Passover, a time of family gatherings and a myriad of rituals, comes once every year. Birchat HaChama, the blessing of the sun, comes once every 28 years on the Jewish calendar. Owing to the journalistic principle that the rare story is often the better story, Birchat HaChama has been getting an inordinate amount of coverage this year. Both arrive on Wednesday and it looks like Birchat HaChama has already outshone Passover. Watching the Birchat HaChama coverage has been like watching a sunrise. It started a month ago with stories in the Israeli press and then spread to the Jewish press and in recent days has hit the mainstream media. Both the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have had stories. What is it? Here's the Times' summary:
According to the celestial calculations of a Talmudic sage named Shmuel, at the outset of spring every 28 years, the sun moves into the same place in the sky at the same time and on the same day of the week as it did when God made it. This charged moment provides the occasion for reciting a one-line blessing of God, "who makes the work of creation."
The astronomical metrics of Shmuel are by now considered inexact, but close enough so that the religious tradition persists....
While the Times emphasizes the ritual aspects of Birkat Hachama, the Journal focuses more on the modern meaning:
The sun is a hot topic these days, not least because of global warming, and this time around the blessing, in itself, is not enough: A whole environmental message is being attached to what was once a simple ceremony. Thus Jews who wish to mark the occasion will find a variety of options, including a Manhattan rooftop service that supplements the blessing with yoga sun salutations and environmental speeches.
And the story has the virtue of being localized. This is from the Montgomery Advertizer:
Interfaith Montgomery, the interreligious clergy association, has endorsed the event, as has Huntingdon College; planning for the event has truly been a joint effort. The Montgomery Chorale and orchestra will sing selections from Handel's oratorio The Creation, and lead us in other songs appropriate to the occasion.
And finally, in Rhinebeck, N.Y. the Jerusalem Post reports, a young rabbi has chartered some hot air balloons.
Rabbi Hanoch Hecht, 26, who heads the Rhinebeck community, is expecting to lead four balloons in prayer from the air - two balloons carrying a minyan, one carrying women and another whose passengers are yet to be confirmed -- in order to celebrate the sun's return to its starting point when the universe was created, according to Jewish tradition. The service will also be transmitted to the crowd below via radio.
In other words, what we have here is a religion story with high tech, hot air balloons, a Handel oratorio, a yoga class and a local angle.
As rare as a sunny day.