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Friday, April 03, 2009

Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Birchas HaChama



Ask Rabbi Pinky: On Birchas HaChama


This week I respond to a shailah from a Minuval who did not even have the courtesy to reach out to me directly, but rather sent a random e-mail to a bunch of Shkutzim from his shul, in the hopes that either I or the Reboinoisheloilum would somehow answer his plea. Clearly he never heard of Wikipedia. But luckily for him, one Sheygitz in his crew knows a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy who once received Metzitzah Bipeh from my Shviger’s Sheytelmacher. So, like the Urim V’Tumim, I am able to answer his ignorant question.

Josh S. asks:

“Birchat Hachama commemorates the return of the sun to the exact location that it was in when the world was created. Since we are celebrating this next week, it seems that the world was created in the Spring. So why is Rosh Hashanah in the fall? Doesn't Rosh Hashanah mark the number of years since creation? Was the world created in the fall or spring.?

“Ideally, I'd like a serious answer but those of you who know Rav Pinky, I'll take his response as well. Thanks.”


First of all Yehoishua, you Minuval, who are you to decide what a “serious” answer is? Do you have Smicha from a fine Rabbinic institution like I do? Have you spent years learning Toirah and doing Mitzvois, preparing yourself for a lifetime of serving Klal Yisroel, like I have? Or have you spent the best years of your life watching television, with your hand at the ready on your “special” fleisch remote control, if you know what I mean, with the hope that someday, somehow, there will be another “wardrobe malfunction” so you can spill your seed and delay Moshiach’s arrival for the rest of us?

With regard to the essence of your question, I must first challenge your underlying assumption. Where, exactly, does it say that Roish Hashanah is the day that celebrates the creation of the world? There is absolutely no – that is ZERO – notion in the Toirah SheBichsav that identifies the festival that we celebrate as Roish Hashanah to be a commemoration of the creation of the world. Farkhert! The Toirah tells us, “U’Bachoidesh Hashviyi Be’Echad La’Choidesh Mikrah Koidesh Yihyeh Lachem, Kol Milechess Avoidah Loi Sa’Asu, Yoim Teruah Yihyeh Lachem” (Bamidbar, Chuff Tess, Pasuk Aleph). “And on the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy day; you shall do no work; it shall be a day of Teruah (Shoifar blowing).” There is nothing about the creation of the world! On the contrary, the Toirah speaks of the seventh month!” And if you look elsewhere throughout the entire Toirah SheBichsav you will find no other reference to such a commemoration, I promise you -- Not in the Chamishei Chumshei Toirah, not in Neviyim, not in Kesuvim, and not in The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.

Further, we are all familiar with the first Mishnah in Maseches Roish Hashanah that says, “Arba’ah Roishay Shanah Haym…Be’Echad Be’Tishrey Roish Hashana La’Shanim.” “There are four New Years… On the first of Tishrei is the New Year for counting the years.” Some may be familiar with the second Mishnah in Roish Hashanah as well: “Be’Arba’ah Perakim Haoilum Nidoyn…Be’Roish Hashanah Kol Boyay Haoilum Oivrin Lifunuv Kivnei Maroin.” “At four junctures the world is judged…On Roish Hashanah all who walk the earth pass before Him like members of a flock.” Do you, Professor Genius, see any reference to the creation of the universe in these words?

So, it is clear from our Mishnah that the festival we call Roish Hashanah, perceived as the “New Year”, is a late Bayis Shaynee “Rabbinic” understanding. And it is not even clear when the notion of the commemoration of the creation of the universe even came into being. So why does the Mishnah give such emphasis to Roish Hashanah in the first place? Well…we all know that...ummm…Reb Yehudah HaNasi was prone to creating the occasional religious holiday so he could get an extra day off from work to play golf without having to take another vacation day.

However, it is certainly clear in the Gemarrah that many of the Amoraim shared the Mesoirah from Moishe on Sinai that there is great cosmic significance to the Yuntif that we all celebrate as Roish Hashanah. Indeed, according to a Medrish in Vayikra Rabbah, Rabbi Chiya held that Roish Hashanah does indeed commemorate the original date of the creation of the world. And while everyone in his neighborhood spent both days of Roish Hashanah in shul doing Teshuva and davening for Kapparah, Rabbi Chiya spent both days going through the papers in his office, the garage, and the attic trying to find the warrantee so that he could renew it, just in case the world stopped functioning properly over the course of the coming year.

Rabbi Zayrah, however, held farkhert. According to the Medrish, Rabbi Zayrah believed that the notion of Roish Hashanah marking the creation of the world, is, in Western Aramaic dialect, “Narishkeit”, unquote. For, his logic goes, “no one was around to see the creation of the world. So how can we know when it was created? Tell me that, huh?” Rabbi Zayrah was of course considered one of the more arrogant of the Amoraim, along with Rabbah, and that stuck up schvantzel Reb Chisda.

So what does Roish Hashanah commemorate? Says Rabbi Zayrah, Roish Hashanah does indeed commemorate an event of enormous significance – It celebrates the birth of the Reboinoisheloilum. And, the Medrish tells us, to celebrate Hakadoshboruchhu’s birthday, Rabbi Zayrah would always bring a Carvel cake to shul to make Kiddush on right after the Haftoirah. According to Reb Hai Goyn, it was a standard Carvel ten inch party cake. However, according to Reb Sherirah Goyn, it was a Fudgie The Whale cake. He cites as proof the fact that Rabbi Zayrah was the Assistant Rabbi at the only gay synagogue in all of Pumbedisa.

Rav Puppa, in a Gemarrah in Makois, offers more detail on the Aimishteh’s birth and upbringing. He cites a Braisah that notes that the Reboinoisheloilum was born in Scarsdale to parents named Jeff and Susan. And, Rav Puppa notes, Jeff wasn’t even Jewish, though Hakadoshboruchhu was raised according to His mother’s religion, went to Sunday school, and was even Bar Mitzvahed at the local Reform Temple.

So the notion of Roish Hashanah as marking the creation of the world is Nisht Azoy Pashut.

With regard to Birchas HaChama, the blessing over the alignment of the sun, let me first make a complete disclosure: I LOVE THIS MITZVAH! This is my favorite of all the 613 Mitzvois, even ahead of Pru Urva on Friday night with my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, her twin sister, and a young goat. Why do I love this Mitzvah so much? Because to me, it is very similar to Kiddush Levanah, just instead of looking like an idiot and howling at the moon once a month, you only have to do this once every twenty-eight years or so. And if you do it really well by, according to the Mechaber of the Shulchan Aruch, staring into the sun, you never have to worry about doing it again, since you will go blind as a bat.

So what does Birchas HaChama commemorate? Is it the creation of the world? O course not – it is the creation of the sun! And when was the sun created? Well, according to my reading of Beraishis – perhaps you have a different Girsah – the sun was created on the fourth day of creation. But unless you are a literalist like Reb Yoiseph Elyashiv, Reb Pinchas Sheinberg, or Rev Pat Robertson, you cannot take the notion of days literally, so we have no idea when, exactly, in the history of the universe by our current measurement of time the sun was created. So Chazzal, in their wisdom, their commitment to finding every opportunity to celebrate the partnership between Klal Yisroel and the Aimishteh, and their desire to make a killing on knock-off sun glasses imported from China, fixed a time and set a tradition to recognize a return to the original alignment of the earth with the sun, the planets, the stars, and the colony on New Caprica prior to the Cylon invasion.

Rabboisai, this leads us to a far more important question than when to be Mevoirach the Chama or whether to charter a plane if it is a cloudy day and you cannot see the sun. This brings us to an essential question of philosophy. (Please note: Stupid people are now dismissed from my shiur, as you might hurt yourself on the next few paragraphs.) What is Halacha? Is it fixed in time? Or does it evolve as we gain new scientific and philosophical understandings of the world?

This is the core of a famous Machloikess between the RAMBAN and the RAMBAM:

According to the RAMBAN, all of Toirah was given to Moishe Rabbeinu on Sinai. This included Toirah SheBichsav, Toirah SheBaalPeh, and Dianetics By L. Ron Hubbard. This included not only the Mitzvois as they are written in Tanach, but also the Mesoirah that follows. In essence, Halacha both begins, and in some way, ends at Sinai. And all of the Halachois cited in the Mishnah and the Gemarrah, all of the Machloikoisim and Halachic debates of the last 2000 years reflect an effort to remember and preserve the Laws which were given over, in their entirety, to Moishe Rabbeinu by the Reboinoisheloilum Himself. How do we define the notion of “work” which we are not supposed to do on Shabbos Koidesh? Hakadoshboruchhu told Moishe. What is the minimum size of a Lulav? The Aimishteh already answered that one. Can I use a remote control on Yuntif for my new 52 inch LCD HDTV? Moishe learned the answer, too. We just have to tease it out of the body of Toirah which captures all that he received from the Melech Malchei Hamelachim.

The RAMBAM, on the other hand, holds that Halacha only begins at Sinai. Moishe Rabbeinu was given the Toirah by the Aimishteh, but that only represented a base set of tools. Over time Klal Yisroel developed new understandings and traditions, as times changed and circumstances changed. They were exiled to Bavel from Eretz Yisroel and had to develop a new interpretation of the first half of Yishayahu, who vowed that Yerushalayim would never be destroyed. They were exposed to Persian notions of theology, and that changed how they understood the nature of the Reboinoisheloilum. They learned Greek philosophy and science, and that further evolved their understanding of the world. They were exposed to mystical notions, and that further refined their perception of the relationship between the Reboinoisheloilum, Klal Yisroel, and the universe. They had new inventions and new questions, for which they employed their best efforts to answer, based on the Toirah, their historical traditions and their evolving world view. They were also introduced to the Indian Kamma Sutra, and boy! did they try out all those new positions!

And as we have evolved our understandings, our Halacha and our practices changed and evolved, sometimes through conscious decisions, sometime as a result of changing dynamics, such as socio-economic factors and community circumstances. Many of us live in wonderful Yiddisheh communities, Boruch Hashem, and would never think of eating Gevinas Noitzrim, non-Kosher cheese. But it is well known that Rav Soleveichik, not too many years ago, used to eat Kraft. Mamesh. We all force ourselves to eat a Kazayis of horseradish at the Seder. But many people are aware that Rav Aroin Kutler, a generation ago, used to eat iceberg lettuce for Marror. This is the Emmess. We diligently check all of our Shabbos snack foods for an OU heckser, an OK, a CRC, or, ChassV’Sholom, for a Chuff-K. But, as some are aware, Reb Moishe Feinstein used to sit at his table every Friday night after Benching, and read the Algemeiner Journal while eating Rolets Pork Rinds. This is a Maiseh Shehoya, really.

So, according to the RAMBAM, Halacha and our relationship with the Aimishteh are not just what has been handed down to us, but they are also what we make of them. Every generation is a partner to this relationship, as is every member of Klal Yisroel. Even you, Yehoshua, even if you are groisseh Mechutziff.

So, as you go outside to make Birchas HaChama, do it because you are linking with your brethren and sisteren to celebrate the Reboinoisheloilum’s creation of the sun, whether or not we have the exact date and time right. After all, the Tanaim and Amoraim had a much more primitive understanding of the universe than us. We, on the other hand, are enlightened and liberated. We have science and technology. We have modern medicine. We have advanced forms of art. And we have a refined and developed economic system that, because of our financial and social progress and deep understanding of the behavior of markets could never possibly fail under own ignorance, stupidity, and greed.

Ah Gutten Shabbos, You Minuval.


aryeh shore said...

You left out it is a segulah to say the blessing four times. One is assured a long life. Some think that just three times will also assure you a long life. Now the Chida usually says that saying psalms backward insures a properous life but he is silent on the psalm said with birchat hachama.

aryeh shore said...

now we do have a conflict here as the Northern European Rabbis OH 94 were very critical of the French and Germans who prayed to the east as this was sun worship. The only place in the world you can pray east is Rechovot. I guess they figured once every 28 yrs couldn't do much harm especially since it has no astronomical or even astrological reality.

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