All of my favorite Jewish rituals involve observing and/or connecting more closely with the natural world. Waiting for the sun to set to light candles, eating and sleeping lying outside for a little while in the sukkah, throwing bread into a river on Rosh Hashanah….all of these practices seem vaguely pagan and enormously appealing to me, a once-upon-a-time Outward Bound instructor.(It’s amazing how certain parts of my life now seem almost comically implausible. C’mon kids, let’s run 3 miles before breakfast, feast on grape-nuts and powdered milk, boil all our drinking water, break camp, throw on our 60 pound backpacks and hike all day, mostly off-trail. For fun.)
Perhaps the mother of all pantheistic-ish Jewish traditions is coming in a few weeks. Birkat Hachamah, or the Blessing of the Sun, is recited once every 28 years. According to the Rabbis, but probably not astronomers, April 8, 2009 is the day the sun will return to the exact position that it occupied on the fourth day of creation, when God made the sun, the moon and the stars (according to Genesis, but again, those “scientific” astronomers would probably dissent.)
It doesn’t matter that I don’t believe that God created the world in six days. I can’t wait to gather together at the crack of dawn with a bunch of Jews and shout blessings at the sun. In future weeks I’ll also be blogging about the solar-fest I’m organizing at my school in honor of the occasion. In the meantime, if you want to learn more, look here, here and here.
At the last celebration of Birkat Hachamah, Arthur Waskow and his groovy chevre gathered at the Jefferson Memorial and signed a scroll which they planned to read at the next occurrence, 28 years later. Here’s what they hoped we would have accomplished by now:
In this day that begins the 206th cycle of the sun since the Beginning,
We pledge ourselves to make a new beginning:
To hand on to the next generation an earth that is washed in sunlight, not poisoned by waste;
To see in the sun’s light the light of Torah;
To feel in the sun’s warmth the warmth of the human community;
To use through the sun’s energy the strength of the One Who Creates.
Blessed be the Doer of Deeds of Beginning.