Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Quotes of the Day: The Blessing of the New Sun Edition

The heavens declare the glory of God,
the sky proclaims His handiwork.
Day to day makes utterance,
night to night speaks out.
There is no utterance,
there are no words,
whose sound goes unheard.
Their voice carries throughout the earth,
their words to the end of the world.
He placed in them a tent for the sun,
who is like a groom coming forth from the chamber,
like a hero, eager to run his course.
His rising-place is at one end of heaven,
and his circuit reaches the other;
nothing escapes his heat.

-- Psalm 19:2-7 (JPS translation)
Today observant Jews say birkat hachama, the blessing for the sun (sometimes translated the blessing for the new sun). It is said only once every twenty-eight years (it was last said April 8, 1981; it will next be said April 8, 2037).*

It's all a fraud, of course. It's based on the Julian calendar, which is inaccurate; it's based on the incorrect date for the equinox; even on its own terms, the Jewish calendar is off by 165 years; and, of course, the entire thing is based on the notion that the sun was created 5769 years ago, which is off by about 4,600,000,000 years. (You can find more on the errors behind the blessing at Dov Bear (and also (but also)), at parshablog and here from Rav Bar-hayim. More on every aspect of the blessing can be found at Hirhurim.)

And those are only the prettier aspects of the matter -- I'm not even mentioning that it's based upon a cosmology which was upended by Copernicus (see above quote from Psalm 19), let alone the fact that it celebrates a creator for whom the existing evidence is non-existent. We don't need to go there, since even in a quite traditional framework, it's all based on a series of errors (if not myths).

But so what? It's not about accuracy. It's about the ritual. And it's a once-in-twenty-eight-years opportunity.**

So around the time this post is published, I'll be getting up at a quite ungodly hour, and will take my new son with me to say the blessing of the new sun. And I hope that when he's 28 years, 15 weeks, and 3 days old, we'll go together again.

But, of course, what occurred to me when I heard about the Blessing of the New Sun was this:
What struck me on the beach--and it struck me indeed, so that I staggered as at a blow--was that if the Eternal Principle had rested in that curved thorn I had carried about my neck across so many leagues, and if it now rested in the new thorn (perhaps the same thorn) I had only now put there, then it might rest in everything, in every thorn in every bush, in every drop of water in the sea. The thorn was a sacred Claw because all thorns were sacred Claws; the sand in my boots was sacred sand because it came from a beach of sacred sand. The cenobites treasured up the relics of the sannyasins because the sannyasins had approached the Pancreator. But everything had approached and even touched the Pancreator, because everything had dropped from his hand. Everything was a relic. All the world was a relic. I drew off my boots, that had traveled with me so far, and threw them into the waves that I might not walk shod on holy ground.

-- Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun
(The Citadel of the Autarch, chapter 31)
-- which, of course, is the point of the whole thing.

Happy birkat hachama day to everyone. For those of you who wish to say it, you have until a third of the daylight hours have passed (more lenient authorities say half).

Oh, and isn't there something else that Jews do tomorrow? What was that again? Well, happy holiday (to any and all who wish to receive it) for that one too...

* Yes, April 8, both times, despite the fact that the Jewish calendar doesn't line up with the Gregorian calendar -- because this bracha is timed to (oddly) the Julian calendar, which lines up well enough with the Gregorian to preserve the date over this span.

** Of course some will object that I could get up and say the words "Blessed are You, Lord our God, sovereign of the universe who makes the works of creation"near sunrise any time I'm willing to get up that early.*** But that doesn't affect the fact that this is a once-in-twenty-eight-years opportunity. I mean, sure, you can say the words when you want -- just as (borrowing a metaphor from Stanley Cavell) you can go to a chessboard and pick up the little piece of wood called the knight and move it horizontally eight spaces. But this is not moving the knight; it's pushing around a piece of wood on a board. Similarly, the words can be said whenever you like; but the only opportunities to do the ritual come once every twenty-eight years.

*** Which makes this, yes, about a once-in-twenty-eight-years event, for a whole 'nother reason.

No comments: