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Blessing the Sun Gives Us a Chance to Seize the Moment

April 2, 2009 By:
Rabbi Abraham Shemtov
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The writer on top of the Franklin Institute's Fels Planetarium

The Franklin Institute has been getting a lot of national attention of late for its exhibit displaying one of only two remaining telescopes used by Galileo. On Wednesday, April 8, at exactly 6:34 a.m, when the sun rises on the East Coast, I will be on the rooftop of the institute's Fels Planetarium, yet for an entirely different reason.

I will be there to welcome a special moment that occurs on the Jewish calendar only every 28 years. And I invite men, women and children of the Philadelphia Jewish community to join me.

The moment commemorates the return of the sun to its original spot at the time of creation. It is celebrated by reciting a special blessing recognizing God as the creator of the world, and as an expression of appreciation and prayer for the world's continuity.

This ritual, known as birkat hachamah, is traditionally celebrated around the world in synagogues and Jewish places of learning, but it can also be celebrated individually.

Agudas Chassidei Chabad, the umbrella organization of the worldwide Chabad Lubavitch movement, has issued a call to Jews the world over to take this opportunity to seize the moment to praise God and to pray for the welfare of all creation. We pray that peace, health and happiness will prevail, bringing us closer to the moment of true redemption through the righteous moshiach, or messiah.

Wherever you are, take a moment to join this celebration. Even if you don't come to the Franklin Institute, you can, with little effort and no cost at all, step outside, look at the sun and recite these brief blessings: (One should place his or her feet together, and glance once at the sun before reciting the blessing. Once the blessing is begun, do not look at the sun at all.)

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who re-enacts the work of Creation.

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.

This year, the blessing comes on the eve of Passover, with the first seder being observed later that night.

While the timing is purely coincidental, both observances share the connection between generations. Just as we are instructed in the Haggadah to tell the story of our Exodus from Egypt from one generation to the next, the blessing of the sun provides an opportunity for generations to join together for this special ritual.

At the rooftop celebration, one family representing four generations will be on hand: a great-grandfather of 84 years-plus, a child over 56, a grandchild of over 28 and a newly born great-grandchild; having them together represents "generational continuity" in a very real way.

We will also demonstrate our connectedness to Jews around the globe, with video clips of the celebrations beginning in New Zealand and Australia, proceeding around the globe, including celebrations at the Western Wall in Jerusalem and in Europe, leading to the exact moment of sunrise on the East Coast. Then, together, we will look at the sun and recite the blessing.

Rabbi Abraham Shemtov is regional director of the Philadelphia Lubavitcher Center and executive chairman of the worldwide Agudas Chassidei Chabad. For more information on the program, call 215-725-2030.¿


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