A unique religious ritual which is rarely observed was marked early this morning when more than 700 people gathered in mid-Manhattan and in Brooklyn to celebrate Birchat Hachamah (The Blessing of the Sun).
According to Jewish tradition, this ceremony takes place every 28 years to mark the time when the sun returns to the original position it held at the time the world was created. The liturgy for this event is quite unique, focusing upon the acknowledgement of God as creator and admonishing the world to remember that all of the beauties of the world emanate from one creative source.
The gathering in Manhattan, which began at 5 am, was held on the 86th floor, the observation deck, of the Empire State Building. The ceremony was led by Rabbi Zalman Schachter, a noted authority on Jewish mysticism and professor of religion at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Beginning with the standard morning prayers, the highlight of the liturgy came at sunrise which was at 5:28 am when the sun began its assent. Special prayers were pronounced and the shofar was blown to mark the event. With a spectacular and moving view of the New York skyline, the ceremony concluded with the singing of Hebrew songs and American folk songs about the sun, and with the release of colored balloons, symbolic of the ancient custom of the letting go of doves.
WIDE VARIETY OF PARTICIPANTS
The event, which was arranged by the Martin Steinberg Center of the American Jewish Congress, drew a wide variety of participants ranging from students to businessmen and professionals on their way to school or work. Many of the men donned their prayer shawls and phylacteries and prayed.
Many of those interviewed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency seemed emotionally overwhelmed by the event. One older woman said: “How many times in one’s lifetime does a person get to witness such an event?” A young male student in his early 20s added: “The spiritual feeling one receives here atop this modern edifice observing a ritual thousands of years old is overwhelming.
As the event drew to a close, many people wished each other well and blessed each other with the greeting, “May we all see each other in 28 years.” Also, in Brooklyn, more than 5000 adults and about 2000 children gathered early this morning outside the Lubavitch world headquarters in the Crown Heights section to attend the Blessing of the Sun. The blessing was delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Schneerson, who urged men and women to participate in the blessing and encouraged children to do the same. He also asked that everyone contribute to a charity of their choice after the blessing. Speaking in Yiddish, Schneerson said:
“Where as the world takes the existence of the sun (as well as all physical matters) as mere natural phenomenon, we as Jews proclaim publicly that it is a continuous re-enactment of the original work of creation. Consequently, this also reaffirms the Jews’ strong conviction in the permanent presence of the Almighty in all affairs of man and we hope and we pray that the entire world will soon come to this realization, as stated in the prayer recited during the blessing over the sun–‘God shall be king over the entire earth on that day God Shall be one and his name one’–speedily in our times.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.