The Sun Also Rises and Blesses: April 8, 2009
Early in the morning of April 8, 2009, Jewish communities will have a teaching opportunity that comes only once every 28 years: the festival of Birchat HaChamah, the Blessing of the Sun.
In ancient rabbinic tradition, it commemorates the moment when God created the sun in the first place. In modern practice, it fits well into today's crisis of global "scorching" and the search for sun-based sources of sustainable and renewable energy. So spiritual communities other than Judaism might well join in blessing the sun on that day -- and during the months before and after.
Although this Blessing of the Sun was shaped by the ancient rabbis, its timing, the extraordinarily relevant teaching of the Prophet Malachi (see below), and the teachings of other spiritual and religious communities all invite these other communities to take part in the celebration and in the work of making real the Blessing of the Sun.
(For background on the rabbinic imagination that shaped this festival, see the URL at the very end of this message.)
The peak of the teachable moment can come on April 8. But the teaching can begin months before and last long after, as we make the entire year one of blessing the sun and allowing the sun to bless us, in a moment of human history when we most need its healing.
We can learn especially well from the extremely unusual confluence of Birchat haChamah with Passover. The Blessing moment comes at sunrise the morning before the first night of Passover.
The Shabbat just before is when Jews read the climactic passage from the Prophet Malachi, who 2500 years ago spoke forth a vision of the future, at once ominous and hopeful, that Jewish tradition sees as the last outcry of the classical Prophets.
How does Malachi portray this danger? "That day is at hand, burning like an oven. All the arrogant and all the evil-doers shall be straw, and the day that is coming -- said YHWH Tzva'ot, the Infinite Breath of Life -- shall burn them to ashes."
In our language, global climate crisis -- the overheating, scorching, burning, of the earth. The scorching that brings on hurricanes and typhoons of unprecedented fury, that brings unprecedented droughts to Africa and California and Georgia and Australia, that pours unprecedented rain on Iowa, that melts great ice floes and threatens to wash away our seacoasts, that sends forth swarms of disease-bearing insects from their ancient tropical haunts into great human populations in the temperate zones, that melts the Himalayan snows that are the water supply of two billion human beings.
Today this global burning threatens not only Malachi's "arrogant" in power whose stubborn investment in burning fossil fuels is so great as to bring on this disaster out of greed for their own power and wealth, not only Malachi's "evil-doers" who deliberately choose a destructive path -- but also those who are caught in disaster because they did not do enough to avert it.
And what is Malachi's remedy? "For you who revere My Name, a sun of justice shall arise, with healing in its rays." Is it so awkward to say, in our own words today, a healing from the use of solar energy and the other sustainable sources of renewable energy that stem, like wind, from the gentle rays of justice from the sun?
And then Malachi concludes: "Here! -- I will send you Elijah the Prophet before the coming of that great and awesome day of YHWH, so that he will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents, lest I come and strike the earth with utter destruction."
That outcry comes ringing down the millennia to us, who live in the generation when indeed the age-old web of life on earth is in deep danger.
So Malachi's remedies for overheating of the earth are that we turn to revere the Name that is the Interbreathing of all life, that we ourselves become Elijah to turn the hearts of the generations to each other -- and that we turn to solar power and the other sustainable sources of renewable energy that stem, like wind, from the gentle rays of justice from the sun.
And from Malachi and the Blessing of the Sun, we instantly turn to Passover, which reminds us of how Pharaoh's arrogance and hard-heartedness brought upon his own society the "plagues." Ecological disasters in which rivers became undrinkable, the crops were destroyed by great hordes of locusts, frogs, and hailstones, cattle went mad ---- And despite it all and despite the warning by his own advisers that he was ruining his own country, Pharaoh would not turn back.
Through Malachi and through our own life-experience of the danger that we face and of the blessings we can create, we can learn to make this extraordinary moment in April and this entire Year of Blessing the Sun a time for action, along with song and prayer, to bring new life to solar energy.
Action for what? Passing strong national legislation for capping and reducing the emission of CO2 into the atmosphere, ending subsidies to fossil-fuel producers, and investing large amounts of money in developing solar energy and other sun-driven alternative, sustainable sources of energy. Supporting a major transformation of transportation modes from planet-burning automobiles and trucks to high-efficiency, high-availability railroads. Requiring that old buildings retrofit in energy-conserving mode and new ones be built as "green" in the first place.
These changes that we need to make are technological and political. We need also to make changes that are spiritual, intellectual, and emotional. It will take a whole new set of mind, heart, and soul to celebrate the earth not only as a necessary resource, an It, but also a loving life-form, a Thou.
Malachi cries out to us to imagine ways in which the hearts of parents and children can turn toward each other, so as to prevent dire destruction of our earth and much of human society.
The Shalom Center has already developed a curriculum that is appropriate for Bar/Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation preparation, as well as a ritual for the service itself that brings the generations face to face, heart to heart. Although it is Jewishly focused, it too could be used, with appropriate changes, by other communities.
At http://www.shalomctr.org/node/1363 you can see the extraordinary praise the curriculum gathered from a wide array of Jewish leaders and teachers -- Rabbis Arthur Green, David Saperstein, Nina Beth Cardin, Warren Stone, Erin Hirsh, Cherie Koller-Fox, and others --
"Elijah's Covenant between the Generations" is already available from The Shalom Center. (Write firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. )
But this is not enough. We at The Shalom Center have begun working on a multicultural, multireligious Passover Seder to free the earth as well as human earthlings from Pharaoh's tyranny. It can itself become a teaching tool for preventing the day that burns like a furnace and bringing the day of healing from the sun of justice. And we welcome your help to work on it.
And we welcome all your suggestions of how to plan for teaching children, teens, and adults to bless the sun, to advocate for the healing use of its rays, and to prevent the coming of the day that would burn like a furnace.
With blessings of shalom and healing,
Arthur (Rabbi Arthur Waskow)
P. S. -- In 1981, I gathered with several hundred other people at the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC, to watch the sun rise and to bless it. The bimonthly magazine I had founded, published, and edited -- Menorah: Sparks of Jewish Renewal - had carried word of this strangest of festivals to many corners of the Jewish world that had never heard of it. As a result, there were groups atop the Empire State Building, at Attica Prison, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, at Golden Gate Bridge, at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, at many other times and places of the rising sun, who came together to celebrate the One Who gives light and warmth to our earth through that blazing source of energy.
Even then, seven years before James Hansen first publicly spoke of "global warming" to a Senate Committee, we had turned our hopes to solar energy. Even then, we glimpsed the destructive implications of our dependence on oil and coal. Menorah actually carried an article by Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, who had been trained as an engineer, calling on us to draw on the sustainable solar energy whose creation we were celebrating.
For a description of the celebration of this day in 1981 and a detailed explanation of the arcane astronomy by which the ancient rabbis calculated this date of the rebirth of the sun, see our Website at –
The comments to this entry are closed.