Monday, April 06, 2009

Birchas HaChama after three days of clouds?

In a recent comment, and in some nice posts on his blog, Yeranen Yaakov made reference to two interesting nuggets. The first was a Shaarei Teshuva in Mishnah Berurah siman 230. It mentions that in the lands of Yishmael, the Jews were not accustomed to bless on Birkat Hachamah.

The second interesting source was a Me'am Loez on Bereishit which cited a Yerushalmi about Birchat HaChammah after seeing the sun after three cloudy days. Unfortunately, the only online Me'am Lo'ez online, at, is in Ladino, and I do not speak the language. If you can, here is a direct link to the page. Also, according to the summary at the Yeranen Yaakov blog:
Ribbi Ya'akov Chuli writes that at the time of his writing, it was the year 5489, which was a year of Birkat Hahama, but he didn't merit to say the beracha that year since it was too cloudy. The year 5489 is 280 (28 x 10) years ago.
Some hold you can actually make the bracha on a cloudy day, but others argue, and the plain sense of the gemara certainly seems to be with them. (This can be cast as a reason not to make Birkat HaChama once every 28 years, since the "true" meaning of the brayta is the sun after three days. This seems to be how it was taken. Or it can be, for us, a reason to make it now, if it happens to be cloudy for the three days prior.)

What about this idea of blessing the sun any time after three cloudy days? I don't know if that is truly what Me'am Loez says -- it is second-hand -- but I did manage to locate the Yerushalmi. And according to my understanding of the Yerushalmi, it is not dealing with seeing the sun after three cloudy days, but rather the firmament, and specifically in the rainy season. To cite the Yerushalmi, from Yerushalmi Berachot 65a:

הרואה את החמה בתקופתה ואת הלבנה בתקופתה ואת הרקיע בטיהרו. אומר ברוך עושה בראשית. אמר רב חונה הדא דתימר בימות הגשמים בלבד לאחר שלשה ימים. הה"ד (איוב לז) ועתה לא ראו אור וגו'.

Now, this clarification by Rav Chuna could be taken to refer to the Sun. Or else it could be taken to refer to the firmament, the rakia. However, the prooftext can likely reveal the intent. It is from Iyov 37:21:
כא וְעַתָּה, לֹא רָאוּ אוֹר-- בָּהִיר הוּא, בַּשְּׁחָקִים;
וְרוּחַ עָבְרָה, וַתְּטַהֲרֵם.
21 And now men see not the light which is bright in the skies; {N}
but the wind passeth, and cleanseth them.
Note the end of the pasuk. The word vateharem demonstrates rather conclusively (to me at least) that the reference is to the rakia, about which was said ואת הרקיע בטיהרו. Sure, it does mention Or in the sky, which could be taken as a reference to the Sun, with the wind blowing away the clouds, but I believe the cleanest and most correct peshat is that it refers to the rakia.

And here, after a quick search, is the Yedid Nefesh perush on Yerushalmi agreeing with me.

In the girsa from the Maraha MiFulda (Rav Eliyahu of Fulda), we have more or less the same text, but attributed to R' Yona instead of Rav Chana, which is a straightforward orthographic expansion or contraction (chet to or from yud vav). Rav Eliyahu comments on the Yerushalmi, specifically on בימות הגשמים, that specifically then, because in the yemot hachama, at every time the rakia is in tiharo. So you see that he also understands it as a reference to the rakia. Maybe one can argue that it is one and the same. I don't think it is.

(In the girsa of Rabbi Avraham Moshe Lunz, he has it as Rabbi Chuna. And he makes it clear that it is talking about clear skies after a rain.)

Can this help us with the "problem" that it is not really the vernal equinox? Not if we want to get technical, as the yemot hageshamim are the six months before April (and before Nissan), and now we are in the yemot hachama (starting from Tekufat Nisan). On the other hand, maybe we can kvetch Rav Eliyahu of Fulda's explanation to mean that it is only based on the metzius, and nowadays it is indeed overcast where we are. I don't think the 3 cloudy days followed by clear skies will match what most of us will have erev Pesach, anyway.

Can this be a reason not to make the Birkat Hachama? No, because that does not seem to be the correct interpretation of the Yerushalmi.

I see, though, that some do appear to understand this source as referring to the Sun. If I understand correctly. Or maybe it is indeed post-Talmudic rabbis who came up with this on their own. In this Chabad article trying to "answer" the question of it not being at the vernal equinox, we have the following paragraph:
Next, the Talmud asks when this blessing on the sun is to be said. Abbaye, a later rabbi of the Talmud, explains that it's once in twenty-eight years. In fact, there were those of the post-talmudic era who determined that we do not make this blessing once in 28 years. They said that Abbaye was using Mar Shmuel's calculation, but since we know this is inaccurate and we are following a 19 cycle based on Rav Adda's calculation, we will have to part ways with Abbaye on this. They interpret the passage to mean that if the sun disappears behind the clouds for three days and then appears again, we should say a blessing because it is as though the sun has just been created again!
I do not know who all these post-Talmudic rabbis were. Maybe someone can fill me in, as I have not done nearly enough research on this. One such example is the Aruch. And there may be other rishonim who agree with this position.

But it certainly seems to me that where these post-Talmudic rabbis got this from was the Yerushalmi. And if so, they would interpret it as referring to the sun, rather that the clear rakia, and reading it into the word tekufah. Interesting, if they indeed say it. Regardless, I do not believe this to be correct.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Rabenu Bachyeh in Two places one in His Pirush On Breshis says that Birchas HAchamah is in Tekufas Teves,and apparently so does Rabenu Saddyah Gaon,and to Quote another Kaf Hachaim I know you will Like He says when you say Birchas Hachamah you should stand near someone named Avrham as Avrham Represents the sun.


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