Last April, I published “Birkat haChamah Part I” here, covering a basic explanation of this practice (Jews bless the sun?), material relevant to the origin of this practice (Is this Jewish?!), and the question of how we calculate the date for this practice (Erev Pesach?!).
At the time I said I would publish Birkat haChamah Part II with a practical guide to Birkat haChamah. I have taken a while to find the time, but here goes with a basic Birkat haChamah FAQ on a few key points. (Part III is here):
1) Must I do this? It’s Erev Pesach, after all!
Look, if you feel like missing a once-in-28-years opportunity, go ahead. Me, I’d like to do it now and not wait until I’m 65 next time round.
However, it is indeed possible that this is an “optional” practice, for two reasons:
a) As we noted last time, Rashba (Responsum 1:245) suggests that the blessings we recite upon seeing various unusual natural events are optional. (But note that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank in Har Tzvi suggests this might be limited to Shehechiyanu blessings, and so it would not apply to Birkat haChamah.)
b) Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi Orach Chaim 119) suggests that even if the blessing is obligatory when you see the sun, you could still choose not to look at the sun at all, but simply to remain indoors preparing for Pesach.
2) Do we recite Shechiyanu as part of this ritual?
There is some debate on this point.
Those who say Yes (Bach Orach Chaim 225, Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim 52) argue that if the moment makes you happy, you can recite Shehechiyanu. Chatam Sofer believes it is even obligatory.
Others disagree, for several reasons:
a) The son of the Bach says this would be a case of reciting a berachah upon reciting another berachah.
b) Ktav Sofer Orach Chaim 34 says it would be redundant; the basic berachah already expresses our joy.
c) Ktav Sofer also suggests we should not recite Shehechiyanu, because we should be sad that the sun’s light has not yet increased to a supernatural level with the arrival of Mashiach.
d) Fascinatingly, Maharam Schick (Orach Chaim 90) says one does not recite Shechiyanu on a cognitive experience, because our sechel is immortal and therefore a berachah of “thank you for keeping us alive to reach this point” is irrelevant. Since we don’t see any difference between the sun on April 7, 8 or 9, our experience is cognitive rather than physical, and so there is no Shehechiyanu.
The Minchat Yitzchak (8:15) suggests taking a new fruit to solve the Shehechiyanu problem, and notes that the Raavad had one person recite Shehechiyanu for all, to minimize the problem. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Daat 4:8:4) offers the same recommendation.
3) Is there anything else to say, besides the berachah of Oseh Maaseh Bereishit and the possible inclusion of Shehechiyanu?
Chatam Sofer (Orach Chaim 56) lists extra Tehillim. Rav Ovadia (Yechaveh Daat 4:8:3) lists Tehillim added in Yerushalayim, based on Sanhedrin 101a (“One who recites a pasuk at its proper time brings good to the world, as it is written (Mishlei 15), “How great is a word at its time!”). He has Tehillim 19 (השמים מספרים כבוד קל), the first half of Tehillim 148 (הללו את ה' מן השמים) and Tehillim 136 (הלל הגדול).
The Divrei Yatziv (Orach Chaim 96) objects to borrowing Tehillim from Kiddush Levanah, because those are recited at Kiddush Levanah for moon-specific reasons.
Some say the poem of Kel Adon, because it includes praise of the celestial bodies which HaShem created, and which carry out HaShem’s will.
Some recite this entire ritual before Aleinu at the end of Shacharit, and that adds the benefit of saying Aleinu at the end – demonstrating (as we do with Kiddush Levanah) that we serve Gd and not the celestial bodies.
(See Part III here.)