Author Topic: On April 8, 2009, we will read The Blessing of The Sun.  (Read 2632 times)

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On April 8, 2009, we will read The Blessing of The Sun.
« on: October 28, 2006, 10:31:36 PM »
Computing Redemption
By Moshe Lerman

« on: Apr 9th, 2005, 5:06pm » 

We are entering the month of Nissan, the month of the redemption from the slavery in Egypt. In the Talmud we find a dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua regarding the status of the month of Nissan versus the month of Tishrei. Rabbi Eliezer claims that the creation of the world was in Tishrei and the redemption will be in Tishrei, whereas Rabbi Yehoshua claims that the world was created in Nissan and will be redeemed in Nissan (Rosh HaShanah 10-11). Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Eliezer had another famous argument. Rabbi Eliezer said redemption will not necessarily come - divine judgment might prevail. According to Rabbi Yehoshua, the redemption will come in any case; divine goodness will necessarily prevail (Sanhedrin 97). 
 
The view of Rabbi Yehoshua finds strong support in the following Baraita: 
 
"One who sees the Sun at the beginning of its cycle should say the blessing "blessed is the Maker of Creation". When does this happen? Abaye said: "Every 28 years the cycle begins again and the Nissan equinox falls in Saturn, on the evening of Tuesday, the night before Wednesday." (Berachot 59)
 
The Baraita describes when to say the Blessing of the Sun, and also indicates its background. Our sages had a tradition that the Sun was created at the spring-equinox position (when day and night have equal length), at the beginning of the night of the fourth day, in year 1 of our counting. They realized that as the year has 365.25 days, and 28 quarters of a day make one week, it follows that once in every 28 years the equinox should be at the same fourth day of the week, at the same hour.
 
To this very day it is part of Halacha (Jewish Law) to say the Blessing of the Sun on a Wednesday morning in all years that are a multiple of 28 plus one. The next time we will say the blessing is thus in the year 5769.
 
Interestingly, it is possible to compute for how long Jews have been saying the Blessing of the Sun. The Jewish calendar follows a cyclic pattern of 235 months in 19 years. If the Sun was created on the fourth day of Nissan at the spring equinox, and if the calendar would be astronomically valid, the 4th of Nissan of every first year of the 19-year cycle would have to be on the day of the equinox. That is, it should be on the same "secular" date as when we say the Blessing of the Sun. 
 
Nowadays, we say the Blessing of the Sun on April 8, whereas the 4th of Nissan of the first year of the cycle falls on March 31 or April 1. In other words, the dates are not the same and the difference is about 7.5 days. The reason is that the 28-year cycle is based on a year of 365.25 days, known as the year of Rav Shmuel. The 19-year cycle is based on what is known as the year of Rav Ada, which is 365.24682 days. The accumulation of the difference - 0.00318 days per year - being 7.5 days, we are led to conclude that the Halacha of the Blessing of the Sun was instituted about 2350 years ago.
 
In the light of these data, how can the Baraita say that the Blessing of the Sun is in the week of the Nissan equinox? The 4th of Nissan of every first year of the 19-year cycle is now 11 days after the spring equinox, and April 8 is even 7.5 days further removed from it!
 
The year of Rav Shmuel and the year of Rav Ada are not astronomically accurate. Modern-day measurements have determined the year to be 365.242199 days. The difference between this and the year of Rav Ada is 0.00462 days. The accumulation over 2350 years is indeed 11 days.
 
The Baraita was thus precisely valid 2350 years ago. What we have computed here is a striking confirmation of the old age and the authenticity of the above Baraita in particular, and the faithfulness of Jewish tradition in general.
 
But what can be the value of even an old and authentic tradition if its facts are wrong? The message of our sages is not in astronomy. Perhaps they want to tell us that even though the length of the year is not simple fractional number of days, its closeness to such a number must be seen as sign that the world was designed. Our world may seem random, but it is not. There is a divine order, though it may appear distorted. There is divine guidance, but to see it you have to look for it.
 
Our sages teach us that the Sun and the Moon signal to us that the redemption will be, despite everything. And it will be in Nissan - perhaps on the fourth day, may it be this year. As we say every day in our prayers: "A new light will You shine on Zion, may we soon all merit its light. Blessed are you, HaShem, Creator of the luminaries."