go about so much of our every day lives, our weekly and monthly lives. Once a month, we bless the new moon. It’s easy to follow its short cycle as it crests in the middle of the month and wanes toward the end. Judaism follows the lunar calendar, adjusted at incredible mathematical accuracy so that each year the earth does what is expected, just as each holiday arrives.
Passover starts tonight – Spring comes and the winter rains end. Perhaps there will be a sprinkle or two, if the land and people are lucky, but we all know the winter is behind us and the earth is preparing to grow and stretch and enjoy the warmth of the coming months. To bless the moon is easy – there is a beginning and an end to each month and so as the new one comes, we bless it.
The sun is a much harder case – it is there, every day, the same as the day before, no real beginning or ending, no perceivable cycle. But actually, there is a cycle to the sun, a blessing to be said.
And Hashem [God] made the two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night and the stars. And Hashem placed them in the sky of the heavens to give light on the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from darkness; and Hashem saw that it was good. And it was evening and it was morning, a fourth day.
Once in 28 years, the sun is in the same location it was when God created it on the 4th day of creation and so there is a blessing we say. There are all sorts of rules, or suggested rules – we are blessing the majesty and the grandeur of the sun, so it is appropriate to say this blessing surrounded by many people. It is best to say it after you say the morning prayers, but not necessary.
You should say it just at the moment when the sun begins to rise over the horizon, though you can say it even later in the day if you have to. You aren’t saying it on the light the sun gives, but on the sun itself. If it is cloudy, you are supposed to wait a bit with the hope that the sun will come out. As I said, many rules, even on this one simple blessing.
It takes, according to one source, about two and a half minutes for the sun to rise above the horizon, from the moment you see it start, until it is fully visible. That is the most appropriate moment to say this blessing; to thank God for the sun and all He created.
Once this moment passes, it will be another 28 years before the sun is again starting this new cycle. Where were you at that moment?
Twenty-eight years ago, I was a college student in New York City. We gathered just after dawn on the rooftop of the building; we printed t-shirts that I’ve long since discarded with the date and a picture of the sun and some slogan that has long since faded from my mind. I think I knew then, that the next time I would say this blessing, I would be living in Israel – it had been my dream to live here since I was 13 years old. I probably assumed I’d be married; though I don’t remember if I had formally started going out with my future husband or not. I never imagined having five children, though I guess I must have understood that to live in Israel means having children that serve in the army.
So, where was I at this moment? My oldest daughter is with her husband. Elie came home Monday but had to go back to base late last night for an over-night patrol and briefing in preparation for his unit moving in a few weeks. I woke my three youngest children up at 6:10 a.m. “Hurry, the sun is coming,” I told them.
They dressed and shuffled out to the car; tired, a bit cranky, but they went by choice. As we arrived a few minutes later to the location I had chosen, there was a line of light coming from the mountains to the east, toward Jordan. We parked and walked – and as we stood there for less than a minute – the sun broke through the horizon and began to conquer the mountains.
I held out the piece of paper my husband had printed for me and asked my youngest son – the one who just celebrated his bar mitzvah, to say the first paragraph. He read it out loud as the sun moved quickly. Two and a half minutes – the world was created just this way. A new day, a new beginning, a new cycle, a new blessing.
We said the blessing together – all four of us, there, alone and together, surrounded by Israel, the mountains, the people. The sun broke free as we finished the blessing and began to climb into the sky, to rule for the day. We finished with another few prayers and I told them that they should remember, twenty-eight years from now, where they stood today.
My youngest son told me that he had brought his new camera, a present from his adopted brothers for his bar mitzvah and planned to take a picture. I told him that was a fine idea. In the end, it came and went too fast and he didn’t have a chance. I’m glad about that. This is a moment that should be captured in the soul and sometimes when you are busy taking pictures, you miss the moment and see it more as part of the picture.
My husband printed out a page for Elie to take with him to the base. Early this morning, he and the other commanders began a patrol of the base and the area to which they will bring their unit.
“Stop when you see the sun,” I told Elie, “and say this with all of them.”
Elie said he would try. I hope he will. All over Israel, and around the world, Jews today prepared to welcome the Passover holiday and to bless the sun as it begins its latest cycle from creation to this moment. I don’t know if I thought of this moment twenty-eight years ago and I don’t know what to think of this moment in twenty-eight years from now. I hope my younger children will remember, and tell their children as they too stand by the side of a mountain and bless the sun.
Maybe one of their sons will be in the army or maybe, by then, we will be blessed with peace and not have to have our sons serve. Maybe as a parent they will understand the pride and the fear, the wonder and the terror that are so much a part of my life these days. Whatever reality they (and I) find ourselves in, God willing, in twenty-eight years, I hope we will again gather on the edge of some mountain and watch the sun climb again over the mountains of Jordan to shine on our beautiful land and rule the day, as the moon rules the night.
Blessed are you, Hashem our God, King of the universe, Who effects the works of creation.