Title: Bircas Hachammah/Blessing Of The Sun
Author: Rabbi J. David Bleich
Of all the challenges to an author and publisher of a book of this genre, none may be as great as offering this brilliantly written, multi-discipline (mathematics, physics, astronomy, hashkafa and emunah) volume to a worldwide Jewish readership, comprised of different backgrounds, hashkafos and education.
Normally, topics so diverse are geared to a specific audience, i.e., students, scientists, teachers, rabbis, etc. Yet ArtScroll and Rabbi Bleich have successfully blended all of these subjects into an elegant and compact volume that can be understood by most, and enjoyed by all.
Most readers of The Jewish Press know that on erev Pesach, April 8, 2009 at 6 a.m., Jews throughout the world will publicly assemble outdoors to recite Birkas HaChammah, a blessing said once every 28 years.
But how many understand what thebracha is all about, and why it is recited only once every 28 years? Moreover, what exactly are we commemorating with this blessing? The answers to these questions and so much more are found in this volume.
I have no particular expertise in physics, mathematics, astronomy or philosophy, and was overwhelmed with Rabbi Bleich’s erudition in these areas. I was also delighted to discover, as I plowed ahead, that the book artfully harmonizes scientific fact with emunas Hashem ve’chachamim.
The book is divided into three parts. The first section involves two overviews by Rabbi Nosson Scherman that relate to both emunas Hashem and some of the scientific aspects of Bircas HaChammah. The second features Rabbi Bleich’s text. The third features charts and tables that date back to Creation, but also extend to beyond the 6th millennium.
This harmony between the overviews, text, charts and tables enables the reader to digest basic astronomical and calendrical phenomena, including physics, mathematics and the lunar/solar interaction called “lunisolar” by Rabbi Bleich – and at the same time marvel at the wonders of Hashem’s creation.
The author cites our great teachers, including, among many others, the Vilna Gaon, Chasam Sofer, and Chazon Ish. Kepler and Newton are also cited to round out the scientific background necessary to understand the total scientific context of Bircas HaChammah.
This review cannot convey to the reader the complex and multiple issues involved with this topic, but at as a result of my reading this book, I believe I now understand what the bracha commemorates, and why it occurs only once every 28 years.
I quote Rabbi Scherman:
On the fourth day God created the sun . Tradition teaches that the sun’s first appearance in the newly-created heaven is reckoned from Nissan, the month of Passover and springtime . Every 28 years, the sun would begin its spring season at the very same moment in time, when it was emplaced in the cosmos.
Therefore, we say Bircas HaChammah to commemorate this anniversary. But why not, you can ask, every single year on Wednesday? Why must we wait 28 years?
According to Rabbi Bleich:
The Gemara (Eruvin 56a) records the statement of Shmuel to the effect that there are always 91 days and 7