May 1, 2009

The Power of Bircat Hachama

April 8 - The Power of Bircat Hachama
This special blessing is recited once every 28 years, when the sun completes a cycle and returns to the same position as it was on the day of creation. And this year, it fell on erev Pesach. This day is very significant as historically, the sun was in this very position on two other days in Jewish history: Yitziat Mizraim (the day the Jews departed Egypt) and just following the redemption of the Jews in Persia as we are told in the story in Megillat Esther.

As you can imagine, this event was anticipated for close to a year by many. People attended classes on the phenomenon, movies were shown, books were sold. There was a excitement leading up to this day that almost took on a messianic fervour in some circles. In Tfsat, a week-long sun festival was held, starting with this very blessing atop the metsuda, the old fort. The highest point in Sfat was once an old fortress castle. It is in ruins as are many fortresses, but the views are magnificent. On a clear day, I can make out the monastery sitting atop the peak of Har Tavor. The heart-shaped Kinnereth is in view as is the town of Tiberias.

That morning, we set our alarms for 5 am, made a strong Turkish coffee and walked up to the metsuda for 6 am, the start of Shacharit. Buses lined the road, having brought passengers and tourists from all around. I couldn’t imagine what time they had to wake up to see this sunrise – but I could imagine many weary people falling asleep in their soup bowls at the seder that night.

There were chairs set up, a microphone and a mechitza. Aviva and I preferred the hillside with a few rocks for our seats and grass and wildflowers for our feet. We sat quietly and gazed across the mountains, waiting for the sun to peak over. Many others chose to be alone and sat davening, meditating and singing in the early morning light. It was promising to be another clear day. We saw tour a religious your guide speaking to a group of non-religious Israelis, explaining the significance of this moment to them and saying the blessing with them. The group was focused and excited, holding onto his every word.

And then the moment came. I think it was 6:17. We saw a glint come over the mountain top in front of us. We said: "Blessed are You, LORD, our God, King of the Universe who makes the works of Creation."

This is the same blessing that we use when we see lightning, comets and all other natural wonders. I did not know what to expect at this moment, but I feel that the invested energy of all Jews greeting the sun the world over on this day must raise the level of God consciousness. There was great joy and unity atop our metsuda in Sfat. People hugged. They danced and they sang. Some planted trees as a symbol of the unity of the twelve tribes. We then all made our way home to prepare for the seder. I felt energized and elated but, yes, I still needed another Turkish coffee.

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