Monday, February 2, 2009

Birkat haChamah / Blessing the Sun 2009 Erev Pesach, Part III

Part I was here.
Part II was here.

Today I hope to wrap our discussion with a few more questions related to when, exactly, we "bless the sun" with Birkat haChamah this year, and a few other pertinent items.

1) Must this be performed in the morning? (aka "Can't you wait until after I have prepared the maror and charoset?!")
Magen Avraham (229:5) and others say it must be done in the morning, in the first quarter of the daylight hours. There are two classes of reasons for this:

a) In general, זריזין מקדימין, we enthusiastically pursue mitzvot at our earliest opportunity;

b) There are reasons specific to this mitzvah:
(1) This is based on one calculation of when, exactly, the Sun returns to its מולד - its original point of creation

(2) Rambam and Shulchan Aruch specify that it should be done in the morning. (One who sees the Sun on the day of Tekufat Nisan of the start of the 28-year machzor, when the Tekufah is in the beginning of the fourth evening, when he sees it on the morning of the fourth day he recites “Blessed is the Creator of Bereishit.”)

(3) Berachot 7a identifies the first quarter of the day as a time when others worship the Sun, and so our blessing combats that fallacy.

Teshuvah meiAhavah cites the Nodeh BeYehudah permitting the practice even just before midday, but Rav Ovadia Yosef and others suggest one should not invoke Gd’s Name in the blessing if it is after the first quarter of the day.

2) So should we do it before Shacharit?
On one hand, we perform the most frequent mitzvot first, so Shacharit should be first. However, one does not bypass a mitzvah opportunity – and so we should recite the blessing as soon as we have the opportunity to see the sun.

Maharil indicates one does it when first seeing the sun in the morning. However, Rav Ovadia Yosef reports a Jerusalem custom of davening early at sunrise, and then performing this mitzvah at the end of davening, before Aleinu.

In truth, this will not be a real problem for us in Allentown. In Allentown, PA sunrise will be 6:35 AM that day, so one will not see the sun before 6:30 AM Shacharit.

3) In Allentown, there will be a gathering for Birkat haChamah at 9:30 AM. But would it be more appropriate to say Birkat haChamah privately and earlier, rather than wait for the group?
Rosh HaShanah 32b seems to indicate that performing a mitzvah early trumps performing it with a larger group. (Why is Hallel in Shacharit? Because the energetic perform mitzvot as early as possible. Then shofar should also be in Shacharit, because the energetic perform mitzvot as early as possible? Rabbi Yochanan explained: This was during a time of decrees against Judaism.)

However, Terumat haDeshen pointed out, from Yevamot 39, that where we are not concerned about losing a mitzvah opportunity, we do delay in order to perform the mitzvah better. (We rely on this argument in waiting to perform Kiddush Levanah on Motzaei Shabbat. However, Yabia Omer 2:Yoreh Deah 18:7 argues that the cases are not comparable – in Kiddush Levanah your own, personal act is improved by being on Motzaei Shabbat.)

4) What happens if it’s cloudy?

Panim Meirot 38 rules that one still does it; the talmudic term “One who sees” only indicates the normal way this occurs, but the Sun is shining whether we see it or not.

Yehudah Yaaleh (1 Orach Chaim 7) disagrees, because the Rambam specified “One who sees” twice in his statement. Further, in on the other possible explanation of Birkat haChamah, which we cited last time (that one recites this blessing if he has not seen the sun in three days), the blessing is clearly dependent upon personal sight.

In practice, the authorities recommend not doing it if the clouds form a thick screen. See Yehudah Yaaleh 1:Orach Chaim 7, Yechaveh Daas 4:8:7, Yabia Omer 8:Orach Chaim 8:4, Divrei Yatziv Orach Chaim 96.

5) What about someone with impaired vision?
Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Daat 4:8:9-11) rules that one may do it with glasses (as well as from indoors if there is no other choice), like Kiddush Levanah. One who is blind, though, should answer Amen to another’s blessing.

6) Women and Birkat haChamah
Finally, here on some interesting references on whether/how women perform this mitzvah: Minchat Yitzchak 8:34, Yechaveh Daat 4:18:6, Divrei Yatziv Orach Chaim 96:3, Yabia Omer 8:Orach Chaim 8:4, Yabia Omer 8:Orach Chaim 36:2, Yabia Omer 8:Orach Chaim 43:10.


  1. Just to clarify - the is a way out of having to prepare a three-day YT on ttop of Birkat Hahamah etc. - MAKE ALIYA!

    (On YT sheni as a punishment, see Shir Rabbah 1:6:5).


  2. Hi Rabbi,

    For those of us who can't look up those sources, can you give us the one or two word answer on women saying the bracha?

  3. Jeremy-
    There's a lot of debate, much of it centered around whether this qualifies as a time-bound mitzvah, and which types of mitzvah one may take upon oneself even if one is exempt. I would certainly say that women should say it, if that is the normal practice in their community.